Scientists at CERN, the research facility that’s home to the Large Hadron Collider, claim to have successfully created and stored antimatter in greater quantities and for longer times than ever before.
Researchers created 38 atoms of antihydrogen – more than ever has been produced at one time before and were able to keep the atoms stable enough to last one tenth of a second before they annihilated themselves (antimatter and matter destroy each other the moment they come into contact with each other). Since those first experiments, the team claims to have held antiatoms for even longer, though they weren’t specific of the duration.
While scientists have been able to create particles of antimatter for decades, they had previously only been able to produce a few particles that would almost instantly destroy themselves.
“This is the first major step in a long journey,” Michio Kaku, physicist and author of Physics of the Impossible, told PCMag. “Eventually, we may go to the stars.”
For now, scientists are interested in producing antimatter in these relatively large quantities because it could lend insight into fundamental physical laws. It’s generally believed in the scientific community that at the universe’s creation, both matter and antimatter existed but not in the same quantity, so when the two annihilated each other, only matter remained. That could be because antimatter behaves differently than the regular variety.
“It’s a fundamental tenet of physics that antimatter and matter behave very similarly although not exactly,” said Lawrence Krauss, physicist and author of The Physics of Star Trek, in an interview. “And in order to really test that, you need anti-atoms. Being able to test the properties of antimatter at a whole new level of precision is obviously important.”
Further into the future, Kaku believes we may be able to use antimatter as the “ultimate rocket fuel,” since it’s 100 percent efficient – all of the mass is converted to energy. By contrast, thermonuclear bombs only use about 1 percent.
“One of the main uses of antimatter would be a starship,” said Kaku “Because you want concentrated energy. And you can’t get more concentrated than antimatter.”
Producing large quantities of antimatter is impossible today, Kaku admits. But with the right developments, he thinks it could become a reality: “These machines were not specifically designed to create antimatter. These machines are all-purpose machines. But with time, price goes down, mass production, better technology, and dedicated machines we could reduce costs considerably.”
Krauss isn’t as bullish as Kaku on the long-term applications of antimatter. Even though he is the author of The Physics of Star Trek, Krauss had just one thing to say when asked about antimatter-powered starships.
“Don’t hold your breath.”