Antigravity: Does Antimatter Obey the Laws of Gravity?

Antimatter Suspended in a Magnetic Trap
(Photo : Reuters/Zade Rosenthal)

If one of the fundamental forces of the universe breaks one of the most fundamental laws of physics, who writes the ticket?

Antimatter might be rewriting the book when it comes to gravity-at least according to the scientists at CERN. The European research lab--made famous by its Large Hadron Collider and talk of the Higgs-Boson particle-recently ran an experiment that has taken the first step in investigating exactly how antimatter interacts with gravity.

According to most standard scientific theories, the gravitational properties of antimatter particles should copy those of their inverse-matter. However, if antimatter particles turn out to have a different set of behavior, it would be a sign of a dramatically new side-and new set of rules-to physics.  To date, no team of scientists have been able to test out how antimatter interacts with gravity, thought the CERN ALPHA teams aims to try.

The ALPHA experiment's aims to study antihydrogen atoms, the antimatter inverse of hydrogen. The antihydrogen atoms are held in place inside a tube by magnetic forces to prevent them from annihilating. (Science side note-matter and antimatter destroy each other when they come in contact.) The ALPHA team has managed to keep the antihydrogen atoms suspended in their trap for roughly 16 minutes so far before they turn it off to watch and record annihilation. A highly sensitive detector tracks the annihilation.

An antiparticle affected by gravity the same way as normal matter would fall out of the bottom of the tube. If there were something else going on, it could fall out of the top.

"Since antimatter was discovered, people have been speculating that antimatter might have different gravitational properties than matter," Joel Fajans, ALPHA member and professor at the University of California, Berkeley reportedly said.

This difference, more commonly known as antigravity, isn't always what people think-it can be anything from a slight deviation on matter interacts with gravity to the total reverse of how gravity reacts to matter.

ALPHA members say though that even a minor deviation in how gravity interacts with antimatter would be cause for excitement, and would force scientists to rethink the current model of physics. Gravity's effect on antimatter could also answer a long standing question-why is there so much more matter than antimatter? If gravity-or an antimatter version of gravity-- makes antimatter behave differently, it could be a missing link in our understanding of science.



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