|Holger Müller's interferometry technique will soon join the ALPHA experiment, pictured, at CERN. (Courtesy: Maximilien Brice/CERN)|
A new technique for measuring how antimatter falls under gravity has been proposed by researchers in the US. The team says that its device – based on cooling atoms of antimatter and making them interfere – could also help to test Einstein's equivalence principle with antihydrogen – something that could have far-reaching consequences for cosmology. Finding even the smallest of differences between the behaviour of matter and antimatter could shine a light on why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe today, as well as help us to better understand the nature of the dark universe.
Up or down?
First detected at CERN in 1995, physicists have long wondered how antimatter is affected by gravity – does it fall up or down? Most theoretical and experimental work suggests that gravity probably acts in exactly the same way on antimatter as it does on matter. The problem is that antimatter is difficult to produce and study, meaning that no direct experimental measurements of its behaviour under gravity have been made to date.
One big step forward took place last year, when researchers at the ALPHA experiment at CERN measured how long it takes atoms of antihydrogen – made up of a positron surrounding an antiproton – to reach the edges of a magnetic trap after it is switched off. Although ALPHA did not find any evidence of the antihydrogen responding differently to gravity, the team was able to rule out the possibility that antimatter responds much more strongly to gravity than matter.
Physics World: Interferometry tips the scales on antimatter