Seventeen minutes may not seem like much, but to physicists working on the Antihydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus (ALPHA) project at the CERN physics complex near Geneva, 1000 seconds is nearly four orders of magnitude better than has ever been achieved before in capturing and holding onto antimatter atoms. In a paper published in arXiv, a team of researchers studying the properties of antimatter, describe a process whereby they were able to confine antihydrogen atoms for just that long, paving the way for new experiments that could demonstrate properties of antimatter that until now, have been largely speculation.
The process works by cooling the antiprotons that when combined with positrons, are used to make the antihydrogen, which reduces the energy in the resulting antimatter and allows for more of it to be confined in a magnetic trap, and then held there in a cloud for a period of time.
One of the big questions in physics is whether antihydrogen atoms occupy the same energy levels as hydrogen; others of course want to know how it reacts to gravity, as some have speculated that antihydrogen might actually fall up, or behave in other unexpected ways. The experiments going on at CERN might just answer both those questions, and more.