Physics

What happens when Matter and Antimatter Meet



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While most people have some idea what matter is, the may not have any idea what antimatter is. Antimatter may sound like science fiction, perhaps because the word has been used frequently in science fiction, but it is in fact real. Interestingly enough, matter and antimatter are actually very similar to each other except for one single difference, but what happens when they meet?

What is Matter?

Everything that is around us consists of matter. Matter is basically anything that occupies space and has mass. Matter is composed of molecules, which are composed of atoms, which in turn have particles such as protons, neutrons, and electrons. These are just a few of the fundamental particles which are the basic units of matter. There are twelve different types of fundamental particles in total.

What is Antimatter?

Antimatter is similar to matter in every way. It occupies space, has mass, and is made up of fundamental particles. However, antimatter has an opposing charge. This is the only difference between matter and antimatter. For every fundamental particle, there is an antimatter equivalent particle. For example, whereas matter has protons, antimatter has antiprotons. As a result of the opposite charge, antimatter also has opposing magnetic properties.

In terms of the amount of antimatter in the universe, it really only exists as a byproduct of a high energy events. This small amount of antimatter is also quickly annihilated. Scientists are not sure why so much more matter exists than antimatter. It is possible that an appreciable amount of antimatter just hasn’t been found yet.

What happens when they meet?

Matter and Antimatter meet in a process called annihilation. Both particles will disappear after meeting. The mass of both particles is instantly converted to energy in this reaction. The resultant energy is usually a photon, which is a single particle of light. The process of annihilation is also reversible. In the presence of a large enough amount of energy, both matter and antimatter can be created. This is the part of the Big Bang theory. A large enough amount of energy produced the matter that formed the universe. All of the antimatter produced during the Big Bang was annihilated in the presence of the matter. However, this does not explain why the universe has such a large amount of matter and why everything that we know of it is created from matter and not antimatter. Theoretically, it was possible that everything familiar could have been created out of antimatter instead and scientists are not sure why matter makes up the galaxy instead of antimatter.

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