back to article Antimatter close to home

As anyone who follows big physics knows, the best way to trap anti-matter is with a magnetic field: that way, you can prevent the mutual annihilation that results from interactions with normal matter. Usually, you need a particle accelerator and a big magnet to grab hold of antimatter, even for a fraction of a second. However …


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  1. EngineersAnon

    Now we're getting somewhere

    Mr. Sulu, engage the Bussard collectors, and prepare for warp...

    I trust the Big Boom icon needs no explanation.

    1. Danny 14

      uh oh

      Oh god the geek in me has surfaced again. The bussard ramscoop collects hydrogen. The enterprise has a reverse charge antimatter generator to create anti matter.

      sorry. so sorry, i'll beat the geek back under the surface again.

      1. Richard Chirgwin (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: uh oh

        Is your inner geek feeling Down and Out?

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re; uh oh

        > The bussard ramscoop collects hydrogen

        There are two TNG episodes where the bussard is used for purposes other than this.

        I don't know which episodes, but it was a question in the Fist Of Fun book that accompianed the series.

      3. EngineersAnon

        re: uh oh

        You say antiproton, I say antihydrogen nucleus.

  2. M Gale


    And now PAMELA? And she's probing Van Allen?

    The mind boggles.

  3. KrisMac

    Conspiracy Theorists Unite!! :-)

    So this 'South Atlantic Anomaly' doesnt hover ominously near Bermuda then does it? Could anti-particles be zapping planes from the sky???

    *joke icon for the humour impaired*

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Though it does cause problems for satellites. The ISS has to carry extra radiation shielding for the occasions when it passes through the SAN and the Hubble Space Telescope is shut down for its passage. I'm pretty sure it was also linked to the repeated failures of a number of low-orbit comms sats.

  4. Winkypop Silver badge

    Just as well it's not......

    ....over the Vatican, eh?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Antimatter catalysed fusion Orion

    I seem to recall one blue-sky idea a while back for a prototype of a kiloton class fusion device.

    The problem is that the smallest conventional fission warhead would be about 15 kilos minimum, and be far too dangerous in the event of an accident.

    However, making the warhead out of a superconducting core, then lithium 4 deuteride with an outer covering of beryllium would mean that even if a detonation occurred in the fuel pod it would not result in a big boom.

    Essentially the antimatter would be used as a fusion catalyst, being accelerated using something like a linac onto the fuel pod through a small gap in the shielding.

    The MgB2 superconducting inner lining would trap the antimatter for a short time then as it heated up (use a laser here) it would go normal and the antimatter would react inside the chamber and detonate the device.

    Ought to work, back of the envelope calculations suggest that the antimatter required would be in the low milligrams for a return trip to Mars.

    Harnessing it from the solar wind is also a possibility..

    AC, because I don't even WANT to know how many classified patents this breaches.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      blue-sky idea???

      Is this where "thinking outside the box" has got us to? I assume that you are going to invest my life saving in new markets before flogging me a 1st story flat with damp and a pikey landlord.

    2. Ru

      "big boom"

      Conventional fission warheads aren't particularly hazardous in the event of an accident; triggering a nice neat fission reaction in a warhead is a very non-trivial exercise. Sure, you could accidentally detonate it, but the same problem exists with your unicorn-fart powered antimatter confinement device. Or were you thinking about launch accidents? If you've got the magical powers to make super conductors and generate antimatter willy-nilly, you can certainly make a nice catapult that can fling payloads into orbit fast enough that even in the event of problems they won't be falling back down.

      Wouldn't a hafnium nuclear isomer based system require less magic than your proposal? Or hell, a plain old laser-triggered fusion warhead probably isn't that far away. Or you know, just a normal orion drive. Even rocket science isn't exactly rocket science, these days.

  6. Jacob Lipman
    Paris Hilton


    So, I'm baffled, and definitely missing a lot of information when it comes to particle physics. So, matter and antimatter collide, and annihilate. What form does this annihilation take - in what form is the resultant energy? And what natural processes exist that turn energy to matter? Is it possible that the energy resulting from the collision of matter and antimatter is ever so slightly more inclined to become "normal" matter rather than antimatter? Could this explain the baffling dearth of observable antimatter in our universe?

    Paris because I do not have the knowledge to address this subject, but am pretentious enough to do so anyway.

    1. Danny 14


      Its a pretty good annihilation. 100% conversion to energy allegedly there hasnt been enough study of larger quantities of anti matter to say outright.

      Nucleosynthesis creates elements from stray protons and neutrons - but you obviously need protons and neutrons to begin with. Fusion turns energy to matter (in a manner of speaking) in nuclei masses greater than iron btu again you need constituent nuclei. I dont think scientists are aware of a conversion of 100% energy to matter though.

    2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Given E-MC^2...

      Regular fission turns an appreciable amount of matter into energy in the form of gamma rays, other high-energy electromagnetic radiation and a great deal of heat. The energy that matter is turned in to would be, similarly, gamma rays and other high energy electromagnetic radiation, the difference being that the conversion would be complete.

      The current assumption is either that matter and anti-matter were produced in equal proportions during the big bang, but that they quickly segregated from each other, OR that anti-matter isn't quite as stable as matter, so it was less likely to form.

    3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Actmually there is thought to be a natural bias against antimatter.

      Google "antimatter" and "bias" for information. We may neither of us understand a word of it but it's nice to know that it's there.

      However, the last that I heard, they hadn't yet found enough of a bias towards matter and against antimatter in various processes experiments to add up to what's needed to make the Big Bang work properly as far as that goes. Well, looking for it keeps them in a job.

      1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
        Paris Hilton


        There has to be a bias towards matter, otherwise if equal amounts of matter and anti-matter would have been created after the big bang and they would have destroyed each other and there would be no matter left in the universe (multiverse???).

        Paris - big bang

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What form? It depends

      @Jacob: "What form does this annihilation take[?]"

      It depends on exactly what is annihilating. If you take 2 fundamental particles, like an electron and a anti-electron (a.k.a. positron), you'd normally get a gamma photon and an infrared photon (you need to have 2 particles out, because you have to balance all the equations: charge, momentum, energy, and several others you've likely not heard of).

      When dealing with protons and anti-protons it's more complicated because a proton isn't a fundamental particle - it's a composite of 3 quarks (2 up and a down), a bunch of gluons sticking the quarks together, and a cast of thousands of virtual particles doing cameos. It is unlikely that each particle would find it's exact opposite, so instead of just photons, you get photons and a bunch of things like neutrinos being emitted, with the neutrinos carrying about a third of the total energy.

  7. Homer 1

    Van Halen's belt surrounding the Earth?

    Whoa! Excellent!

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Van Halen's belt surrounding the Earth?

      That answers a question that's been doing the rounds for some time.

      It was Eddie who ate all the pies....

      1. Jacqui

        Re: Re: Van Halen's belt surrounding the Earth?

        It was Eddie who ate all the pies....

        Nah - Ford says Eddies in the space time continuum

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Can I blame my utter lack of effort this summer on a depletion of energy due to being bombarded by anti-matter protons?


    Okay, I'll blame Paris, because she doesn't matter either.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the best way to trap anti-matter is with a magnetic field

    Ah, makes sense: my fridge is covered with magnets, and my food keeps disappearing.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Anti-proton catalyzed micro fisson/fusion is what I think you're looking for

    Originated from the U. Pennsylvania IIRC.

    There is a paper but basically 200g (roughly golfball size) spheres (199g Lead, 1g Uranium and some Gold) are hit by multiple ion beams (or lasers, but the ion beams are more efficient to make which helps) and start to be compressed up to a fission density. Then they get hit by a small burst of anti-protons and things really start to cook.

    But where to get the anti-protons? The team writing the paper reckoned 1 years production would do it but the containment traps were not up to holding onto them long enough to be ready for the deceleration burn when you got to Mars/Venus/Jupter. This is being worked on.

    However if there is a *natural* (and renewable?) supply that changes things quite a bit.

    Note also any *solid* object passing through that zone would be *guaranteed* a nasty dose of high energy X and gamma rays. A magnetic shield that repelled Protons, wound attract Anti-Protons.

    The SAA is the weakest part of the Earths magentosphere, roughly where the field lines channel incoming particles to. The field of view of a satellite mounted camera show *lots* of bright flashes when the shutter is closed in a way it does not anywhere else on orbit.

    An astonishing piece of serendipity.

  11. DF118

    LOHAN Mission Reassessment Time?

    Legendary Orbiter for Hoarding ANtiprotons?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So this is what's behind the Argies' renewed interest in The Falklands

    They need it for the terrstrial base of an anti-matter harvesting facility beneath the SAA. I say we start building our own and send down the Ark Royal to protect our interests pronto. What's that? We no longer have a maritime force protection capability? Oh.

  13. Spoonsinger

    I for one welcome the tentacly extra dimensional overlords.


  14. Matthew 17

    if the Earth is surrounded by anti-matter

    then anything leaving Earth would collide with it and go BANG!

    Of all the spaceships and probes that have left orbit, none have experienced a matter/anti-matter explosion.

    1. Red Bren


      You reverse the polarity of the hull plating?

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Well, yes and no...

      ...If it was up there in bloody great big chunks, rather than as a rarefied ion plasma, then this might happen. As it is, things going through the Van Allen Belts get hit by the odd antiproton, causing the annihilation of a proton in the outer layer of atoms, the release of a high-energy photon (probably in the gamma ray range), and possibly making the atom that was hit mildly radioactive, depending on whether it can bear to lose a proton or not. This is kind of why they are known as the Van Allen Radiation Belts, the clue there being in the word radiation really.

      Given the rarefied nature of the belts, something would have to stay up there for a serious amount of time to be annihilated by the antimatter; the orbit would decay a long long time before this ever happened.

      Still, I'm not sure I'd want to spend my holidays there...

    3. Ru

      So, by this logic,

      as asteroids have been found in space, we can extrapolate that space is acually SOLID ROCK.

    4. ravenviz Silver badge

      Re: if the Earth is surrounded by anti-matter

      Well only enough "bang" of the actual number of antiprotons that became annihilated. You might see it as a brief flash if it went through your eye ball.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Setting aside the gruesome image that evokes

        The Apollo astronauts reported seeing bright flashes in their vision when they were travelling to the Moon and back. It was suggested this was caused by sub-atomic particles trapped in the Van Allen Belts passing through their eyes.

    5. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Leaving the Earth

      "none have experienced a matter/anti-matter explosion." How do you know?

      I see my stuff go up to geo orbit, and have several bangs a year (hundreds). The bangs come from high-energy particles that make it through the spacecraft structure and hit the electronic components.

      Asking the Google calculator (I am on holiday, so my calculator is not with me):

      "mass of proton * (c squared) * 2" gives an answer: 3.00655461 E-10 joules. That is not very much energy really, and would increase the temperature of the whole spacecraft (Say 6 tonnes) by about the same amount as me farting in it's general direction, so it wouldn't really "explode"

      1. Anonymous Coward

        New addition to Reg standard units!

        As a duly appointed AC, I hereby nominate the following additional item for inclusion in the list of Reg standard units:

        1 Bristol Bachelor Fart = 3.00655461 E-10 J

        (Note that further experimentation may be required to confirm the conversion factor).

        Example usage:

        The LHC produces collisions on the order of 3300 Bristol Bachelor Farts per molecule (3.3 kBBFs/molecule)

        Burning a barrel of oil will produce about 20 E18 Bristol Bachelor Farts of energy.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Cern D!cks

    In the meantime whilst we are trying to understand what this stuff is, how it interacts, where it can be found, we have let loose a bunch of schoolkids with massively powerful equipment at Cern and elsewhere and who are allowed to play to their heart's content. Foolish barstewards.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I didn't realise...

      YOU were trying to understand....

  16. JeffyPooh

    "It's a form of matter Jim, but not as we know it."

    Carry on then.

  17. rpjs

    South Atlantic eh?

    Wonder if we have an explanation for the Vela incident now? -

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      A nice idea, except the Vela Incident took place over the Indian Ocean.

    2. asdf

      we have had one for a very long time

      Israel needed to test their nukes just like every other nuclear power. They just chose to do it with the South Africans (why it happened in Indian Ocean) as I am sure they made some serious $ by doing so and its not like they have given a damn what the international community or even the US thought.

  18. jai

    we're all doomed!!

    But.... isn't the earth's magnetic field s'posed to be failing and about to flip so that north is south and south is north some time soon? And when that happens, isn't there a change that all these antiprotons that are floating in the air, will drop down, hit normal matter and Marvin the Martain will have his earth-shattering ka-boom!!

  19. Anonymous Coward


    Please tell me that post-PARIS, the eggheads got together and renamed the satellite in honor of Pamela Anderson!! That would be AWESOME!!

    And its great that we have antimatter naturally occurring in orbit, but I have to wonder if all the space junk we have created over the years is slowly sweeping up all this antimatter.

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