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For the first time, physicists probed an atom of antimatter with laser light – and found no detectable difference between the "excitement" of a hydrogen atom and its antimatter twin, antihydrogen.

The work, published today in Nature by an international team, is the culmination of hundreds of millions of dollars and two decades of research at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Antimatter is the stuff of Bizarro World – families of particles identical to those of matter, but with opposite charge.

This surreal nature has made antimatter a favourite for sci-fi authors for decades. Not only was it warp drive fuel on the Starship Enterprise, antimatter was also the explosive that threatened Vatican City in Dan Brown’s novel Angels and Demons.

The reason antimatter makes for good munition or fuel is because it annihilates with matter on contact, producing pure energy in the most efficient reaction known to physics.

But that same property makes antimatter devilishly difficult to hold and study in the lab. Contact with any stray molecule of air, or a brush against the walls of the container, kills the experiment.

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