What's the matter? Never mind

By Phil Plait | May 21, 2010 7:00 am

Clifford over at Asymptotia talks a bit about a new discovery that might explain why there is so much matter and so little antimatter in the Universe. This is one of the biggest as-yet unexplained questions in all of science, and this new discovery — covered in the New York Times — may be a key to understanding it.

Matter and antimatter are arbitrarily named; had there been more of what we call antimatter made in the early Universe, we’d be calling antimatter matter and matter antimatter. Confused? Wait until you try to figure out if I’m evil because I have a beard in our matter Universe or if I would be evil if I had no beard in an antimatter one!

Not that it matters.


Comments (27)

  1. Matt Mossholder

    Actually, the question of whether you are evil or not because of the beard has a VERY simple answer:

    The one with the beard is ALWAYS good, because if the evil ones had the beard, they couldn’t be trusted not to shave it off. Hence, the good ones are always the hairy ones.

    And, why, yes, I have facial hair. Why do you ask? :)

  2. Very interesting. All the physics books I have read have left me with the impression that the previously known (small) effect was enough to explain all the matter as it exists today. Apparently not.

  3. Allen

    Quite interesting. It’ll be very interesting to see what kind of affect this will have on the Standard Model, if it turns out to be correct.

  4. Sespetoxri

    Clearly you have already switched places with your non-bearded good counterpart from the Antimatter universe. Now you’re simply trying to find a way to bring your chin-whiskered compatriots over to dominate the planet.

    I for one welcome our flavor-saver bearing overlords.

  5. MoonShark

    Naw, it’s really the mustache that makes the evil (or lack thereof). See Bender and Flexo.

    Er, wait, forgot about this:

  6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Late on the pick up, are we? Not that it either matters or anti-matters.

    No, the evul here is that it points to non-Standard model, as Clifford’s links to Jester and NYT mention: “The asymmetry is some 100 times larger than the value predicted by the standard model!”

    But “Of course, it’s too early to start dancing and celebrating the downfall of the standard model, as in the past the bastard have recovered from similar blows. Yet there are reasons to get excited.”

    The problem being: “The standard model predicts a very tiny value for this asymmetry, of order $10^{-4}$, which is below the sensitivity of the experiment. This is cool, because simply an observation of the asymmetry provides an evidence for contributions of new physics beyond the standard model.

    The measurement is not as easy as it seems because there are pesky backgrounds that have to be carefully taken into account. The dominant background comes from ubiquitous kaons or pions that can sometimes be mistaken for muons. These particles may contribute to the asymmetry because the D0 detector itself violates CP (due to budget cuts the D0bar detector made of antimatter was never constructed). In particular, the kaon K+ happens to travel further than K- in the detector material and may fake a positive value of asymmetry. We have to cross our fingers that D0 got all these effects right and carefully subtracted them away.”

    So it likely will turn out to be false alarm as all earlier, here by blowing up (in this experiment) unmeasurable quantities with noise or something such.

    And, I dunno, but 10^-4 is still a low asymmetry. It isn’t as if the universe is bathed in a resulting mess of photons or anything. 😀 No, really, is that enough? The articles doesn’t say…

  7. Messier Tidy Upper

    Hmm .. the title there reminds me of this philosophical rhyme :

    What is mind? No matter
    What is matter? Never mind! 😉

    – Pretty sure that was quoted (?) in one episode of The Simpsons not sure who first said it.


    PS. Off topic but interesting (I hope) – Saw on the news tonight that the Japanese space agency (JAXA) has just successfully launched a new probe Ikaros to Venus incl. a solar sail :



    Seems to be a big year for Japan’s space program & busy few months with Hayabusa’s return coming up soon too. :-)

  8. Scott K

    Today’s 365 Tomorrows touches on the potential value of matter/anti-matter… :)


  9. Pi-needles

    Wait until you try to figure out if I’m evil because I have a beard in our matter Universe or if I would be evil if I had no beard in an antimatter one!

    You’re not evil anywhere BA – just wicked! 😉

    (Of course, I haven’t checked *all* the possible parallel universes so I can’t say this is 100% certain but, hey, I’m pretty sure its true. :-) )

    @ 5. MoonShark Says:

    Naw, it’s really the mustache that makes the evil ..

    Well the BA has sort of got a mustache but it’s not the sort he can twirl and really only the twirling kind that makes (marks?) the Ee-vul. 😉

  10. Pi-needles:

    (Of course, I haven’t checked *all* the possible parallel universes to check so I can’t say this is 100% sure but hey I’m pretty confident its true. :-) )

    Don’t the laws of (quantum) physics say that he will be evil in exactly half of the universes?

    Of course, in the evil universes, “evil BA” will not be considered “evil”.

  11. Space is achiral toward photons to at least 15 decimal places and over quasar distances across the EM spectrum. Nobody has tested whether space is intrinsically chiral toward mass. If it were, an intensely parity violating Big Bang explains everything – matter, Weak interaction, post-cosmic inflation biological homochirality. The high symmetry origins mantra of contemporary gravitation theory and SUSY, U(1)xSU(2)xSU(3), would not require symmery breakings, for it would simply be wrong. The truly awful baggage associated with such crackpottery is that it is testable in existing apparatus with commercial materials. Do opposite shoes vacuum free fall differently?


    Somebody should look. The worst it can do is succeed.

  12. @Ken B

    Don’t the laws of (quantum) physics say that he will be evil in exactly half of the universes?

    Yes, but doesn’t this new discovery make it possible that it is no longer exactly half? So which one dominates, evil or non-evil….
    And more to the point, which one is with us??????

  13. @ 7. MessierTidyUpper

    “What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind!”

    That’s from a The Simpsons short from the Tracy Ullman show. I think it was the first one, though I’m not certain.

    The internet claims that it was also said by George Berkeley and Thomas Hewitt Key. I’m too lazy and at work to see if that’s true, but it seems iffy.

  14. DataJack

    Phil – I have a question that has been bothering me for a while: How do we know that there aren’t entire galaxies of antimatter out there. Sure, if they interacted with a matter galaxy, we’d know. But if not, is there a way to tell? Or do we just postulate that there aren’t, because we’d see some annihilation indicators that we aren’t seeing?

  15. Paul

    The beard doesn’t indicate evil – the evil one, much like real Klingons, sport goatees.

  16. John

    I find it very interesting that this is _not_ explained by the standard model.
    I think this is the only such violation and no gravity involved…

  17. Pieter Kok

    Torbjörn, you are being overly pessimistic. You would expect the authors to be very careful making such announcements. And Jester argues that this result fits well with another anomaly, found a few years ago. Or, to put it more prosaically:

    …something fishy is going on in the Bs sector.

    Jester’s post is well worth a read.

  18. Hannu Siivonen

    You really should stop thinking about nonsense and just grow a beard.

  19. Chip

    Phil – I even saw a picture once of the anti-matter versions of several of your colleagues including Dr. Michelle Thaller, all sporting a goatees! Maybe taken at a SciFi convention because there was also the “Evil United Federation Sword-Through-Earth” symbol on the wall.

  20. Jess Tauber

    Well, I haven’t had a chance to do much with Standard Model stuff of late, but all sorts of interesting findings in the Periodic Table (see http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/tetrahedronT3). Several professional physicists have shown in the last few years that the number of nucleons in a nucleus can be modeled well with relations between the Pascal triangle diagonals. Last year I showed you can do pretty much the same thing with the electron shells (the tetrahedral diagonals play a large part here).

    This past week I realized that the relatively newly discovered Knight’s Move relations in the Periodic Table could also be modeled with the Pascal diagonals.

    How come nobody is doing this with the subatomic particles? Might this be one way of working out the true reason behind the hypothesized Higgs-coupled rest masses, currently a crazy quilt? Perhaps there is something hidden there as well that might account for the matter/antimatter discrepency. You can spend billions on accelerators that span continents and do good science with 200 coauthors on your paper in Nature, or you can grab a calculator, a pen and a couple of pieces of paper and make history.

  21. Nemo

    Asymptotia doesn’t work for me (in Firefox 3.0.19, Ubuntu Eee); I get a weird message about “PHTML”. Anyone else?

  22. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Pieter, I wasn’t referring to the authors claims but to Jester’s.

    And there I was more or less relaying Jester’s pessimism, except for that one discussion. It was based on “these 2 results [CDF and D0] are combined with all other flavor physics data” to get significance, so if something fishy is going on it’s because it was a fishing expedition! 😉

    [Compare such meta-analysis with the medical practice of same. It can’t falsify the theory in question, its is only a statistical examination of scientific studies.

    That is, unless CDF and D0 data was somehow merged as if it was the same experiment. I looked at the paper, arXiv:0803.0659v2, and it doesn’t look that way to me. They combine constraints by model fitting, and try to resolve ambiguity from having essentially different experiments by handwaving and hoping for more data.]

    Yes, Jester´s post is worth reading.

  23. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    all sorts of interesting findings in the Periodic Table

    Pattern recognition as “science”, on a skeptics blog? That was a fun one!

    Now, if you believe that there is not a huge number of patterns or, equivalently, equation (model) fits, that can be found to any large but finite set of data I have a bridge in San Fransisco that I can sell to you.

    The problem isn’t to generate testable hypotheses, the problem is to generate sensible hypotheses. And the greedy generation of gunk hypotheses through senseless pattern recognition is a hindrance to that. There is no tie in to actual physics in the comment I browsed. [The link is faulty, btw.] But there is adaptation of the data set to arrive at the presumed pattern. Bible codes, anyone?

    [To not have to return to that dull point, for example here: “The 56 tet of 6 layers has an inner core of 4 spheres- these then get subtracted to leave the outer jacket of 52, the same numbers as the K.M. number. Shaving off the top two layers instead gives the same number, and still the remainder consists of four layers.” Adaptation of the data set.]

    And no, no one makes history by that. But people like to repeat history by doing it, through tedious millenniums. See religious history, for one. They will never give up, because it tickles their reward center without any other external or social correlate, sigh. It’s dope for dopes.

  24. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    “It can’t falsify the theory in question, its is only a statistical examination of scientific studies.”

    Oops, forgot: formulation attributable to Wikipedia. I checked that I got the correct term, and found this gem in the process, too good not to nick.

    Also, I believe the fuzziness of the paper is why Jester said “argued”. I haven’t read much of him, but he immediately comes over as reasoned in most everything.

  25. Grand Lunar

    “Wait until you try to figure out if I’m evil because I have a beard in our matter Universe or if I would be evil if I had no beard in an antimatter one!”

    Beard or no beard, if you have an agony booth, THAT would be a clear indication of evil. :)


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