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April 19, 2011

The Big Bang should have created equal amounts of matter and its oppositely charged counterpart, antimatter. So far, though, there's no evidence of antimatter around us. Yet there's no reason that other sections of the universe can't contain entire galaxies of antimatter, which would look just like galaxies of normal matter.

Scientists will look for atoms of antimatter with an experiment scheduled for launch aboard the next space shuttle: AMS-2, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. It'll be attached to the International Space Station, where it's expected to operate through the end of the decade.

The billion-dollar payload will use a powerful magnet and sensitive instruments to detect, measure, and separate different types of subatomic particles. That'll allow it to study cosmic rays, and hunt for evidence of antimatter and dark matter.

Dark matter makes up most of the matter in the universe, yet it produces no detectable energy. It reveals itself only because it produces gravity, which pulls on the visible stars and galaxies.

The leading theory says that dark matter consists of small but heavy particles. One model describes a particle called a neutralino. Although impossible to detect on their own, these particles may occasionally ram together, producing other particles that could be detected. AMS will look for spikes in these types of particles, which could tell physicists that the neutralino model is correct -- shedding a little light on dark matter.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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