While many people call themselves and their work “anti-poor” or “anti-communist” or “anti-“ this or that, there are others more concerned with one of the world’s biggest mysteries –antimatter.
Okay, definition first. Antimatter is, quite naturally, the opposite of matter. All elementary particles, such as protons and electrons, have antimatter counterparts with the same mass but the opposite charge. For instance, the antimatter opposite of an electron, known as a positron, is positively charged.
When a particle meets its antiparticle, they destroy each other, releasing a burst of energy such as gamma rays.
Don’t ask me why this happens because … I really don’t know yet.
In 1978, gamma ray detectors flown on balloons detected a type of gamma ray emerging from space that is known to be emitted when electrons collide with positrons — meaning there was antimatter in space.
The gamma rays apparently came from a cloud of antimatter roughly 10,000 light-years across surrounding our galaxy’s core. This giant cloud shines brightly with gamma rays, with about the energy of 10,000 suns.
What exactly generated the antimatter was a mystery for the following decades. Suspects have included everything from exploding stars to dark matter.
Now, an international research team looking over four years of data from the European Space Agency’s International Gamma Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) satellite has pinpointed the apparent culprits. Their new findings suggest these positrons originate mainly from stars getting devoured by black holes and neutron stars.
As a black hole or neutron star destroys a star, tremendous amounts of radiation are released. Just as electrons and positrons emit the tell-tale gamma rays upon annihilation, so too can gamma rays combine to form electrons and positrons, providing the mechanism for the creation of the antimatter cloud, scientists think.
The researchers calculate that a relatively ordinary star getting torn apart by a black hole or neutron star orbiting around it could spew on the order of one hundred thousand billion billion billion billion positrons (a 1 followed by 41 zeroes) per second!
And these hordes of antimatter positrons annihilating all matter in their paths could be anywhere in the universe. And yet Earth has been so blessed for billions of year that not even one small puff of antimatter cloud has visited us.
The latest findings on antimatter are detailed in the Jan. 10 issue of the journal Nature.
(Photo caption: Matter [left] and antimatter. The dark blue color represents the matter and antimatter black holes; the green and yellow color is matter and antimatter being stripped from the white holes and ejected into space; and the red color is the coma surrounding the black holes. In the center, the v-shaped, reddish-orange color between the matter and antimatter white holes is the so-called Leidenfrost layer or worm hole where vertical jets of matter and antimatter are discharged thousands of light years into space. [www.matter-antimatter.com])