Antimatter matters for the big bang origin of the Universe

In what physicists have called a “technical tour-de-force”, scientists have for the first time made measurements of how antimatter atoms absorb light.1

The ALPHA antimatter experiment at CERN has measured an energy transition in anti-hydrogen.

The ALPHA antimatter experiment at CERN has measured an energy transition in anti-hydrogen. Credit: CERN

Researchers from the ALPHA collaboration team at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory outside Geneva, collected cold antihydrogen atoms in a magnetic “bottle” and irradiated them with an ultraviolet laser to test what frequency of light is needed to excite the antimatter atoms into an excited state. This was done to test to see if antimatter atoms behave the same way as their normal matter counterparts. No discrepancy (a null result) was found with standard theory, which predicts that antihydrogen should have the same energy levels as normal hydrogen.

The null result is still a thrill for researchers who have been working for decades towards antimatter spectroscopy, the study of how light is absorbed and emitted by antimatter. The hope is that this field could provide a new test of a fundamental symmetry of the known laws of physics, called CPT (charge-parity-time) symmetry.

CPT symmetry predicts that energy levels in antimatter and matter should be the same. Even the tiniest violation of this rule would require a serious rethink of the standard model of particle physics.

Cosmological implications

So what? you might ask!

Cosmologists have had a big big-bang problem for a long time. What happened to all the antimatter created in the big bang?2 

The way the story is told is that out of the big-bang fireball came a lot of energy that cooled enough to form matter and an equal quantity of antimatter. Matter and antimatter are like equal but opposite parts (same mass but opposite charge) so that when you put the two together they perfectly annihilate each other, producing just a lot of pure energy. That is the sort of energy that allegedly powers the fictional starships in the legendary Star Trek. It is the energy that powers the warp drive engines and makes faster-than-light speed travel possible.3

The problem is that though the production of energy from annihilation of matter and antimatter is real science, the real science presents another big problem for the big bang origin of the universe. Thus to believe that the big bang represents the origin of the universe means you must believe in another fictional story.

When the universe started out and the matter and antimatter that condensed from the initial big bang fireball came back into contact with each other they would have perfectly annihilated each other leaving only energy, no matter or antimatter. So why do we only observe in the real universe matter, not any antimatter? We don’t see galaxies and stars made from antimatter, like this antihydrogen manufactured in the CERN particle accelerator?

There would need to be a violation in the known laws of physics for that big bang fireball to form a universe with some residual normal matter leftover. This is what physicists look for when they talk about CPT symmetry and breaking of that symmetry. If you only had one extra proton leftover after 1050 proton/antiproton pairs had annihilated each other in the big bang then maybe you could have a universe today made of the leftover hydrogen that was not annihilated back then.

Finally, the ALPHA team was able to see whether, when the researchers shone a laser at a particular frequency, the antihydrogen atoms would act like their hydrogen counterparts. The group says they do: the energy transition is consistent to a precision of 2 parts in 10 billion, they report on 19 December in Nature.1 (emphasis added)

The real science experiment showed that to within a precision of 2 parts in 10 billion the antimatter atom responded the same way as the normal matter. That means symmetry is not broken. The hope would be at some much higher precision they find a difference. So they say the research is inconclusive.  But at this level, which is still quite significant, they found that antihydrogen is identical to normal hydrogen in respect of the particular energy levels explored by the spectroscopy performed.

So far this research is of no help to solve the problem of where is the antimatter from the alleged big bang. Quite the opposite in fact. Or another way to put it is, why are we (and the whole universe) here at all?

“We’ve had many successes in understanding how things work, but we can’t explain why we’re here at all,” said Hangst.

We shouldn’t be (here). There should just be energy, there should just be some light. And no one can explain to you why there’s matter and not antimatter.” Hangst and a team hope the new method, which will be further refined, will boost the in-depth study of anti-atoms.2 (emphasis added)

But because of a prior commitment to the belief that the Universe created itself from nothing they remain committed to a failed paradigm. Could it be that the hypothesis itself, that the universe began in a hot big bang, is wrong? The lack of antimatter in the known Universe supports this conclusion.

References

  1. Davide Castelvecchi, Ephemeral antimatter atoms pinned down in milestone laser test, Nature News & Views, December 19, 2016.
  2. Physicists take big step in unravelling mystery of antimatter, news.com.au, December 21, 2016.
  3. J.G. Hartnett, Warp drive, February 14, 2017.

Further reading