A View from David Appell

Antimatter Weapons

As if there aren’t already enough nasty military weapons in the world, the U.S. Air Force is looking into the possibility of making matter-antimatter weapons. Antimatter exists the same as regular matter, though it has always been a mystery to…

  • October 4, 2004

As if there aren’t already enough nasty military weapons in the world, the U.S. Air Force is looking into the possibility of making matter-antimatter weapons. Antimatter exists the same as regular matter, though it has always been a mystery to scientists about why there is so much more ordinary matter in the universe than there is antimatter. When matter and antimatter come into contact with each other, they annihilate one another and produce a burst of energy in accordance with Einstein’s famous formula E equals m-c-squared. This means that matter-antimatter annihilation theoretically produces the maximum amount of energy from a given amount of mass. One gram of positrons, the antimatter partner of the electron, would equal “23 space shuttle fuel tanks of energy…and one microgram of produces as much energy as 83 pounds of TNT,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle article linked above.

The tendency of antimatter to dissolve into pure energy upon contact with matter does raise a tricky problem: how do you handle the stuff? Air Force researchers are playing around with Penning traps and magnetic bottles, but you get the feeling they don’t really have a good answer. Considering antimatter’s potential for utter destruction, perhaps it’s best if this problem remains unsolved for awhile.

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