Buffer-gas cooling of antiprotonic helium to 1.5 to 1.7 K, and antiproton-to–electron mass ratio

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Science  04 Nov 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6312, pp. 610-614
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf6702

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Exotic molecule tests fundamental symmetry

Spectroscopy of exotic molecules can offer insight into fundamental physics. Hori et al. studied the transition frequencies of an unusual helium atom in which one of the two electrons was substituted by an antiproton, the negatively charged antiparticle partner of the proton (see the Perspective by Ubachs). The antiprotonic helium was cooled down to low temperatures to allow the frequencies to be measured with high precision. The extracted mass of the antiproton (relative to the electron mass) was in good agreement with previous measurements of the proton mass. This finding is in keeping with the implications of the combined charge, parity, and time-reversal symmetry of physical laws.

Science, this issue p. 610; see also p. 546


Charge, parity, and time reversal (CPT) symmetry implies that a particle and its antiparticle have the same mass. The antiproton-to-electron mass ratio Embedded Image can be precisely determined from the single-photon transition frequencies of antiprotonic helium. We measured 13 such frequencies with laser spectroscopy to a fractional precision of 2.5 × 10−9 to 16 × 10−9. About 2 × 109 antiprotonic helium atoms were cooled to temperatures between 1.5 and 1.7 kelvin by using buffer-gas cooling in cryogenic low-pressure helium gas; the narrow thermal distribution led to the observation of sharp spectral lines of small thermal Doppler width. The deviation between the experimental frequencies and the results of three-body quantum electrodynamics calculations was reduced by a factor of 1.4 to 10 compared with previous single-photon experiments. From this, Embedded Image was determined as 1836.1526734(15), which agrees with a recent proton-to-electron experimental value within 8 × 10−10.

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