Posts Tagged ‘anti-matter’

On the matter of matter (or how something came from nothing)

October 9, 2018

First you have nothing.

But let’s assume that a smooth and homogeneous “nothing” can spontaneously and inexplicably produce lumps of “something” provided it also produces equivalent amounts of “not-something”, where

something + not-something = nothing

On balance it would still be a global nothing but with local clumps of somethings and not-somethings.

This is a very handy subterfuge often used in science and mathematics. When looking for something unknown, zero can always be converted into the sum of something and not-something. So it is always possible to imagine what the something is, evoke it from zero and claim that the not-something exists but cannot be found.

0 = X + ~X

Anything can be derived from nothing provided its negative counter-part can also be tolerated (in absentia if necessary).

Nothing can be anything

We observe matter.

We haven’t a clue as to where this matter came from. So we devise the concept of matter and an equivalent amount of anti-matter at the origin of everything. But we cannot find this anti-matter in sufficient quantities to negate all the matter we observe. The global nothing is not preserved. That leads to the next subterfuge. It was all energy to begin with. Some of that energy converted itself into matter. That does not quite explain where that energy came from. Of course “nothing” might have decomposed into lumps of energy and of not-energy. The energy, it is then surmised, is that which is driving the expansion of the universe or the inflation of the universe or both. The lumps of not-energy are more elusive. Where that might be is not yet part of the next subterfuge.

It might be that matter has always existed, but in that case where did the energy moving that matter around come from? And why?

Where did all the antimatter go?

Scientists suspect that the Big Bang was a huge tear the fabric of space that ripped equal amounts of matter and antimatter into existence. But today, everything we see is made almost entirely of matter.

Physicists know that something must have happened to tip the balance in favor of matter during the formation of the universe. But the question remains, what was it? Antimatter particles are reflections of their matter counterparts. They are practically identical, except they have opposite electric charges. For instance, the antimatter twin of the negatively charged electron is the positively charged position. If an electron and positron were to meet and metaphorically ‘shake hands,’ they would annihilate each other into pure energy.

Scientists are left with this puzzle: If equal amounts of matter and antimatter were created in the Big Bang—and if matter and antimatter annihilate each other into a ball of pure energy on contact—then the universe should contain nothing but free, unorganized energy. But we exist, and therefore something must have happened to allow matter to survive and antimatter to all but disappear.

Scientists suspect that a tiny portion of matter—about one particle per billion—survived from the early universe to create all the planets, stars and galaxies we see today. And while matter and antimatter look almost identical, scientists discovered that the laws of nature do not apply to them equally.

Researchers found that some matter and antimatter particles can spontaneously transform into their matter and antimatter counterparts. They also found that matter and antimatter particles decay at slightly different rates. Scientists suspect that there is some hidden process influencing the behavior of matter and antimatter—a hidden process that could explain these puzzling observations. US scientists and our international collaborators study the subtle differences in the behavior of matter and antimatter particles at the LHC to paint a clearer picture of why our universe is matter-filled.

The bottom line is that modern physics hasn’t the faintest idea of where the matter and energy in the observable universe came from or why.

At least physics attempts to find answers. Religions brush aside the question and just assume a Creator where the question of where the Creator came from is disallowed.


Pamela finds anti-matter in the Van Allen belt

August 9, 2011

I had no difficulty as a student and later as an engineer in using  imaginary and complex numbers  involving i, where

i 2 = −1

and I am reasonably confident that I grasp the general concept of imaginary numbers. It took me a while when I was a student to realise that “imaginary” here meant “being capable of being imagined” and not something that ” did not exist and could only be imagined”.

I have much greater difficulty in following the concepts of “anti-matter” and why it is rational and necessary that anti-matter must exist. But I am no high energy physicist. On the other hand, I have no difficulty in “imagining” an alternative universe composed of anti-matter subject to anti-gravity, lit up with anti-light and which presumably began with an anti-Big Bang (an implosion)! But why anti-matter must exist in our universe is something I am content to leave to physicists. But like black holes they make me vaguely uncomfortable and I suppose it’s a good thing that anti-matter does not exist naturally on the earth’s surface. Of course if the physicists could suggest how I could use anti-matter to annihilate about 20kgs of my mass I would sign on immediately!


The modern theory of antimatter begins in 1928, with a paper by Paul Dirac. Dirac realised that his relativistic version of the Schrödinger wave equation for electrons predicted the possibility of antielectrons. These were discovered by Carl D. Anderson in 1932 and named positrons (a contraction of “positive electrons”). Although Dirac did not himself use the term antimatter, its use follows on naturally enough from antielectrons, antiprotons, etc.A complete periodic table of antimatter was envisaged by Charles Janet in 1929.

Antimatter cannot be stored in a container made of ordinary matter because antimatter reacts with any matter it touches, annihilating itself and an equal amount of the container. Antimatter that is composed of charged particles can be contained by a combination of an electric field and a magnetic field in a device known as a Penning trap.

In any case, when cosmic rays smash into molecules in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, a shower of smaller particles is created. Physicists have assumed that a small number of those resulting particles will be anti-protons. Most of those will be instantly annihilated when they collide with particles of ordinary matter. But those which don’t collide should get trapped in the Earth’s torus-shaped Van Allen radiation belt, and form a layer of antimatter in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Van Allen radiation belts : image

Wired reports on the paper in The Astrophysical Journal Letters –  The discovery of geomagnetically trapped cosmic ray antiprotons bu O. Adriani et al. 2011 ApJ 737 L29 doi: 10.1088/2041-8205/737/2/L29

Data from the cosmic ray satellite PAMELA has added substantial weight to the theory that the Earth is encircled by a thin band of antimatter. The satellite, named Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics, was launched in 2006 to study the nature of cosmic rays — high-energy particles from the Sun and beyond the solar system which barrel into Earth.  ……

It was one of PAMELA’s goals to hunt out those tiny numbers of antimatter particles among the ludicrously more abundant normal matter particles, like protons and the nuclei of helium atoms. To find them, the satellite regularly moved through a particularly dense section of the Van Allen belt called the South Atlantic Anomaly. Over a period of 850 days — from July 2006 to December 2008 — sensors aboard PAMELA detected 28 anti-protons. That might not sound like much, but it’s three times more than would be found from a random sample of the solar wind, and is the most abundant source of anti-protons ever seen near the Earth.

But what does this discovery mean, other than proving that a bunch of theorizing physicists were correct? The discovery opens the doors to harnessing those anti-protons for a variety of medical, sensing and, most importantly, rocket-propelling applications.

In a 2006 NASA-founded study by Draper Laboratory, researchers wrote, “it has been suggested that tens of nanograms to micrograms of anti-protons can be used to catalyze nuclear reactions and propel spacecraft to velocities up to 100 km/sec.”

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