Antimatter generator…in the clouds?

Antimatter detected using a track etch detector.

Antimatter detected using a track etch detector.

In a very surprising series of measurements made by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, gamma events matching the signature of energetic positron decay were found just before, during, and after a pair of lightning storms.

For those not familiar, the Fermi telescope allows astronomers to study black holes, pulsars, the subatomic particles emitted by them, and very, very high energy particles far beyond what we are currently capable of producing on earth. Also, positrons are anti-electrons, a form of antimatter. They are also known as the emitted particle from Beta “+” decay, where a proton is hit by the magic wand force, and turned into a neutron, positron, and neutrino.

Now antimatter has never been seen in lightning storms before, although I do wonder how hard they looked. I mean, watch even just a normal patch of sky for long enough (although I really mean loooooonnnggg), and you’ll see lower energy gamma flashes from annihilation of positrons emitted from Oxygen-15, Nitrogen-13, Carbon-11, and maybe a couple of others. However, what the Fermi scope saw is interesting because the energetic decays imply that the electric field associated with the storm switched directions for some reason. See, normally they see gamma rays from decelerating electrons moving toward the detector, (Bremsstrahlung Radiation) however this time they saw radiation from the positrons. Now since positrons have the opposite charge of an electron, they move in the opposite direction in a given electric field orientation. So where electrons were braking, positrons would have been accelerating. Since they saw positron braking radiation, the orientation of the field must have been flipped from usual. Pretty nifty.

Why is this happening? Well, obviously it has something to do with 2012. Damn those Mayans…they’re always right.

Link to Science News article: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/49288/title/Signature_of_antimatter_detected_in_lightning

*EDIT: that was fast. Someone asked what the picture in the top left was. Looking from bottom up: A photon (unseen line starting from around the yellow dot to the branching point above it) colliding with a particle generating matter and antimatter particles which fly off into two spirals. The much less energetic photon is later converted to an electron and positron visible as two diverging tracks later on. The extra track I didn’t talk about, which runs up and off to the right, is from the particle that collided with the first photon. So in sum, you are looking at the birth of matter from energy.

*EDIT 2: The above picture is from Stephen Hawking’s Universe Episode 3, Cosmic Alchemy. You can watch the part here. Pretty pictures start around minute 3:20.

2 Comments

  1. My view of particle physics has always been if you supply enough energy anything can happen.

  2. Now, say Bremsstrahlung really fast three times…

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