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Monthly Archives: February 2010

From my project, will take much more editing:

The only true source of power awesome enough to create the energy required for this new technology is antimatter. By the time faster than light concepts were truly starting to be realized, antimatter had been a common concept, starting as early as the 1880s. In this time, scientists believed that no space could be completely devoid of matter, even sub-atomically, and so all space was filled with a medium called aether (also known as æther or ether). Eventually, the properties and effects of aether were used to explain many problems in physics, many of which were more correctly described by Einstein’s theories of Relativity.

            In the late 1880s, Karl Pearson developed a theory in which aether would flow in and out of normal space into and out of a fourth dimension. In this theory, the flow into normal space was essentially normal matter, however the flow out of normal space was called negative matter. Pearson is credited with coining the term, and the concept of antimatter becomes common among theorists thereafter.

            The term “antimatter” came later, first used by Arthur Schuster in 1898. Schuster believed that there was an entire anti-universe complete with anti-solar systems as well as anti-particles. Schuster also hit on an important truth; he believed that matter and antimatter would annihilate each other. The problem with these ideas at this time was that they were only ideas; Schuster never made a serious hypothetical proposal to the scientific community, nor did he present any real evidence to support his speculation.

            The first modern proposal of antimatter came in 1928 by Paul Dirac. Dirac realized that his version of the Schrödinger Wave Equation was predicting the possibility of anti-electrons. Though Dirac did not actually use the term antimatter, his predictions of anti-electrons were proven in 1932 by Carl Anderson. Anderson called these anti-electrons “positrons,” meaning positive electron, since a anti-electron is essentially an electron with a positive charge.

            Although antimatter was believed to exist by this time, humanity could not seem to find it anywhere in the universe. This concept of a higher propagation of matter over antimatter is known as baryon asymmetry, and it is still not known why this imbalance exists. It is believed that there would have to be only one more matter particle per billion matter/antimatter particle pairs to create an imbalance in the universe, and it is difficult to determine if antimatter might exist in large quantities outside of the galaxy. Although many antiparticles are created inside the galaxy, they are quickly annihilated when they come into contact with matter. The exact natural existence of antimatter as a whole still remains a mystery.

            Since its discovery, antimatter has been studied in as much detail as possible. It was discovered that the main requirement to naturally create antimatter was a significantly high temperature, and in 1995 CERN announced that it had successfully created nine antihydrogen atoms using an early particle collider. These particles were highly energetic from the collisions that created them, and analysts were not able to adequately study them before they annihilated. However, in 2002, the ATHENA project announced that they were able to successfully create “cold” antihydrogen (antihydrogen that was less energetic). ATHENA was able to slow the particles down in a particle decelerator, then passed them through foil, and then captured them in a penning trap. Although this process was effective in slowing down the particles enough to study, the process was highly inefficient. During the process of “cooling,” most of the particles are lost, only approximately .04% of the particles make it to the penning trap.

In 2004, ATHENA released a new method of cooling the antihydrogen more efficiently. The process was similar only cooled electrons were injected into the penning trap, this time filled with only antiprotons. Since antiprotons and electrons both have a negative charge they do not react with each other to annihilate, they do however create Coulomb collisions, which describes the interaction of the negative electric charge of both particles to reverse the excitement of the particles. The Coulomb reactions that occur as a result of the mix essentially cool the antiprotons while simultaneously warming the electrons, creating equilibrium. While the temperature in the first trap is being adjusted a second trap is prepared by first collecting positrons from radioactive sodium and then injecting them into the trap. Once the temperatures of the two traps are at their desired range, the antiprotons are mixed into the second trap with the positrons; the Coulomb reaction in this case is the attraction of the opposing charges together to form antihydrogen.

Though this process was far more effective it was also extremely expensive, estimated at 25 billion dollars in United States money per gram of positrons, and 62.5 trillion United States dollars per gram of antihydrogen. 

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