Friday, February 26, 2010

ANTIMATTER: NOT AS SCARY AS WE THINK









"No!" Vittoria said from above, breathless. "We must evacuate right now! You cannot take the antimatter out of here! If you bring it up, everyone outside will die!" 
Angels and DemonsDan Brown, Pocket Books 

IT WAS not so long ago that we were hearing how CERN's Large Hadron Collider would produce planet-destroying black holes. Now a movie based on Dan Brown's blockbuster, due to hit the big screen next month, provides us with another supposed danger emanating from the particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland: antimatter, the seed of a weapon of unsurpassed destructive power. 

While Brown's take on antimatter is fictional, the stuff itself certainly isn't. We see its signature in cosmic rays, and it is routinely made in high-energy collisions inside particle smashers the world over. In hospitals, radioactive molecules that emit antimatter particles are used for imaging in the technique known as positron emission tomography. 



The Mystery of the Missing Antimatter (Science Essentials)

Brown was right about one thing, though: if you want to find out more about antimatter, CERN is the place to go. In this special feature, we explain how experiments at the laboratory are helping to answer some of our more pressing questions about this most elusive of substances.



1.Where is all the antimatter?
If you were to list the imperfections of the standard model - physicists' remarkably successful description of matter and its interactions - pretty high up would have to be its prediction that we don't exist. Read more>>


2.How do you make antimatter?
If we really wish to fathom the mysteries of antimatter, we must first get to grips with the stuff itself. Easier said than done. How on earth do you pin down a substance that vanishes the moment it touches anything? Read more>>


3. Does antimatter fall up?
AEGIS, a CERN experiment that has just been given the go-ahead, is designed to find out. Gravity is a relatively weak force, so the experiment will use uncharged particles to prevent electromagnetic forces drowning out gravitational effects. Read more


4.Can we make antimatter?
At the moment physicists are having enough difficulty just taming antihydrogen, the simplest possible anti-atom. Can we ever expect them to make antihelium, and then organic antimolecules made from anticarbon and a whole anti-periodic table, too? Read more


5.What about antimatter bombs?
Antimatter was a lethal weapon. Potent, and unstoppable. Once removed from its recharging platform at CERN... A blinding light. The roar of thunder. Spontaneous incineration. Read more









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