Physics

How is Antimatter Produced



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Antimatter, though it sounds like the stuff of science fiction, is actually more than real. It has existed as long as normal matter has. Antimatter, in a word, is the opposite of normal matter. If matter and its equivalent antimatter were to collide, then they annihilate each other, leaving only energy behind. It is this ability to use antimatter to create energy with no waste products that has already inspired many futurists and science fiction writers the world over.

We have now succeeded in producing our own antimatter here on earth. But antimatter has already been being produced for millions of years, through natural processes that constantly take place, and have done since the dawn of the universe, when massive amounts of antimatter was produced in the Big Bang. The primary way antimatter is produced is through high energy collisions that occur millions of times a day throughout the universe. High energy particles and particle jets, from sources as varied as cosmic rays, the solar wind, solar flares and even supernova, collide with other matter, such as the upper atmosphere of the Earth. These collisions involve massive amounts of energy; hundreds of thousands of times more powerful that even our most powerful particle accelerators here on earth. When these incredibly high energy particles collide with other particles, the immense energy causes radical changes in the way the components of the atoms are themselves made up. This results in the creation of antimatter. However, most of the antimatter created naturally is immediately annihilated by colliding with normal matter in the immediate area within milliseconds of being produced.

On earth, we can attempt to replicate this process by using particle accelerators. The latest particle accelerator to be added to the scientific arsenal is the LHC, or the Large Hadron Collider, which opened at CERN (the European Centre for Nuclear Research The acronym is French) at the end of 2008, and will begin scientific work in 2009. Though the LHC, and other particle accelerators such as the Fermilab Particle Accelerator in the USA can indeed produce antimatter, it is on a minuscule scale, with only a few antiparticles at a time being produced. The difficulty of storing these antiparticles then becomes the problem, as they will annihilate themselves if they touch normal matter. Charged antiparticles, for example positrons, are held in what is called a Penning Trap, which prevents them from touching the sides using electromagnetic fields. Uncharged antiparticles are held in other forms of atom trap, so they can be studied more easily.

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