Thunderstorms and Antimatter

Thunderstorms are able to shoot beams of antimatter into space; beams that are so intense they may be seen by spacecraft thousands of miles away.

Matter is made of subatomic particles such as protons and electrons. Whereas, antimatter is made of particles that have the same spins and masses as their counterparts though with opposite charges and magnetic properties.

Radiation detectors, recently, on NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope lighted up for roughly 30 milliseconds with the characteristic signature of positrons, the antimatter counterparts of electrons.

Scientists were able to trace this burst of concentrated radiation back to a lightning flash over Namibia in North Africa, some 3,000 miles away from the Earth-orbiting telescope, which was passing above Egypt at the time.

Steven Cummer of Duke University said:

“This is a fundamental new discovery about how our planet works…The idea that any planet has thunderstorms that can create antimatter and launch it into space is something out of science fiction. The fact that our own planet is doing it is truly amazing.”

It is already common knowledge that thunderstorms emit gamma rays, (the most energetic form of light), and that gamma rays may create positrons via the process of pair formation.

When a gamma ray that has the right amount of energy interacts with an air atom, energy from the gamma ray becomes converted into matter, one positron and one electron. Scientists, though, wouldn’t have been surprised to see a few positrons accompanying any intense gamma ray burst. The lightning flash detected by the Fermi, however, appeared to have produced about 100 trillion positrons.

This planet constantly gets bombarded by radiation from the sun, as well as cosmic rays from distant however violent events, like powerful supernovae.

Considering the amount of positrons in the beam that was detected by the Fermi, the thunderstorm was briefly creating more radiation in the form of positrons and gamma rays than what hits actually hits this planet’s atmosphere from all other cosmic sources combined.

Duke’s Cummer added:

“We really don’t understand a lot of the details about how lighting works…gives us a very, very important clue as to what’s happening.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *