Atoms of antimatter are instantly destroyed when they come into contact with matter, so capturing them by the dozen was no easy task, say scientists at CERN. A team of scientists at the European institute managed to capture 38 of the atoms for a fraction of a second, each in a trap described as a “magnetic bottle," the BBC reports. They believe the device will allow them to unlock the mysteries of antimatter, which is identical to matter but has the components of its atoms in reverse, with negatively charged nuclei and positively charged electrons.
Scientists believe equal amounts of matter and antimatter were created at the birth of the universe, and the question of what happened to all the antimatter is one of the biggest mysteries in science. The CERN team hopes that capturing more atoms will provide the answer. "We don't know where this is going to lead," a physicist on the team tells CTV . "But the ultimate motivation is really to try to address this question: Why do we live in a universe composed of matter?" He describes the experiment as "science fiction become science fact." (If you're having a tough time wrapping your head around this, check out this great explanation of antimatter.)