Collider gets set to take on antimatter mystery

Image: Belle II detector
Scientists and technicians insert one of the optical components into the iTOP particle identification detector at the SuperKEKB accelerator in Japan. The “Imaging Time of Propagation” apparatus, or iTOP, is part of SuperKEKB’s Belle II detector. (Credit: PNNL)

What happened to all the antimatter? A particle-smasher in Japan is well on its way to addressing that question and others on the frontier of physics.

The SuperKEKB accelerator is designed to smash together tightly focused beams of electrons and anti-electrons (better known as positrons) and track the subatomic particles that wink in and out of existence as a result.

The collider will follow up on an earlier round of experiments at the KEK laboratory in Tsukuba. Over the past five years, KEK’s 1.9-mile-round (3-kilometer-round) underground ring has been upgraded to produce collisions at a rate 40 times higher than the earlier KEKB experiments did. Europe’s Large Hadron Collider may smash protons together at higher energies, but SuperKEKB will trump the LHC when it comes to the “Intensity Frontier.”

On Feb. 10, scientists circulated a beam of positrons around the SuperKEKB ring at nearly the speed of light. Then, on Feb. 26, they sent a separate beam of electrons at similar velocities, but going in the opposite direction. These “first turns” serve as major milestones on the way to next year’s first physics run, when both beams will circulate simultaneously and smash into each other in SuperKEKB’s upgraded Belle II detector.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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