Groundbreaking Test Reveals Antimatter’s Response to Gravity, Unravelling New Scientific Enigmas


Picture this scene: Sir Isaac Newton sits beneath an apple tree. Suddenly, instead of an apple, an anti-apple – made from antimatter – slips from its branch and makes its descent. Would this anti-apple fall upwards instead of down?

An international consortium of scientists are now able to answer this intriguing thought experiment. In a thrilling first, they have successfully managed to directly test the behavior of antimatter under the influence of gravity – a topic that had spurred much speculation in scientific circles.

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Their findings revealed that antimatter and matter respond identically to gravitational forces. Professor Emeritus Scott Menary of York University clarified, “Remarkably, an anti-apple too, would plummet down.”

While the published research bolsters some notions, it simultaneously ushers in a new wave of enigmas. Menary stated, “Does antimatter mirror the fall of matter perfectly, or are there inconspicuous discrepancies in its actions that are yet to be identified?”

The crown-jewel experiment was executed using the novel ALPHA-g apparatus – a custom particle-trapping device backed by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and based at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. Menary accredits the success of the experiment to a “technical tour de force,” given the Herculean task of discerning the effect of gravity—a force subtler than commonly perceived—on a minute collection of antihydrogen atoms.

The study helps pierce through the enigmatic veil around antimatter – often perceived as the mirror-world in the realm of physics. Our known universe is entirely crafted from matter—molecules, atoms, electrons, and their subatomic counterparts. However, physics dictates that the creation of matter inherently spawns antimatter.

Antimatter’s composition mirrors matter’s but with an inverted charge. All subatomic particles own an anti-twin; an encounter between the two results in annihilation, releasing energy in the process. Scientists had first theorized the existence of an antimatter particle—the positron or anti-electron—in 1931, and successfully detected it just two years later. At CERN, they create and isolate antiprotons by bombarding protons with nuclei and magnetically separating the resulting antiprotons.

A larger question gnaws at scientists: if the Big Bang theory holds, it should’ve given birth to an equal amount of matter and antimatter 13.8 billion years ago—then why is our universe grotesquely biased towards matter?

Robert Thompson, a physics professor at the University of Calgary and the principal investigator of the ALPHA-g Canada Foundation for Innovation Project, said, “We currently lack any coherent explanation of antimatter’s overarching absence in the universe.

To understand this anomaly, we scrutinize the physics of antimatter, hunting for inconsistencies. In this case, we evaluated if the gravitational response of antihydrogen mirrors that of hydrogen – a first in scientific history.”

Understanding why the experimental results mirror our fundamental understanding of gravity—the tenets of Einstein’s theory of general relativity—is the first step towards unraveling the curious suburb of science: the inexplicably missing antimatter.

“We are aware there’s an anomaly between quantum mechanics and gravity, we just don’t know its nature yet,” Timothy Friesen, Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary, clarifies. “Speculation about antimatter’s interaction with gravity is plentiful. However, this is the first-ever attempt at experimental verification, mainly because producing antimatter is exceedingly challenging and gravity is quite weak.”

The conclusive output reflects the collaborative efforts of numerous scientists, students, postdoctoral scholars, and staff members across Canada, Europe, the UK, US, Israel, and Brazil over the last two decades.

As Makoto C. Fujiwara, a senior scientist at TRIUMF, aptly summarizes, “ALPHA-Canada is a pan-Canadian collaboration. Each member played a crucial role in this project.”