Time marches relentlessly forward for you and me; watch a movie in reverse, and you’ll quickly see something is amiss. But from the point of view of a single, isolated particle, the passage of time looks the same in either direction. For instance, a movie of two particles scattering off of each other would look just as sensible in reverse – a concept known as time reversal symmetry.
Now the BaBar experiment at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has made the first direct observation of a long-theorized exception to this rule. Digging through nearly 10 years of data from billions of particle collisions, researchers found that certain particle types change into one another much more often in one way than they do in the other, a violation of time reversal symmetry and confirmation that some subatomic processes have a preferred direction of time. The results are impressively robust, with a 1 in 10 tredecillion (10E43) or 14-sigma level of certainty – far more than needed to declare a discovery.
“It was exciting to design an experimental analysis that enabled us to observe, directly and unambiguously, the asymmetrical nature of time,” said BaBar collaborator Fernando Martínez-Vidal, associate professor at the University of Valencia and member of the Instituto de Fisica Corpuscular (IFIC), who led the investigation. “This is a sophisticated analysis, the kind of experimental work that can only be done when an experiment is mature.”
BaBar, which collected data at SLAC from 1999 to 2008, was designed to tease out subtle differences in the behavior of matter and antimatter that might help account for the preponderance of matter in the universe. It produced almost 500 million pairs of particles called B mesons and their antimatter counterparts B-bar mesons for study. BaBar scientists found that B mesons and B-bar mesons do, indeed, behave differently in ways that violate so-called CP symmetry, which incorporates the symmetries of charge (positive versus negative) and parity (which can be thought of as left-handedness versus right-handedness). This discovery of CP violation contributed to the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics.
See on phys.org