It seems that antimatter is going on a road trip. Physicists at CERN are gearing up for packing a cloud comprising of billions of antiprotons.
The antimatter cloud will travel a few hundred meters between CERN's antimatter factory and an experiment site where the shape of bulky and radioactive atoms will be studied.
The journal Nature published the report on Feb. 21.
Antimatter is known for being volatile. However, scientists know how to control it so well that they are going to use it as a tool for the first time. A team of physicists will drive around antimatter in a truck to facilitate the study of rare radioactive nuclei and its strange behavior.
The research will enable the team to gain more insight into the fundamental processes that go on within an atomic nucleus. This will help astrophysicists know more about the inside of neutron stars that contain the universe's densest form of matter.
“Antimatter has long been studied for itself, but now it is mastered well enough that people can start to use it as a probe for matter,” said project leader Alexandre Obertelli, who is a physicist at Germany's University of Darmstadt. The project has been termed PUMA, short for anti-Proton Unstable Matter Annihilation.
The antimatter factory at CERN makes antiprotons - a rare mirror image of protons. Antiprotons are created by first hitting a beam of a proton into a metal target and then making the emerging particles dramatically slow down so that they can be utilized in experiments.
The research team wants to trap an antiproton cloud in a vacuum with the help electric and magnetic fields. The trap will then be loaded into a truck and driven to the site of the neighboring experiment, dubbed ISOLDE, located a few hundred meters away.
ISOLDE produces rare and radioactive nuclei, which decays much too fast to be transported anywhere. It will take about four years to develop and test the technology for the portable trap, and the first measurement will take place in 2022.
Charles Horowitz, who is a theoretical nuclear physicist at Bloomington's Indiana University, feels that the upcoming experiment is a wonderful idea and almost feels like science fiction because antimatter will be driven around in a truck.
Studying Neutron Stars
Radioactive nuclei act as a miniature for studying neutron stars, which will provide an important clue to understanding how heavy forms are generated in the universe. The core of neutron stars, which are exceedingly dense, is still a mystery for astrophysicists.