MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

Both antimatter and ordinary matter fall freely by gravity


In a study, Danish scientists reported direct observations of the free fall of antihydrogen atoms, suggesting that antimatter and ordinary matter are subjected to the same gravitational pull. The study was published September 27 in Nature.

Einstein’s general theory of relativity, proposed in 1915, describes the effects of gravity, which has been verified experimentally to date. The weak equivalence principle in general relativity states that all objects, regardless of mass and composition, fall freely in the same way under gravity. Although the mainstream view is that antimatter also behaves under Earth’s gravity, direct observations have been lacking due to the difficulty of creating strictly controlled experimental conditions.

In 2018, CERN’s Alpha Cooperative built the ALPHA-g detector, a magnetic trap of antihydrogen atoms specifically designed to study gravitational effects. The suspended antihydrogen atoms in the detector are released; their subsequent motion can be used to infer the effects of gravity. If more spills from the bottom than at the top, then antimatter atoms may behave the same way as ordinary matter.

Jeffrey Hangst of Aarhus University and colleagues observed through the experiment that antihydrogen atoms released into ALPHA-g that were trapped by magnetic traps were more likely to fall from the bottom of the device. The results validate the mainstream view that antimatter and ordinary matter are subject to the same gravitational effects, which is consistent with the predictions of general relativity.

The researchers believe that this paves the way for further testing of the weak equivalence principle, which is expected to improve the understanding of the gravitational properties of antimatter. (Source: Feng Weiwei, China Science News)

ALPHAg experimental site. Image courtesy of P. Traczyk and M. Brice

Illustrated ALPHAg experiment. Image courtesy of P. Traczyk and M. Brice

Observations that antimatter is affected by gravity. Image courtesy of Jeffrey Hangst

Observations that antimatter is affected by gravity. Image courtesy of Jeffrey Hangst

Related paper information:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06527-1



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