Big Bang breakthrough

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Scientists have claimed a breakthrough towards solving one of the biggest riddles of physics, trapping an "anti-atom" for the first time in a quest to understand what happened to all the antimatter that has vanished since the Big Bang.

International physicists at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or CERN, said they had overcome a basic problem in studying atoms of antimatter.

While such atoms have been created routinely in the lab for years, they tend to disappear so fast that scientists don't have a chance to study them.

But in a report published online by the journal Nature, the scientists said they'd been able to trap individual atoms and keep them around for a bit more than one-tenth of a second.

To a particle physicist, that's a pretty long time. Scientist Jeffrey Hangst, the spokesman for the team, said they had managed to trap 38 anti-hydrogen atoms individually.

"We have a magnetic bowl, if you will, kind of a bottle, that holds the neutral antihydrogen atoms and this is the first time that this has been demonstrated," he said.

The antihydrogen atoms are trapped in a vacuum by the giant magnet, where they can be studied before they are deliberately released, Hangst said.

Hangst and his colleagues, who included scientists from Britain, Brazil, Canada, Israel and the United States, will now be able to take the next step in their experiment, which is to try to compare matter and antimatter.

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