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Peering through a VELO detector module.

Where has all the antimatter gone?

When antimatter and matter come into contact, the result is dramatic. In the blink of an eye they both vanish, destroying one another and leaving behind a flash of energy.

This explosive relationship raises some intriguing questions. For example, if matter and antimatter were created in equal quantities during the Big Bang, why do we find ourselves living in a Universe made only of matter? Could some unknown mechanism have stepped in to prevent matter and antimatter completely annihilating each other? Or perhaps vast clusters of antimatter still exist in some far-flung corner of the Universe?

Annihilation

Such questions have led to numerous speculative theories, but most scientists believe the imbalance we see today between matter and antimatter reflects a subtle difference between the two. For instance, a slight variation in the rate at which matter and antimatter decay can help explain why a small, but highly significant, fraction of the matter has survived to build us and the Universe we inhabit.

It is precisely these slight asymmetries between matter and antimatter that LHCb has been set up to study.