Antimatter Bombs: What the hell are they thinking!?

October 30, 2014 7:00 PM

Ah Antimatter, the mirror-opposite of all the regular matter you see around you. The existence of the stuff was first predicted in 1928 in a paper by one Paul Dirac who realised that his relativistic version of the Schrödinger wave equation predicted the possibility of ‘antielectrons’ also known as positrons. These were later discovered in 1936 by Physicist Carl D. Anderson while working at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Trapped Antimatter

Trapped Antimatter

Since then, antimatter has been proposed for all kinds of uses and is in fact widely used today. Places like CERN (the European organisation for nuclear research) in Switzerland create and use antimatter and it can also be found in PET scans (Positron Emission Tomography). Scientists have even pondered on the possibility of using Antimatter as a fuel, as its mass to energy conversion is about 3 orders of magnitude greater than  the potential nuclear energy that can be liberated today, using nuclear fission. But fuel is not the only use those pesky scientists have thought of for this crazy phenomena.

So far, the biggest thermonuclear device ever detonated was the Soviet Union’s ‘Tsar Bomba’ in October 1961 which weighed in at a hefty 27,000kg. It was the most powerful artificial explosion in the history of man and the resulting mushroom cloud was seven times the height of Everest. The seismic shock created by the detonation was measurable even on its third passage around the Earth and and window panes were partially broken at distances of up to 560 miles away. Just 1kg of Antimatter reacting with 1kg of matter would produce 180 petajoules of energy, which is the rough equivalent of 43 megatons of TNT, just slightly less than the Tsar Bomba…

So anyone that then thinks Antimatter should be used as a weapon is obviously crazy right?

Wrong. In 2004 Kenneth Edwards, director of the ‘revolutionary munitions’ team at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, was keynote speaker at the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts conference in Arlington, Virginia. In his speech Edwards discussed the potential uses of positrons and how the United States Air Force was looking into ‘Positron Enabling Technology’. This included more advanced types of penning traps (the system in which antimatter is stored) and also claimed its ‘multiple effects energy conversion devices’, or bombs to you and I, would be environmentally friendly as they lacked the nuclear residue left over by thermonuclear weapons, our current ‘Super-bombs’.

I was not surprised when I read over Edwards’ speech and found that the majority of reasons giving for people to invest in these programs were sold as being ‘revolutionary’ and ‘groundbreaking’ and the final slide even claimed the technology to be a ‘Graduation Exam for humanity’. 

Well, I’ve got some sore news for you Kenny, It ain’t happening!

antimatter

300 atoms of antihydrogen annihilating in the red centre

According to claims by both CERN and NASA, at current production rates and assuming 100% conversion of ALL antiprotons it would take 100 billion years to create just 1 gram of antihydrogen. And all at a cost of around $62.5 trillion, but remember that’s only for 1g. The length of time it would take to create the 1kg needed for a 43mt (megaton) equivalent like that mentioned earlier is way longer than the universe has existed for. Way way longer…

The other problem is storage. Antimatter is incredibly hard to keep in a container (as you’d imagine from something that annihilates everything it comes into contact with). It is for this reason that Edwards is funding research into systems that can reliably keep positrons in storage for longer. Enter Gerald Smith, former chairman of physics and Antimatter project leader at Pennsylvania State University, US. Our friend Gerald heads the small firm Positronics Research LLC and it has been reported that the air force has given Smith 3.7 million in funding for positron research.

Since the speech, various media outlets have tried verifying the claims that the US Air Force is funding research into Antimatter weapons and all came back fruitless. Now a gagging order has been put in place to prevent any more staff causing ‘unwanted’ interest in the projects. To conspiracy theorists, this was all the proof they needed to become convinced that it was true. Antimatter weapons were on the horizon.

So the question remains. Is the US Air Force really that crazy!? Nuclear deterrents are one thing but an Antimatter bomb? That’s pushing it slightly don’t we think? What could possibly be achieved by creating weapons of mass destruction that make our current weapons of mass destruction look like poor Chinese firecrackers? If Edwards gets anywhere with this thing it’ll spell the end of the world as we know it, you can count on that, bub.

What are your thoughts regarding this rather controversial idea? Share them below by leaving us a comment!

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