Physicists observe antihelium-4 nucleus, the heaviest antinucleus yet

March 22, 2011 by Lisa Zyga, report

This 3D illustration of the STAR Time Projection Chamber shows the track of an antihelium-4 nucleus (red). Image credit: STAR Collaboration, RHIC, Brookhaven National Laboratory.
( -- In 1932, scientists observed the first antimatter particle, a positron (or antielectron). Since then, scientists have observed heavier and heavier states of antimatter: antiprotons and antineutrons in 1955, followed by antideuterons, antitritons, and antihelium-3 during the next two decades. Advances in accelerator and detector technology led to the first production of antihydrogen in 1995 and antihypertriton (strange antimatter) in 2010. Now, scientists with the STAR collaboration at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory have observed another state of antimatter for the first time: the antimatter helium-4 nucleus, which is the heaviest antinucleus observed so far.

As the researchers report in a study posted at, the antihelium-4 nucleus consists of four antiparticles: two and two antineutrons. To observe the new , the scientists collided gold nuclei with each other a billion times. These high-energy collisions produced a quark gluon plasma, which is a hot, dense matter that contains roughly equal numbers of and antiquarks. As the plasma cooled, it transitioned into a hadron gas and produced protons, neutrons, and their antiparticles. The scientists observed a total of 18 antimatter helium-4 nuclei in this gas, demonstrating that antihelium-4 does indeed exist.

As the scientists noted, antihelium-4 will likely be the heaviest antinuclei to be observed for quite a while. The scientists predict that the production of the next heaviest stable antimatter nucleus, antilithium-6, is beyond the reach of current accelerator technology.

The amount of antihelium-4 that the scientists observed in the current experiment can be modeled very closely by thermodynamics, which suggests that there’s not a lot of naturally occurring antihelium-4 in the Universe. In fact, the scientists predict that we’re very unlikely to see any of it in space; if we did observe antihelium-4 in space (or any antinuclei heavier than antihelium-4), it would mean that the antimatter is being produced by another mechanism. And if there were another mechanism for producing antimatter in large enough quantities that we could observe it, that would indicate the existence of a large amount of antimatter somewhere in the Universe.

The Space Shuttle Endeavour, which is currently scheduled to launch in April, is carrying the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station to search for particles of antimatter in cosmic rays. The scientists predict that the spectrometer will not detect any antihelium, but if it does, it could have significant implications for antimatter research. One of the biggest questions that cosmologists have is why the observable Universe is made almost entirely of matter and not antimatter. Finding a part of the Universe that contains more antimatter than expected could help scientists find an answer and shed light on what was happening during the early Universe.

Explore further: The heaviest known antimatter

More information: STAR Collaboration. "Observation of the antimatter helium-4 nucleus." arXiv:1103.3312v1 [nucl-ex]

via: The Physics ArXiv Blog and Press Release

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4.7 / 5 (3) Mar 22, 2011
Warning, stupid question: Does antimatter read differently on a spectrometer or does it absorb/emit light in the same way as normal matter?
1 / 5 (5) Mar 23, 2011
good luck trying to run GCMS on it, lmao. How are you going to keep it contained to make it there, and get a sample large enough to do it with, and not make a horrible anti-matter vapour that would explode on contact with regular matter? The idea of them ever doing this is preposterous.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 23, 2011
good luck trying to run GCMS on it, lmao. How are you going to keep it contained to make it there, and get a sample large enough to do it with, and not make a horrible anti-matter vapour that would explode on contact with regular matter? The idea of them ever doing this is preposterous.

That is a very valid question .. Using a magnetic bottle with anti-hydrogen ions , i don't see any problem getting spectrometric readings off it even if it is a very minute quantity.

It looks like they are doing precisely this @

They claim be making something called a "superconducting radiofrequency Paul trap" to do this.
not rated yet Mar 23, 2011
Two comments and no direct answer to the op.

Theoretically, there is no difference between the interaction of matter and light vs antimatter and light. Your spectrometer readings should be the same.

However, a spectrometer ionizes the molecules when taking a reading. The charge on an antimatter ion is opposite that of a matter ion. You could differentiate the two based on that if you could compare a matter sample with an antimatter sample.

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