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Antimatter 101

ByDon LincolnThe Nature of RealityThe Nature of Reality

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Antimatter sounds like science fiction, and it has certainly powered its fair share of imaginary space ships and interplanetary blasters. But antimatter itself is fact, not fantasy. Antimatter is the opposite of matter: Bring the two of them into contact and they annihilate each other, generating energy according to Einstein’s famous equation E = mc 2 . For every kind of matter particle we know about, there is an antimatter “opposite.” Physicists have observed antimatter versions of electrons, protons and neutrons. We’ve even made a few antimatter atoms, including anti-hydrogen and anti-helium. In fact, the only thing stopping us from making an entire anti-universe—with an anti-you, anti-me, anti-everything—is that it’s very hard to make enough antimatter. And that’s a mystery too. Scientists think that, when the universe was young, antimatter and matter were made in equal quantities, yet in the universe we see only matter. Why is that? Nobody knows the answer, but it is one of the most pressing questions of modern physics.

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Editor’s picks for further reading

BigThink: The Search for Antimatter
In this video, Michio Kaku answers questions about antimatter.

CERN: Antimatter: Mirror of the Universe
Everything you want to know about antimatter.

Fermilab: What Is Antimatter?
In this video, Fermilab scientist Don Lincoln describes antimatter and its properties.

NOVA scienceNOW: Antimatter Engines
In this video, Neil deGrasse Tyson answers questions about antimatter propulsion.