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Dan Brown Novel Coming True? Antimatter Captured at CERN

November 17, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

In Dan Brown’s novel ‘Angels and Demons’, a supposed terrorist group steals a sample of anti-matter from CERN in Geneva. They rig it up like a bomb in an attempt to destroy the Vatican.

Anti-matter is the bizzarro-counterpart to regular matter. For example, regular matter is made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. A positron, which is the anti-matter counterpart to the electron, has the exact same mass as an electron but has an opposite electric charge (positive instead of negative, hence ‘positron’).

When anti-matter comes into contact with regular matter, they annihilate each other, and get converted entirely to energy. This is what makes anti-matter so difficult to handle, because most of our universe is made of regular matter, so anti-matter never hangs around for too long before it gets converted to energy. It is also why Dan Brown uses it in his novel, as an anti-matter bomb can be much more powerful than a nuclear weapon.

For example, half a gram of anti-matter could release as much energy as the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.

Mushroom Cloud Over Nagasaki, August 9 1945. From Wikipedia.

This isn’t very realistic, however, since anti-matter is so difficult to trap.

But now science fiction has once again turned into science, and researchers at CERN today published a paper in Nature, stating that they had successfully trapped 38 anti-hydrogen atoms (a positron and an anti-proton) in a magnetic field at one time for 170 milliseconds.

This is an important experiment because scientists have always wished they could study anti-matter more closely, but it’s extremely difficult to get under the microscope (so to speak). Studying anti-matter will give us insight into the origins of the universe. It is believed that matter and anti-matter should have been created in equal proportions at the big bang, so one of the greatest mysteries in science is what happened to all the anti-matter?

 The scientists at CERN hope that they will be able to trap larger amounts of anti-matter in the future for longer periods of time in order to facilitate some real studies of the stuff.

So should we be worried about an anti-matter bomb? Well remember 0.5 grams of anti-matter roughly makes a Nagasaki. These guys trapped 38 atoms which is about 0.000000000000000000000000063 grams.

So no, you don’t have to worry :)

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