Monday, December 16, 2013

"Antimatter" by Frank Close

As I was looking for Frank Close's "Neutrino", based on a recommendation from Dan Satterfield, I found his other book "Antimatter", so I picked up both.  As Antimatter was published first, I tackled it first.

Seeing a sequence of discoveries, and how one step steers into another step, is something that I enjoy.  Frank's history on the process that discovered the positron fits this liking very well.

He explains how antimatter can be created and contained.  Seeing both aspects further shows why it's not realistic to view antimatter's possibilities as a fuel, much less a weapon.  His key point is that creation and containment require such high energy costs that they are just not feasible to try to use as fuel or weaponry.

Since a single matter + antimatter collision annihilation only creates a tiny amount of energy, you'd need a lot of antimatter to start with.  Therefore, you'd have to contain a lot of it.

A magnetic field can trap charged particles, so it could keep charged antimatter contained.  This requires a strong magnetic field to contain a large amount of these charged antiparticles, thus a high energy cost.

Neutrally charged antihydrogen molecules could mean more antimatter without the strong containment field... but then how do you contain it at all?  It was only the charged aspect of the antiparticles that allowed a magnetic field to trap them in the first place.

So, it takes lots of energy to make antimatter, and more energy to contain it, and you need lots of the (anti)stuff in order to accomplish the use case (fuel, weapons).  It's just not reasonable to think it can be practical.

This book explained all this in very approachable terms and pace.

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