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March 1, 2012 11:07 PM   Subscribe

We’re on the verge of two world-changing antimatter discoveries While the Large Hadron Collider is looking for the Higgs boson, we're on the verge of two huge antimatter-related breakthroughs. One could finally solve the universe's oldest mystery, while the other could reveal strange new particles that are perfect for quantum computers.
posted by zardoz (43 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
One could finally solve the universe's oldest mystery

You mean we're finally gonna know why [insert something about the opposite sex here]?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:18 PM on March 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm used to io9 giving us 'teasers' about the villains in upcoming superhero movies, not breakthroughs in quantum physics...
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:38 PM on March 1, 2012


We are now one step closer to synthesizing Applied Phlebotinum
posted by ShutterBun at 11:45 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


My understanding of this stuff is not really significantly different from that of a New Guinea tribesman (for all I know the tribesman might actually have access to a better set of metaphors, in fact).

Bit isn't there something unsatisfying about saying: hey, that's why the universe is full of matter - it's because D-mesons decay asymmetrically! It seems to call for a further explanation at a more fundamental level. One where my understanding would not significantly differ from that of an ant, probably.
posted by Segundus at 1:14 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


What we're really looking for is X, given that:

(This new discovery) ---> X ---> Hoverboards
posted by ShutterBun at 1:57 AM on March 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's hilarious how little of that I understood. But it's good news! Right? Especially the nano wires and fermions? Because that could led to the quantum computers needing to run the stability guidance program of future hover boards?
posted by From Bklyn at 3:13 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't really get how you could know you were on the 'verge' of discovering something. If you know it's there, then you've already discovered it. If you don't know it's there, then obviously you don't know you're on the verge of anything.

From the article, it sounds like they are 99.99% sure already, and just need more data so they can slap more nines on that number and call it proven.
One could finally solve the universe's oldest mystery
Wouldn't the "universe's oldest mystery" be something like "where did humans come from?", which Darwin got mostly figured out a couple hundred years ago? or "What is that big glowing thing in the sky, and where does it go at night?"
posted by delmoi at 3:46 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure at this point it has to do with airplane peanuts, re: the deal with them.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:51 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am also a supporter of gigantic-budget physics projects for the hoverboards.
posted by beerbajay at 4:08 AM on March 2, 2012


One could finally solve the universe's oldest mystery, while the other could reveal strange new particles that are perfect for quantum computers.

How big is this mystery in the "size of Texas" measurement system?
posted by DU at 4:27 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


something something warp drive
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:46 AM on March 2, 2012


I agree with Delmoi... this is pop-science-blog-pageview-newsfilter-hype-bollocks.

At least "godparticle" wasn't a tag.
posted by panaceanot at 4:54 AM on March 2, 2012


From the article, it sounds like they are 99.99% sure already, and just need more data so they can slap more nines on that number and call it proven.

Yes, exactly. Particle physicists like to hammer the p value (assuming that the underlying effect isn't real, the probability of seeing this result due to sheer fluke) down beyond a certain value, typically something like 0.0001, before they're willing to believe that their observations are the result of a real phenomenon.* The more observations they take that give the same result, the lower p goes and therefore the more confident they can be that it's real. Like rolling more and more 6's in a row makes you more and more confident that the die you're using is weighted and that you therefore need to have a very pointed conversation with Joey "the charmer" Peruta who won all that money from you in last week's craps game. This story inspired by real events!

I agree that it's a weird phrase to use though. I assume they means that every observation they make takes them closer to having an acceptable p value, but this only works if the effect is actually real which, as you say, they can't know in advance.

I'm used to io9 giving us 'teasers' about the villains in upcoming superhero movies, not breakthroughs in quantum physics...

Their science reporting can be a bit hyperbolic, but most of the science articles I've seen there and had some pre-existing knowledge of have been pretty impressive, IMO.

Mind you, my biggest problem when learning about particle physics / quantumn juju is that it all gets handled by the same part of my brain that deals with science fiction. No matter how much I read or chat about, the little librarian in my mind is all "Quarks? With flavours you say? Foams of virtual mesons? Righto, I'll file that between dilithium crystals and the steampunk zepplin shelf". I just can't incorporate this stuff into my worldview in the same way that I can with e.g. mol biol or classical physics, so while I can parrot back a lot of the phrases and describe concepts, I feel like I never actually understand them. Having io9 as a physics news source doesn't exactly help.


*do dooooo do do do
posted by metaBugs at 4:59 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the Majorana discovery is about quasi-particles (like a phonon), not an actual new fundamental particle -- it's something that is already known to exist in superconductors. If they've been discovered in nanowires (at room-temperature?) that would still be a big deal, though.
posted by empath at 4:59 AM on March 2, 2012


isn't there something unsatisfying about saying: hey, that's why the universe is full of matter - it's because D-mesons decay asymmetrically!

Well yes. At this point in all science we're definitely at the stage of more accurately mapping the edges of our small island of knowledge, rather than making any significant voyages into the potentially vast ocean of ignorance. That's what's so brilliant, isn't it? We've found out so much, yet it appears likely to be paltry in comparison to all there is to find out.
posted by howfar at 5:02 AM on March 2, 2012


I just can't incorporate this stuff into my worldview

Here's the thing, they're all basically the same thing. Imagine a grid of numbers everywhere in space. At every point, there's a value, say 1 or 10 or whatever. The numbers at one point effect their neighbors, kind of like the way atoms moving in an ocean will make their neighbors move, and they move as waves in exactly the same way. A particle is just one of these waves of changing numbers moving through space.

The thing that makes it really complicated is that there is more than one 'field' in space, and that the waves not only travel through individual fields, but that motion in one field can get transferred to all the other fields and vice versa.
posted by empath at 5:04 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can we have a science article that is like: "caesium deficiency linked to sociopathic behaviour" or something like that where we could fix 95% of humanity's propensity to fuck each other over for no reason by putting something in the water or air? Because the closer we get to a complete understanding of the universe the closer we get to annihilating the planet.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:13 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't really get how you could know you were on the 'verge' of discovering something.

Before the completion of the Large Hadron Collider it was not technologically possible to accelerate particles with enough energy (and therefore smash them to bits with enough energy) to create and detect theoretical particles like the Higgs Boson.

Now that the Hadron Collider exists, it's a matter of time before we (they) either confirm the particles experimentally or confirm the particles don't exist and the theory is wrong.

by putting something in the water or air?

That did not go well in Serenity.
posted by device55 at 5:20 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


we could fix 95% of humanity's propensity to fuck each other over for no reason by putting something in the water or air

I do not hold to that.

(Cheap I know, but this is MeFi)
posted by howfar at 5:23 AM on March 2, 2012


Yeah I know I could never actually advocate for such a thing, but like the man says our technology advances must faster than our ethics. The radio was horrible this morning.

Probably the best way for science to bring peace in our lifetime is for the discovery of a better power source than carbon reserves so that everyone can have clean water, fresh food and enough light to read and learn by. Of course then there will be 20 billion people on the planet and counting.

Well, it'll be an interesting decade that's for certain.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:29 AM on March 2, 2012


There is no word more ripe with magical wishfulness than the word "could" in the headline or first paragraph of a popular science article.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:36 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


If these two antimatter discoveries happen at the same time will they annihilate each other in a burst of press release?
posted by condour75 at 5:39 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't really get how you could know you were on the 'verge' of discovering something.

If you flip a coin and it comes up heads 10 times in a row, that's weird, but it's not impossible for it to be a fair coin. If it comes up heads 10000 times in a row, there's a pretty good chance that you've 'discovered' that it's not a fair coin.

That's basically what they're talking about when they have 2 sigma and 5 sigma results. If you've got a 'weird' result, you might be on the verge of discovering something new, if you run the experiment a lot more times and it holds up.
posted by empath at 5:44 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah I know I could never actually advocate for such a thing

Although there will be a complex debate to be had if we ever survive to the point where behaviour modification is a real possibility. It's pretty hard to imagine that the world would be a better place were men no more physically aggressive than women, for example. When does the freedom to be bad outweigh the freedom to be free from badness? Iain M Banks' Culture novels are pretty interesting in places on this.

posted by howfar at 6:09 AM on March 2, 2012


I'd argue that the Culture works in general because the minds (in their second definition) keep genocide-level badness largely in check. When there isn't a higher authority in evidence (or worse yet, when the higher authority is made up to justify one's own biases), there's no limit-switch to humanity's capability for short-sighted stupidity. Banks' novels are particularly keen to me because he manages to find the fractal crevices in an otherwise fairly straightforward benevolent hegemony.

The US has played, albeit poorly, the role of global peacekeeper by having the ugliest weapons but they're too violent to actually use so we get unsolvable guerilla war instead that hovers just this side of requiring ultimate action. Which is what Iran seems to be determined to press.

With what are basically the equivalent of Niven's copseyes actually deployed in conflict areas (and coming soon to an urban area near you) resistance will by necessity have to go even further underground and resentment will start to build ever higher. As technology moves forward, and with no benevelont hegemony to put a stop to the worst abuses of the conflict-ape mindset, I worry.

Not as much as at the height of the cold war, but then again the comfort there was that there'd only be a few seconds of pain and then nothing.

I guess this is derail enough. Science and ethics are going to shape the future, and the science sure is cool.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:23 AM on March 2, 2012


I don't really get how you could know you were on the 'verge' of discovering something.

If you stagger into a piano in the dark, one could say you've discovered the piano, but, that's setting the bar of discovery pretty low.

Einstein pretty much discovered relativity when he realize that the idea of static charge repulsion, and the idea that parallel currents create a magnetic field were fundamentally at odds with one another in a neutral field of reference. But if he left it at that, you'd have never heard of him.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:25 AM on March 2, 2012


hey, that's why the universe is full of matter - it's because D-mesons decay asymmetrically!

That's how it goes. In this case, the Big Bang and subsequent events should have, by our understanding, resulted in nearly equal amounts of matter and antimatter, which then annihilated. The question was "Why was there so much matter left around?"

The answer seems to be "D mesons decay asymmetrically, others might as well."

The next question will be "Why do they decay asymmetrically."

Virtually every discovery asks more questions.
posted by eriko at 6:31 AM on March 2, 2012


Wouldn't the "universe's oldest mystery" be something like "where did humans come from?", which Darwin got mostly figured out a couple hundred years ago? or "What is that big glowing thing in the sky, and where does it go at night?"

I'm pretty sure the universe's oldest mystery is not "what happened JUST AFTER the Big Bang" but rather "what happened BEFORE the Big Bang?"
posted by nathancaswell at 6:35 AM on March 2, 2012


I don't really get how you could know you were on the 'verge' of discovering something.
Before the completion of the Large Hadron Collider it was not technologically possible . . . to create and detect theoretical particles like the Higgs Boson. . . it's a matter of time before they confirm the particles experimentally or. . .


I discovered the Cantelope™ particle in my fridge this morning!

I had calculated a 99.999% chance of its existence, since first detecting it at the greengrocers on Sunday.

Today, however, employing an apparatus I call the Large Fridgedoor Ingressor
(LFI)™. I was able to confirm this particle's existence with sufficent confidence that I feel confortable going to press with my discovery.


Can we have a science article that is like: "caesium deficiency linked to sociopathic behaviour"

Not in a US-based journal, we can't.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:41 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


One thing that's puzzled me for awhile is: where does all this stuff come from? What I'm trying to understand really is what's the smallest amount of information needed to accurately depict how the universe works? Where does one start and then, assuming enough time and intelligence to derive properly, get kittens and cockroaches and super novas and Mozart's sonatas? Is it just Maxwell? There doesn't seem to be enough there. But then again a six statement Turing machine is pretty darn simple conceptually and we still don't know where it ends.

What's printed on the scrap of paper inside the golem of the universe?
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:43 AM on March 2, 2012


I discovered the Cantelope™ particle in my fridge this morning!

The obvious next step is to find out what it's made of. Clearly we need to fire two cantaloupes as each other, in a vacuum, at close to the speed of light.
posted by metaBugs at 6:48 AM on March 2, 2012


Gallagher, is that you?
posted by Herodios at 7:07 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't the "universe's oldest mystery" be something like "where did humans come from?", which Darwin got mostly figured out a couple hundred years ago? or "What is that big glowing thing in the sky, and where does it go at night?"

Given that we know the answer to both of those things, and that we've known them for a very long time, I wouldn't call either of those things old mysteries. The fact that the (measurable) universe is made up almost entirely of matter and not ~50% antimatter has been known for a very long time, yet we do not know why this is.

We know how the sun works: it is not a mystery.
We do not know why there isn't more antimatter: this is a very old mystery.
Sometimes I think you're a troll.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:13 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


We do not know why there isn't more antimatter

Doesn't matter anyway.
posted by ShutterBun at 7:25 AM on March 2, 2012


Makes you wonder if the actual "breakthrough" proof matters much, if we already have a model that predicts it correctly. I assume most researches just assume this is already proven to move on and come up with more theories.
posted by smackfu at 7:32 AM on March 2, 2012


Here's the thing, they're all basically the same thing. Imagine a grid of numbers everywhere in space. At every point, there's a value, say 1 or 10 or whatever. The numbers at one point effect their neighbors, kind of like the way atoms moving in an ocean will make their neighbors move, and they move as waves in exactly the same way. A particle is just one of these waves of changing numbers moving through space.

So, the universe is Minesweeper? Ok. [clicks, loses]
posted by fuq at 7:49 AM on March 2, 2012


So, the universe is Minesweeper?

*Multi-dimensional* Minesweeper.
posted by amorphatist at 8:12 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


ShutterBun: "What we're really looking for is X, given that:

(This new discovery) ---> X ---> Hoverboards
"

Better yet, hoverboards that go over water. That's where the money's at...
posted by Samizdata at 8:38 AM on March 2, 2012


I don't really get how you could know you were on the 'verge' of discovering something. If you know it's there, then you've already discovered it.

No--physics is more like a sneeze.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:44 AM on March 2, 2012


(I have a bachelor's degree in physics, so I kinda understand this stuff. And I have a graduate degree in biology. So, I can read peer-reviewed journal articles in just about any field.)

I gave up reading science articles and books written by journalists a long time ago. They can only frustrate.
posted by neuron at 10:28 PM on March 2, 2012


Dumb question, but how do we know that the universe isn't 50% antimatter? Gravity works the same for antimatter. If there were antimatter galaxies out there, wouldn't they pretty much look like regular matter galaxies?
posted by Jpfed at 9:57 AM on March 3, 2012


There'd be evidence of anti-matter/matter collisions at the boundary.
posted by empath at 10:07 AM on March 3, 2012


Also, they don't know that gravity works the same for anti-matter.
posted by empath at 10:07 AM on March 3, 2012


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