Editorial: Anticipation

Dec 04 2013, 03:11 IST
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SummaryCERN scientists are on the verge of answering one of the most enduring mysteries of the universe

Even though its Large Hadron Collider (of God Particle fame) is temporarily shut down for repairs and upgrades, CERN has not been idle. In fact, despite achieving the seemingly impossible by finding the Higgs boson, CERN scientists have set their sights on another equally elusive target—finding a use for anti-matter. Anti-matter, as the name suggests, is the opposite of matter. That is, anti-matter comprises of particles with the opposite charge of that of their matter counterparts. The reason it is so hard to study anti-matter is that whenever it comes into contact with any sort of matter—even air—the two annihilate each other. Scientists at CERN are using a special vacuum-sealed magnetic flask to trap anti-matter (itself an extraordinary feat) and see if the atoms float up or down. If, as several theories suggest, the atoms float up, then this will go a long way in proving that anti-matter exhibits anti-gravitational properties. This is huge for Physics.

One of the biggest conundrums facing physicists is: why is the universe continuously expanding at an accelerating rate if gravity exists? Everything else remaining constant, gravity should be slowing this expansion, eventually leading to a contraction and collapse—the exact opposite of the Big Bang. But this is not happening; something is driving the universe to expand at a furious rate. Scientists ascribe this to dark energy, dark matter and anti-gravity—but only now are they even getting close to proving anything. If the CERN scientists find that anti-gravity indeed exists, then they will get a whole lot closer to explaining why the universe is expanding, and in determining what exactly happened at the Big Bang—a discovery at least as important as the God Particle.

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