Science fiction often borrows from scientific fact in order to make entertaining and scientifically relevant media. Such was the case with Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, which brought antimatter to the limelight as the latest public craze in science fiction. Antimatter has long been a source for entertainment. Originally, it was represented in the light of alternate universes and antimatter galaxies to becoming the latest terror device in the aforementioned movie.
Antimatter is an extension to the concept of antiparticle matter in the study of physics. The basic premise of study of antimatter revolves around the principle that antimatter is composed of antiparticles in the same way that matter is composed of regular particles. For example, if an anti-electron and an anti-proton combined, it is conceivable that they could for an anti-hydrogen particle in the same way that an electron and proton combine to form hydrogen.
The root of the antimatter discussion goes back several scientific generations. Although the discussion of antimatter spans over one hundred years, the actual history of the modern antimatter theory stems form a paper written by Paul Dirac in 1928. Dirac realized that applying the theory of relativity to the Schrodinger wave equation for electrons predicted the possibility of anti-electrons. The particle was then discovered by Carl Anderson four years later. Dirac did not use the term antimatter in his paper, but the term had existed for three decades after being coined by Arthur Schuster in two fanciful letters to Nature in 1898. Although Dirac did not use the term antimatter when predicting the existence of the antiparticles, it was a natural extension of the proposed concept so the terminology stuck.
The majority of the known universe is composed of matter. This has been explained by scientists in relation to the Big Bang theory by stating that matter had a slight edge in overall mass after the proposed Big Bang. This would give matter the edge by sheer number. When matter and antimatter particles contact one another, they go through a process called annihilation. When this process occurs, the matter and antimatter particles are reorganized into new particles completely as neither could be destroyed due to fact that energy and momentum must be conserved within the reaction. In the case of the collision between matter and antimatter, the particles become high energy protons such as gamma rays, or other particle-antiparticle pairs. Due to the process of annihilation after the Big Bang, whichever particle had the edge in overall particle count would become the dominant universal particle.
Antiparticles can be produced in any environment with a sufficiently high temperature. It is believed that when the universe was very young, it was an extremely hot and dense environment. In this environment, matter and antimatter were constantly being produced and annihilated. The final asymmetry of matter to antimatter remains a mystery as to the root cause. Positrons are also produced via beta decay, but this mechanism is considered both natural and artificial. Antimatter was created in the mid 1990s in the form of antihydrogen, but the particles were very hot and unsuitable for study. In 2002, a solar flare produced about a pound of antimatter according to a NASA led research project. This small amount of antimatter could power the United States for two days.
Antimatter is still under intense research. The energy potential of this antiparticle is something that cannot be ignored by science. Although only small amounts of antimatter have been produced artificially by science, the study of the potential energy and the possible destructive force of this little known particle will continue to press scientists to better understand the amazing and unknown properties of antimatter.