Oct 26, 2017 I Paul Seaburn

CERN Scientists Say the Universe Shouldn’t Exist

“All of our observations find a complete symmetry between matter and antimatter, which is why the universe should not actually exist.”

Are you reading this? Good. That means the world’s greatest scientists using the world’s greatest scientific instruments are wrong. Or are they? Researchers at CERN in Switzerland recently made the most precise measurements ever of the magnetic force of protons and antiprotons and found them to be exactly the same … except for an opposite sign. The means the idea that scientists have danced around for centuries is still making them waltz – the Big Bang created equal amounts of matter and antimatter which should have annihilated each other and left nothing behind … including the universe and us. So, why are we still here?

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Image: CERN, Maximilien Brice and Julien Ordan

A better question might be: “How did the CERN Physicists manage to experiment with the magnetism of matter and antimatter without annihilating the universe for real?" In a word … slowly. In 2014, they were able to measure the magnetic moment – how much a proton resists magnetic force – by trapping an individual proton in a magnetic field, then spinning it with another magnetic field.

That part was easy – at least protons don’t annihilate when they come in contact with any matter. Antiprotons are – no pun intended – another matter. After creating antiprotons in 2015, they had to create an antimatter chamber to store them in. They started with a Penning trap – a cylindrical container that traps charged particles between a magnetic field and a quadrupole electric field (apologies to physicists for this overly simple explanation). These Penning traps are imperfect and the antimatter can leak out (not a good thing – if you’ve been paying attention), so the CERN physicist used two and kept the antimatter extremely cold. This allowed them to store the antimatter for 405 days, more than enough time to do the magnetic moment measurements.

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BASE Penning trap system to measure magnetic moment of the antiproton. Credit: Stefan Sellner, Fundamental Symmetries Laboratory, RIKEN, Japan

And the answer is … −2.7928473441 μN. (μN is a nuclear magneton). Not only was this exactly the same – except for the minus sign – as the magnetic moment of a proton, it’s accurate to nine digits or nearly perfect. Would you expect any less from CERN?

Christian Smorra, the physicist at CERN’s Baryon–Antibaryon Symmetry Experiment (BASE) collaboration who observed that the universe should not actually exist, was excited at the results, published this week in Nature, but still puzzled.

“An asymmetry must exist here somewhere but we simply do not understand where the difference is.”

Are we really sure these are the people we want experimenting with antimatter? As Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott once said to Mr. Spock:

“Those few seconds will not make any difference, Mr. Spock, because you and I and the rest of the crew will no longer be here to bandy it back and forth. This thing is going to blow up, and there's nothing in the universe can stop it.”

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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