Scientists at UC Berkeley have found something unusual: a smattering of anti-matter.
It's only a few atoms of the mysterious substance, but it's enough to pique the interest of researchers around the world.
Anti-matter can destroy regular matter, resulting in a massive explosion, but there's no risk to the Bay area. The 38 atoms of antihydrogen only existed for a tiny fraction of a second, and could barely generate enough power to perceive. Future experiments will generate more antimatter for further analysis, hopefully leading to new discoveries about the creation of the universe.
The Big Bang is thought to have created equal parts of matter and anti-matter, but for some reason the anti-matter is nearly impossible to find. Scientists have known how to create it for many years, but keeping it from vanishing has proven a more difficult challenge.
The key to observing the anti-matter atoms is a chamber of magnets, which holds the antihydrogen in place for just a moment. Now that scientists have successfully stored antimatter -- even just briefly -- they can study how it behaves in gravity and when shot with lasers.
The journal Nature reported that the Berkeley antimatter was short-lived, but since those experiments, scientists have been able to keep the atoms around for much longer: long enough that humans can perceive them. The new discoveries are coming at a fast pace right now, and it's a field of study that's likely to continue producing revelations about our place in the universe in the months to come. It's the first opportunity to examine a number of assumptions, and the findings could give us clues about the creation of the universe.