A unique source of energy: what is antimatter and what it is capable of

What is antimatter?

Objects of the Universe - galaxies, stars, quasars, planets, supernovae, animals and people

- are made of matter.It is formed by various elementary particles - quarks, leptons, bosons. But it turned out that there are particles in which one part of the characteristics completely coincides with the parameters of the "originals", and the other has the opposite values. This property prompted scientists to give the aggregate of such particles the general name "antimatter".

Based on the data available to date, nothere are antigalaxies, anti-stars or other large antimatter objects. And this is very strange: according to the Big Bang theory, at the moment of the birth of our Universe, the same amount of matter and antimatter appeared, and where the latter went is not clear. Currently, there are two explanations for this phenomenon: either antimatter disappeared immediately after the explosion, or it exists in some distant parts of the universe, and we simply have not yet discovered it. This asymmetry is one of the most important unsolved problems in modern physics.

Antimatter - matter made up of antiparticles -"Mirror reflections" of a number of elementary particles that have the same spin and mass, but differ from each other in signs of all other characteristics of interaction: electric and color charge, baryon and lepton quantum numbers. Some particles, for example a photon, do not have antiparticles or, which is the same thing, are antiparticles in relation to themselves.

It is believed today that antiparticles react tothe fundamental forces that determine the structure of matter (strong interaction, forming nuclei, and electromagnetic, forming atoms and molecules), are exactly the same, therefore the structure of antimatter should be the same as the structure of "normal" matter.

And what does the prefix "anti" mean?

We usually use this prefix todesignate the opposite phenomenon. As for antimatter - it includes analogs of elementary particles that have opposite charge, magnetic moment and some other characteristics. Of course, all the properties of a particle cannot be reversed. For example, mass and lifetime must always remain positive, focusing on them, particles can be attributed to one category (for example, protons or neutrons).

If we compare a proton and an antiproton, then sometheir characteristics are the same: the mass of both is 938.2719 (98) megaelectronvolt, spin ½. But the electric charge of the proton is 1, and the antiproton has minus 1, the baryon number (which determines the number of strongly interacting particles consisting of three quarks) is 1 and minus 1, respectively.

Some particles, such as the Higgs boson and the photon, have no anti-analogs and are called true neutral.

Most antiparticles along with particlesappear in a process called pairing. The formation of such a pair requires high energy, that is, tremendous speed. In nature, antiparticles arise when cosmic rays collide with the Earth's atmosphere, inside massive stars, next to pulsars and active galactic nuclei. Scientists use colliders-accelerators for this.

Where is antimatter "mined" and stored?

Antimatter is mined in the Large Hadroncollider, collecting clouds of antiprotons after the collision of a proton beam with a metal target and neatly slowing down the scattering particles so that they can be used in subsequent experiments.

By Maximilien Brice, CERN - CERN Document Server, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29068932

Charged antimatter particles like positronsand antiprotons can be stored in so-called Penning traps. They are like tiny particle accelerators. Inside them, particles move in a spiral while magnetic and electric fields keep them from colliding with the walls of the trap.

However, Penning's traps don't work forneutral particles like antihydrogen. Since they have no charge, these particles cannot be confined to electric fields. They are trapped in Ioffe's traps, which work by creating an area of ​​space where the magnetic field becomes larger in all directions. Particles of antimatter get stuck in the area with the weakest magnetic field.

The Earth's magnetic field can act as traps for antimatter. Antiprotons were found in certain zones around the Earth - the Van Allen radiation belts.

Why is antimatter so hard to get?

It also became clear that to study this mysteriousthe substance is much more difficult than registering. Antiparticles in a stable state have not yet been encountered in nature. The problem is that matter and antimatter annihilate (mutually destroy each other) upon "contact". It is quite possible to obtain antimatter in laboratories, although it is quite difficult to contain it. So far, scientists have been able to do this only for a few minutes.

The antimatter storage issue is a real headachepain for physicists, because antiprotons and positrons instantly annihilate when meeting with any particles of ordinary matter. To keep them, scientists had to come up with cunning devices that could prevent a catastrophe. The charged antiparticles are stored in the so-called Penning trap, which resembles a miniature accelerator. Its powerful magnetic and electric field prevents positrons and antiprotons from colliding with the walls of the device. However, such a device does not work with neutral objects like the antihydrogen atom. For this case, the Ioffe trap was developed. The retention of antiatoms in it occurs due to the magnetic field.

What is antimatter capable of?

Just a handful of antimatter can producea huge amount of energy. This makes it a popular fuel for futuristic science fiction vehicles. In general, an antimatter rocket engine is hypothetically possible; the main limitation is the accumulation of enough antimatter to use it.

By the way, the energy of 1 milligram of antimatter is enough for a flight to Mars.

There are currently no technologies available formass production or collection of antimatter to the extent required for this application. However, a small number of scientists have conducted research on motion and storage simulation. These include Ronan Keen and Wei-Ming Zhang, who worked at Western Reserve Academy and Kent State University, respectively, as well as Mark Weber and his colleagues at Washington State University. Someday, if we can find a way to create or collect large amounts of antimatter, their research could help make interstellar travel using antimatter a reality.

Why are we still not using this energy source?

The annihilation of antimatter and matter canrelease a huge amount of energy. A gram of antimatter can cause an explosion the size of a nuclear bomb. However, humans have produced very small amounts of antimatter.

The inefficiency of antimatter production is enormous.Taking into account the cost of obtaining antimatter, you can get back only a tenth of a billion (10-10) of the energy invested. If scientists could collect all the antimatter that we have ever produced at CERN and annihilate it with matter, then there would only be enough energy to turn on one light bulb for a few minutes.

All antiprotons created in a particle acceleratorThe Tevatron at Fermilab is only 15 nanograms. Those produced at CERN are about 1 nanogram. To date, DESY in Germany has produced approximately 2 nanograms of positrons.

If all the antimatter ever produced by humans were destroyed at once, the energy produced would not even be enough to boil a cup of tea.

The problem is efficiency and costproduction and storage of antimatter. The production of 1 gram of antimatter will require approximately 25 million billion kilowatt-hours of energy and more than a million billion dollars.

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