Antimatter Belt Discovered Around Earth for the First Time
Described in the astrophysical journal Letters, the find confirms the theory that antimatter could be trapped in Earth’s magnetic field. The small amount of antiprotons were discovered lying between the Van Allen belts of boring old regular trapped matter, spotted by the Pamela satellite, which was launched back in 2006 to study high-energy particles from the Sun and from areas beyond our Solar System. One of Pamela’s goals was to specifically search for these antimatter particles, so job well done.
The researchers that discovered the antiprotons didn’t hesitate in theorizing some fun science fiction, claiming there may be enough antiprotons to use the antimatter to fuel a spacecraft.
When Pamela passes through a region known as the South Atlantic Anomaly, it finds thousands of times more antiprotons than are supposed to come from normal particle decays or, for that matter, anywhere else, thus, the team says that this is evidence that the Van Allen belts hold the antiprotons in place, until they come into contact with normal matter and, to use the surprisingly fun scientific term, annihilate.
Co-author of the study, Alessandro Bruno of the University of Bari, says this belt of antimatter is “the most abundant source of antiprotons near the Earth.” Talking to BBC News, Bruno said:
“Trapped antiprotons can be lost in the interactions with atmospheric constituents, especially at low altitudes where the annihilation becomes the main loss mechanism.
Above altitudes of several hundred kilometres, the loss rate is significantly lower, allowing a large supply of antiprotons to be produced.”
Neat discovery, and even neater buzzwords, “antimatter fuel.”
(via BBC News)