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Physicists uncover new clues about matter and antimatter

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Although we know that both matter and antimatter exist, we don't really know why we have more matter than antimatter in the universe. However, a new discovery, made by an international team of over 800 scientists working at CERN, could provide clues to this mystery after discovering new details about Bs mesons.

Before the Big Bang, about 14 billion years ago, energy contained equal amounts of matter and antimatter. After the Big Bang, though, about 3.8 billion years ago, matter became prevalent and formed everything in the Universe: stars, galaxies and life. After that, antimatter became rare.

So what happened to all that antimatter? The answer may start with the Bs meson.

Bs mesons are subatomic particles that contain both a quark and an antiquark. Quarks are elementary particles that appear as hard pointed objects inside a proton and neutron in the nucleus of an atom. 

"Many international experiments are interested in the Bs meson because it oscillates between a matter particle and an antimatter particle," says Sheldon Stone, who heads up Syracuse's High-Energy Physics Group. "Understanding its properties may shed light on charge-parity [CP] violation, which refers to the balance of matter and antimatter in the universe and is one of the biggest challenges of particle physics." 

This group of scientists studied two specific experiments at Chicago's Fermilab to find out. In 2009, Fermilab was the world's highest energy particle accelerator. Results from two experiments done there showed that the Bs mesons' oscillations between matter and antimatter did not adhere to the standard model of physics.

Those results, though, were not certain. So the team figured out how to more accurately measure Bs mesons using data from CERN's Large Hadron Collider. Their technique affirmed that the Bs oscillation differences were in line with standard physics, as they thought.

According to Stone, this is yet more proof that there is always new physics waiting for discovery.

"Everyone knows there is new physics. We just need to perform more sensitive analyses to sniff it out," he says.

Considering the balance of matter to antimatter in today's Universe is one of the greatest unsolved problems of physics, discoveries like this with the Bs mesons puts scientists one step closer to understanding the nature of the Universe.

Antimatter is still a big mystery, although CERN managed to capture antimatter particles in 2010 for the first time, which was not an easy feat. However, understanding these particles that are the exact opposite of matter might help us learn more about the fabric of the Universe, along with what creates space and time.

"This will help us understand the structure of space and time," says Professor Jeffrey Hangst, one of the team of CERN scientists at the time. "For reasons that no one yet understands, nature ruled out antimatter... this inspires us to work that much harder to see if antimatter holds some secret."

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