With so many Sci-Fi featuring antimatter, the term is no longer an incog, but only a few people know that the complex material actually does exist.
Moreover, few laboratories have even produced almost 17 nanograms of antimatter synthetically on earth. Well, in response to the question asked in the title, the fruit is banana. Potassium-40, found in bananas, is a natural isotope, which when decays, releases a positron – the antimatter counterpart of the electron. But since, most of us credit our knowledge of antimatter to ‘Angels and Demons’, the banana-discovery is something beyond comprehension. So, a brief description on antimatter / antiparticle is given below.
The Baryon Asymmetry
As per the charge conservation theory of quantum mechanics, in the universe, the net amount of positive energy and that of negative energy has to be balanced, i.e. it should be proportionately equal. Even particle physics states that the elementary particle interactions create equal numbers of positive and negative particles, and when any atom/particle demolishes, then the amount of positive and negative charges destroyed too is same. Many experiments have already verified this theory a number of times, but the presence of only a few exceptions have induced the revision of the theory. The most mysterious of these exceptions is Baryon asymmetry.
“For every one billion particles of antimatter, there were one billion and one particles of matter. And when the mutual annihilation was complete, one billionth remained – and that’s our present universe.”
– Albert Einstein
Various theories under Baryogenesis offer numerous concepts to rationalize the asymmetry between the existence of baryonic and antibaryonic matter. However, no determinable solution has yet been found, and so the search continues.
The Big Bang Theory
Although the cosmological model itself has been put to question, it is this theory that first introduced the concept of the antimatter. According to the theory, it is considered that earlier the universe was in extremely hot and infinitely dense state, and it is after ‘the big bang’ that the expansion started. The theory was best explained by an excerpt from paper of ‘Nature’ (May 9, 1931):
“If the world has begun with a single quantum, the notions of space and time would altogether fail to have any meaning at the beginning; they would only begin to have a sensible meaning when the original quantum had been divided into a sufficient number of quanta. If this suggestion is correct, the beginning of the world happened a little before the beginning of space and time.”
It is assumed that during this expansion, infinite particles with enormous energy were released; and as per the conservation theory, there has to be an equal amount of antiparticles. But, since it is settled that the both the materials tend to collide (releasing intense radiations) and annihilate each other, therefore, the universe, as we see it today, could not have existed in the first place. Moreover, as far as the observations were made, every cosmological material is almost entirely made up of the matter. The amount of antimatter present, as observed from earth, is almost negligible when compared to that of matter.
The most plausible solution to the quagmire is also the apparent one, i.e. the universe might have two distinct regions separated from each other; one, that has dominance of matter (observable from earth), and the other, that has dominance of antimatter. However, this hypothesis was contradicted by the fact that there has to be a detectable boundary between the two regions, for the collision between the two materials, regardless of the distance between them, is bound to happen. And, when that happens, massive energy and enormous photon particles (light) would be released making it detectable even from far off distance. But, since even after spending 30 years of research on the topic, no such area has been encountered; the only verdict could be that such an area is too far away to be discovered by the means we presently have.
Antimatter as Fuel
Yes! Scientists are de facto conducting high-scale research to make use of antimatter as a fuel for spacecraft of interplanetary and even interstellar travel. The research was prompted by the fact that even a minuscule amount of the element can produce more energy than that is produced by any of the chemical reactions. However, the energy created by antimatter reactions is in the form of gamma radiations and photons, and no tool has yet been devised to convert these energies for producing thrust force. But all worries apart, the hypothesis of using antimatter as fuel is possible. Also, the chances are high that with the continual progress in the field, the development of ideal antimatter rocket along with suitable storage facility of antimatter energy can be achieved real soon.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Noels is an academic writer and consultant. He has devoted his life to helping young students to deal with their critical academic life. His favorite past-time is reading.