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One of the universe’s oldest mysteries is also one of its most puzzling. During the big bang, some 13.8 billion years ago, both matter and antimatter—which are thought to be identical, save for the former having the opposite electrical charge of the latter—should have been created in equal amounts. When these two come into contact with each other in today’s universe, they are annihilated in a burst of light and more exotic fundamental particles. Why, then, do we live in a matter-dominated cosmos rather than a howling void filled only with ephemeral echoes of an all-consuming annihilation from the dawn of time?

To find out, particle physicists have been busy testing the properties of both matter and antimatter to see how they compare. For matter, this process is relatively straightforward. But for antimatter, it is exceedingly more challenging. Given that antimatter is instantly destroyed upon interacting with matter, keeping it intact for detailed investigation is difficult. For the past decade, however, experimentalists have made great strides in such studies by isolating ever greater quantities of antimatter in a vacuum for longer and longer periods, progressively enabling new research breakthroughs.

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Category: Science