by Sarah Marquart February 13, 2017 Physics
In Brief
  • Matter-antimatter duality represents one of the strangest and most mysterious aspects of the universe.
  • Here are some interesting facts we've learned about antimatter.

What is Antimatter?

Antimatter is not just the fictional fuel of the Enterprise and its journeys on Star Trek; quite the contrary, antimatter is something that scientists are currently utilizing. In fact, antihydrogen was created in 1995 (although it didn’t last long).

Portable antimatter storage.

Antimatter, simply, is matter with its electrical charge reversed. For example, antiprotons are like protons but with a negative charge. 

Primordial antimatter has never been observed in the universe…yet. However, antiparticles are being created in particle accelerator labs. They can even be trapped and stored for weeks at a time. For example, positrons (a type of antiparticle) are now being produced for numerous studies thanks to CERN.

But storing antimatter can be challenging. Upon meeting, matter and antimatter annihilate one another, leaving behind other subatomic particles. This process results in an explosion that emits pure radiation traveling at the speed of light. It’s important, then, to keep antimatter away from ordinary matter. In hydrogen’s case, scientists take advantage of antihydrogen’s magnetic properties to trap them long enough to study them.

So, what have we learned about antimatter so far?

Antimatter Fun Facts:

  • Antimatter responds to gravity the same as normal matter (it does not repel material). As was noted, antimatter and matter particles have the same mass but differ in properties, like electric charge and spin. The Standard Model predicts that gravity should have the same effect on matter and antimatter, and we have no real reason to believe otherwise.
  • It would cost us one-hundred-billion dollars to create one milligram of antimatter (the minimum amount needed for large scale applications, like power or propulsion).
  • Scientists may have discovered a particle that is both matter and antimatter.
  • The Big Bang should have created antimatter and matter in equal amounts. If that had been so, everything would have been destroyed in, well, a bigger bang. As far as scientists know, there must have been one extra matter particle for every billion matter-antimatter pairs. Physicists are still trying to understand why the universe didn’t annihilate itself and why this asymmetry exists.
  • Bananas produce antimatter (one positron every 75 minutes). Yes, you can still safely eat bananas. They’re only a little radioactive.
  • You could be producing positrons right now. Don’t worry though, they don’t survive long enough to react with ordinary matter and become dangerous.
  • If all the antimatter ever made by humans were annihilated at once, the energy produced wouldn’t even be enough to boil a cup of tea.
  • However, in 2009, antimatter triggered the largest explosion ever recorded in the known universe.
  • In 1964, physicists found that the weak force is not quite symmetrical in its dealings with matter and antimatter, resulting in something known as “CP violation.”
  • A mirror antimatter universe could exist, in theory. Many fictional movies, books, comics, etc. deal with this theory. The Justice League’s Evil Counterpart, the Crime Syndicate, for example, comes from an antimatter universe. 

Want to learn more? See these antimatter articles: