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Thunderstorms create antimatter.
January 11, 2011 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Late last year antimatter atoms were produced and trapped at CERN. (previously) NASA scientists, using the Fermi Space Telescope, have now observed thunderstorms on earth hurling antimatter into space.

BBC article on the discovery.

Launched in 2008, Fermi is a powerful space observatory that will open a wide window on the universe. Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light, and the gamma-ray sky is spectacularly different from the one we perceive with our own eyes. With a huge leap in all key capabilities, Fermi data will enable scientists to answer persistent questions across a broad range of topics, including supermassive black-hole systems, pulsars, the origin of cosmic rays, and searches for signals of new physics. (via)

Other Fermi discoveries:

NASA's Fermi Telescope Finds Giant Structure in our Galaxy

Fermi Detects 'Shocking' Surprise from Supernova's Little Cousin

Fermi Maps an Active Galaxy's 'Smokestack Plumes'

NASA's Fermi Probes "Dragons" of the Gamma-ray Sky

NASA's Fermi Closes on Source of Cosmic Rays

Newborn Black Holes Boost Explosive Power of Supernovae

Nature's Most Precise Clocks May Make "Galactic GPS" Possible

Fermi Sees Brightest-Ever Blazar Flare

For a complete list see here.

Fermi on APOD:

Huge Gamma Ray Bubbles Found Around Milky Way

Fermi Catalogs the Gamma-ray Sky

Fermi's Gamma-ray Pulsars

Fermi's Gamma-Ray Sky

A Dark Pulsar in CTA 1

Fermi's First Light
posted by AElfwine Evenstar (24 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
I cannot believe there are people who think that science takes all of the wonder out of the universe. This is fantastic.
posted by Legomancer at 11:43 AM on January 11, 2011 [15 favorites]


Wut?!
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:53 AM on January 11, 2011


Wow.
posted by brundlefly at 12:00 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fucking Fermi - how does it work?

This is way above my intellectual pay-grade, but what I think I understand is pretty damn mind-boggling.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:06 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anti who?

What matter?
posted by blue_beetle at 12:19 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Semi-related: Kepler, discovered a hot and rocky exoplanet 1.4 Earths in diameter.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:24 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


blah blah science blah blah get the part where I have spaceships and/or superpowers.
posted by The Whelk at 12:28 PM on January 11, 2011


Thunderstorms on Earth make antimatter? On Earth. Whaaaaaat....
posted by Mister Cheese at 12:33 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, in the video they show the particles bouncing "back" towards Fermi and earth.... what's that about?
posted by odinsdream at 12:40 PM on January 11, 2011


The antimatter was travelling along a magnetic field line; from the NASA article:

The beam continued past Fermi, reached a location, known as a mirror point, where its motion was reversed, and then hit the spacecraft a second time just 23 milliseconds later.

I don't exactly understand what would cause the antimatter to reverse course along the magnetic line, though. :(
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:54 PM on January 11, 2011


"Thunderstorms on Earth make antimatter? On Earth. Whaaaaaat...."

By some metrics (it's hard to measure/quantify at that level), the heat in a lightning strike (21 million K) is greater than that in the core of the sun (17 million K). No source, and that's old information anyway. It's been long suspected that the forking and crooked path of a lightning strike was somehow related to cosmic rays or quantum effects.

While not totally surprising, this is still cool!
posted by Eideteker at 1:00 PM on January 11, 2011


One explanation of magnetic mirror points. My half-assed summary: The Earth's magnetic field pushes some charged particles back and forth along field lines until the particles interact with something. The mirror point is the point at which the magnetic field is perpendicular to the particle's motion of travel.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:20 PM on January 11, 2011


Antimatter storms.

Our planet is so fucking badass.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:33 PM on January 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


Imagine what thunderstorm-produced antimatter could do to a flux capacitor!
posted by Gelatin at 2:18 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there is a characteristic signature produced by water-based thunderstorms via these 'antimatter bursts. Say, one that could be used to look for, oh, water-based thunderstorms on exoplanets?
posted by pjern at 2:46 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The spacecraft, struck by antimatter, emitted gamma radiation, which it then detected.

(thinking AHM ON FIAR!!)

I swear, the more we learn , the freakier it gets. Excellent!
posted by djrock3k at 3:51 PM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


pjern, I was wondering the same thing. If we spot an exoplanet that might be an atmosphere-bearing terrestrial, could we confirm the presence of an atmosphere by detecting storm-caused gamma ray bursts? IANAAP ("I am not an astrophysicist"), but it looks like the answer may be "no" - at least for now.

The video implies that matter/antimatter annihilation only occurred because there happened to be a chunk of space equipment (Fermi) in the way of the positrons that were flung from the storm. But a Duke study back in '05 suggested that the gamma ray bursts are also originating pretty low in the clouds, not in orbit. And these gamma rays are of considerably higher energy than stellar gamma rays. So maybe it would be detectable, though it wouldn't tell us anything as specific as that the storms contained water vapor.

But I'm a little skeptical of our ability to resolve such fine detail as an exoplanet in a gamma ray picture. If you look at X-ray telescope imagery, it's often pretty fuzzy - you just can't focus the photons as easily as you can with visible light, because they tend to pass right through stuff. (Compare various wavelength images here.) Gamma rays are the same but more so. Kepler's good at finding exoplanets because it's built to work with saner wavelengths, where detail is a lot easier to come by.
posted by richyoung at 4:15 PM on January 11, 2011


richyoung: "Kepler's good at finding exoplanets because it's built to work with saner wavelengths, where detail is a lot easier to come by"

But once you find the exoplanet, then comes the fun part, right?
posted by pjern at 4:47 PM on January 11, 2011



But once you find the exoplanet, then comes the fun part, right?


SHOOT ME AT IT.
posted by The Whelk at 6:18 PM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


OK, could we just stop this whole antimatter/matter thing and just agree that we're all the same?
posted by digitalprimate at 7:14 PM on January 11, 2011


There is an IEEE standard for lightning bolts.

It's going to need revision.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:50 PM on January 11, 2011


Don't call me anti-matter - I'm pro-energy!
posted by -harlequin- at 1:04 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder what connection (if any) exists between TGFs and red sprites/blue jets?
posted by kcds at 3:55 AM on January 12, 2011


I wonder what connection (if any) exists between TGFs and red sprites/blue jets?

Blast. I came here to pose that very same question. Turns out I was scooped by a scant 12 hours. It makes sense to me. I don't know if anyone ever figured out just what those weird things are but this seems like a possible explanation.
posted by chemoboy at 3:15 PM on January 12, 2011


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