Antimatter probe to go up on last shuttle

  • Wed Aug 25th, 2010 10:28pm
  • News

Associated Press

GENEVA — A $2 billion machine that will jump-start the search for antimatter and other phenomena was loaded onto a massive U.S. Air Force plane Wednesday for the final leg of its journey on Earth before it catches the last scheduled shuttle flight into space.

Airmen struggled to stow the 8.3-ton Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer into a C-5M Super Galaxy at Geneva airport ahead of today’s flight to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The military planes are normally used to fly tanks and helicopters around the world, but scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, had to ask the U.S. Air Force to help them out when they found their 8.3-ton device wouldn’t fit into a Boeing 747 cargo jet.

Even then, workers had to saw off part of the shipping crate to squeeze the machine into the Galaxy’s hold.

Sam Ting, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer would be docked to the International Space Station to collect evidence of antimatter, dark matter and other elusive elements of the universe over the next 20 years.

The AMS detector will complement CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, a massive atom smasher deep beneath the Swiss-French border that scientists are using to simulate conditions similar to those just after the Big Bang in the hope of better understanding the makeup of the universe.

Antimatter, which the device was primarily designed to find, is sometimes referred to as the ‘evil twin’ of ordinary matter and scientists believe the Big Bang created both in roughly equal amounts — meaning that, in theory, there could be an identical universe to ours out there made entirely of antimatter.

But so far scientists have been unable to detect antimatter except in the lab. By searching outside the protective shell of Earth’s atmosphere they hope to find solid proof of the elusive particle’s existence.