Antimatter 2/2/22

Science with Richard Bleil

Let’s have some fun with calculations today.  My friend is in Las Vegas and was in a store that was selling a most amazing item; a 2 oz can of antimatter for $9.99.  I mean, wow.  First of all, that’s a heck of a price for anti-matter, don’t you think?  Seriously.  Secondly, the can looks quite ordinary.  How can they set up a perfect vacuum magnetic containment system in such a small can? 

Anti-matter, theoretically, exists.  Basically, if you change the charge of protons and electrons, you have anti-matter.  My friend told me, and honestly believes, that if anti-matter ever comes in contact with regular matter, all matter everywhere will be destroyed.  That’s not exactly correct.  In fact, anti-matter does exist at least in individual subatomic particles.  Positrons, electrons with a positive charge, have been known for years, but as far as I know, no full anti-matter atom has been created to date.  When anti-matter collides with matter, it does result in annihilation, but only of the particles that had come into contact, not all matter everywhere. 

We’re not sure why matter is matter and not anti-matter.  It’s been postulated that at the beginning, in the Big Bang, matter and anti-matter were equally likely, but most of the matter in the big bang simply annihilated each other.  The matter that remains is but a fragment of the original matter, and dumb random chance just put matter at a slight advantage.  It’s interesting to think that the matter that makes up the entire universe is simply a fragment of the matter that originally existed.

So, what happens when matter is annihilated?  Does it simply disappear?  No, not quite.  See, the law of conservation of matter is actually not quite accurate.  Matter can be destroyed (or even created), but the law of conservation of energy is not entirely correct either.  As it turns out, matter and energy can be interconverted.  The correct law is the law of conservation of matter AND energy.  The sum total is fixed in the universe, and Einstein gave us the equation on the interconversion, namely, E=m*c*c, better known as energy equals matter times the speed of light squared. 

Nuclear physicists use this simple little equation frequently.  We know the mass of a proton, a neutron and an electron.  If you take an atom, to get its atomic mass you should be able to simply add up the mass of all of these three particles, but when you do, you’ll discover that the experimental value of atomic mass is actually slightly less than it should be.  That missing mass is the binding energy of the nucleus. 

So how much energy do you suppose is in this 2 oz can?  Well, first, we have to get the units aligned.  The unit of energy commonly used by scientists is the Joule (J), which we can later convert to calories if we choose to do so (one calorie is the amount of energy required to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius, while one nutritional calorie, the Calorie, is actually a kilocalorie or the energy required to raise the temperature of 1,000 grams of water one degree Celsius).  One Joule is one kilogram*meter*meter/second*second.  So, first, we need to convert to kilograms.

One ounce is 28.35 grams.  So, 2 oz is 56.7 grams, or 0.0567 kg.  But we have to consider that if somebody is foolhardy enough to open one of these cans, it’s not just the 2 oz of antimatter that will be annihilated, but also 2 oz of regular matter.  Thus, the total of all matter that will be annihilated will be 4 oz, 113.4 grams or 0.1134 kg.   

The speed of light is about 3.00×10^8 m/s (3,00,000,000 m/s).  Thus, in the annihilation, the total energy that will be created will be (0.1134*3×10^8*3×10^8=)1.0206×10^16 J, or 10,206,000,000,000,000 J.  There are 4.184 J in one calorie, so this is 42,701,904,000,000,000 calories. 

This wouldn’t evaporate all of the water on our world, but there are an estimated 264 billion gallons of water in the Atlantic Ocean.  This is about 1×10^15 grams.  This amount of energy could raise the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean by roughly 20 degrees Fahrenheit.  Of course, in the photo there are roughly fourteen cans of anti-matter showing, so, if somebody does open more than one, we’re in real trouble. 
Anti-matter shows up in fiction with some regularity.  Spaceships in popular science fiction series and movies are often powered by anti-matter engines.  Calculations like this help us to see just how reasonable it might be to use a source such as anti-matter, provided, of course, that a means can be found to convert the engine to momentum for the ship.  Recently I was watching a movie where a secret organization had infiltrated the Vatican and were threatening to destroy Rome with a small amount of anti-matter.  Yep, it would be devastating, there’s no doubt, but what about the energy required to form antimatter?  To make 2 oz of antimatter, it would require about 5,000,000,000,000,000 J of energy as well.  What an interesting way to create a devastating ice age. 


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