Right after the Big Bang, the unimaginably hot uber dense universe expanded form an infinitely tiny particle to form every thing that surrounds us today. Here’s the catch: How physicists understand this, implies that the process that formed all those particles in the early universe should have produced an equivalent number of antiparticles annihilating all matter, making everything come to a grinding halt. Spoiler alert: That didn’t happen. Physicists have been trying to answer this most basic question: Why does anything exist at all?
Related media: What If We Detonated An Antimatter Bomb On Earth?
Let’s Talk Serious Matters
The Standard Model — the theory that describes the tiniest building blocks of the universe — states that every known particle in the universe has an antiparticle. Antiparticles have the same exact mass as their counterpart particles, but an opposite electric charge. For instance, an electron has a negative charge, but its antiparticle is known as a positron, and it has (you guessed it) a positive charge. However, most antiparticles don’t have fancy names like that of the positron; all other antiparticles are prefixed with “anti-“ to become either “antineutron” or “antiproton” — or “anti-whatever.”
The photon is the only exception, since it doesn’t have any charge, its anti-photon is the same thing that it is, a photon. The good o’l deal! Particles are what make up matter, hence antiparticles make up (you guessed it again) antimatter. Whenever antimatter interacts with matter (normal matter), the results are … well, not what you’d want to be. The two particles annihilate each other, leaving behind a burst of pure energy.
(Fun fact: the reaction is so pure and efficient that the writers of “Star Trek” decided to power the starship Enterprise with antimatter).
In the early universe, all particles of matter created had a pair with an antimatter particle.
What’s The Matter?
Physicists have demonstrated that in the lab several times, and observed as particles and antiparticles oscillate a million times per second upon their decay into another particle — one that’s either particle of matter or antimatter. This effect should have happened in a 50:50 ratio at the beginning of the universe: half matter, half antimatter. If crunching the numbers, 50 percent (matter particles) plus -50 percent (antimatter particles) equals zero percent (no universe!) Huh?!
Let’s explain with this coin analogy put forth by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN):
A coin spinning on a table can land on heads or tails, but you can’t call it heads or tails until it actually lands. If you spin a whole lot of coins, you should expect that roughly half will land on heads and half will land on tails.
The same goes for the oscillating particles, but in the early universe, the odds got changed by something. What? That’s the “something” we still don’t know. It seems like nature did some Abracadabra and the odds just played all heads in the coin toss analogy. That’s really how bizarre nature can be. Mind blown?
The Actual Matter
So how in the universe in the amazing name of nature did matter played out than antimatter? What was it? And does antimatter even exist? We’ve given you a lot more questions than answers, right? That’s not what The Factionary is about. Sorry! To answer such questions, physicists have tried almost all minuscule subtle differences between matter and antimatter; and if such a difference exists, it could explain why one of them had a heads up in the formation of the universe. In a 2016 Alpha experiment conducted at CERN, researchers were able to create and measure anti-hydrogen, but found no significant difference between itand normal hydrogen.
A study in early 2017 at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC, that’s the world’s largest particle collider) found that baryons — a term for describing the particles that make up the universe — decay at a slightly different pace as compared to antimatter particles. And later that fall of 2017, physicists successfully measured the “magnetic moment” of an antiproton, only to find that it was identical to a normal proton. The catch? The search continues, and it seems we can’t find an answer to why the universe still exist, or should it?
Read more facts like this one in your inbox. Sign up for our daily email here.
The Factionary is ever ready to provide you with more interesting content for your reading pleasure. If you’re amazed by our work, you can support us on Patreon by a donation fee of your choice. Thank you!
Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Thu, May 23, 2019.