Antimatter is the literal opposite of matter. But how can the opposite of matter exist? Well over here we mean that these particles have properties that act opposite to the way matter does. Their electrical charges are the complete opposite, and they have been speculated to be created during the Big Bang! Now, we have come to the point where we can physically create it in a laboratory, or rather a big one. Before we get into that, let’s understand what this mystery is.
Fun fact: Did you know bananas produce antimatter? That’s because they have potassium-40 that is an isotope of potassium and releases one every 75 minutes as it slowly decays!!
What is antimatter?
The very vague phenomenon of antimatter goes all the way back to 1890. But now, it represents the amalgamation of general relativity and quantum mechanics! Many phenomena can be explained by the presence of antimatter such as gamma rays weigher heavier than expect and such. While this was initially expected to a mirror of sorts, but it actually isn’t. Antimatter is basically a substance whose sub-atomic particles have the opposite charge of the matter. Now that we’ve established what this is, we can further understand by looking at the matter in detail.
Matter in general is made up of several atoms that consist of different particles. These particles can be electrons, protons, neutrons, and a few other newly discovered particles such as positrons, baryons, etc. So every particle that is present has an opposite particle since they come in pairs! For example, an electron whose charges are reversed would be a positron or an anti-electron.
Creation of anti-matter
It has been assumed that if matter and antimatter were created at the same time, then there is no way that the universe prefers one over the other. But somehow it has? We do have more matter present in the universe than the other. But how can this be? This remains to be one of the biggest mysteries about antimatter.
Now make no mistake. This is certainly attributed to the Big Bang Theory and when the explosion happened, the initial process was just about cooling but at the time we assumed that only matter had been created. But we were wrong. Even antimatter was created because how can we have ying without yang right? This theory is known as the big bang nucleosynthesis theory where the temperatures were low but allowed for different thermonuclear reactions to occur. This can also be responsible for the creation of particles such as deuterium, helium, etc. since they are very abundant in our universe.
The biggest mystery in this case is that there seems to be asymmetry of sorts in our universe. One of the theories is that there might have been more matter created at first & antimatter followed. Well, as we can see. there might be an issue with this theory as we know that they come in pairs. This is why it is still unclear as to why matter dominates in our universe. The tipping point to this asymmetry is still UNSOLVED.
Discoveries of opposing particles
Well we now know that these particles come in pairs but do we have any proof of the same? Yes, yes we do! When certain gamma ray experiments were being carried out, it was found that additional scattering rays were observed. Why was this the case? It was later on found that this was an electron-positron pair that was being produced instead. Once accelerator technology was improved, they could investigate it further and many other particles such as anti-proton, anti-deuterium and even anti-helium were discovered!
Few of the facts that you can remember!
- Anti-proton was the first particle of this sort to be discovered
- Anti-helium 4 is the heaviest nucleus to be discovered
- Anti-hypertriton is the first antimatter hypernucleus (Nucleus with baryons)
Creation of antimatter in the lab
Antimatter can be created in the lab these days as well but there is a huge catch to this technology. While we might think that it is easy, it really isn’t. Humans have only created very small amount of this in the lab and they have all been created at the Fermi Lab’s accelerator. Barely 15 nanograms of the substance has been made! Why has this been a problem?
Well to create this opposite of any substance we would require about 25 trillion kilowatts of energy to make a gram of this substance. This is why the costs can go up to about $62.5 trillion to produce this. Another issue is that when it comes into contact with matter, it can annihilate causing to produce energy. This technology has not been perfected yet.
This is why we need more antimatter traps so that we can prevent them from comin in contact with matter. These are called Penning traps and keep particles separate from each other within a particle accelerator. What do we do for neutral articles such as anti-hydrogen? We use loffe traps! These substance have been found on top of thunderstorms as well where our very own atmosphere acts like a trap for these particles! It really is a fascinating bit of science.
Fun fact: Neutrinos might their own antiparticles as they come under a class of particles known as Majorana particles as they exhibit a behavior called neutrinoless double beta decay!
From the looks of it, most of science fiction stories like Star Trek etc. that tell us that time warp is possible is a distant possibility. We are still in the basic part of it and are still trying to understand what exactly it can result in. These substances are used in medicine such as Positron emission tomography to image the body and diagnose diseases. It could also be a potential candidate for cancer? Who knows. Spacecraft may not be it, but energy creation is definitely a possibility. At this point in time, we use more energy than create it so, in the near future we can expect it to be perfected!
P.S. Read more about the nuclear shell model or how black holes are formed to gain an insight into the various ways in which matter can interact with each other!
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Canetti, L., Drewes, M., & Shaposhnikov, M. (2012). Matter and Antimatter in the Universe. New Journal of Physics, 14(9), 095012.
Ma, Y. G., Chen, J. H., & Xue, L. (2012). A brief review of antimatter production. Frontiers of Physics, 7(6), 637-646.
What is antimatter (2014, June 20). Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/32387-what-is-antimatter.html#:~:text=Antimatter%20refers%20to%20sub%2Datomic,opposite%20those%20of%20normal%20matter.