As its name implies, antimatter is the inverse of matter. But to begin to understand what antimatter is , we have to be aware that everything around us is made of matter. From plants, stars, planets and even ourselves. Matter is formed by atoms. Atoms are composed of electrons (negative charge), protons (positive charge) and neutrons (neutral charge).
At least that was what scholars believed until 1928, when the reverse of matter was discovered by British physicist Paul Dirac. The discovery of antimatter was so significant that it earned a Nobel Prize in Physics for Dirac.
In practice, this means that “every particle has a corresponding kind of twin in nature”, as explained by the doctoral student, Eduardo Sato, of the Institute of Physics of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp).
Each elementary particle we know has an opposite particle that has exactly the same characteristics. Unless of course, the electric charge, which is the opposite. For example, the positron is the electron antimatter. Both have the same mass, same rotation and size, but the reverse electrical charge. In this sense, the “twins” behave similarly, but distinct in electric charge.
In this case, antimatter is not naturally produced on Earth. So far, what is known about these antiparticles is the result of experiments with particle accelerators.
The biggest challenge in studying the antiparticle is that it lasts very little time. This is because, when finding a particle of matter, the two annihilate. Also, in nature there are far fewer antiparticles than particles. That is, there are many more electrons than positrons in space.
“According to the Big Bang model, which explains the beginning of the universe, both matter and antimatter must have been created in equal quantities at the beginning of the universe. But what we do know is that there is much more matter than antimatter, and something must have happened to cause this asymmetry, “explains Angela Krabbe, an astronomer at the University of Vale do Paraíba.
Because of the difficulty of finding antimatter and because of its short duration, scientists had to find alternative ways to try to artificially produce it. To achieve this feat, they must use large particle accelerators that simulate the creation of the universe. Of course, inside a lab and on an infinitely smaller scale. “The main problem is that you can’t isolate antimatter right,” says Sato.
To date, the maximum time scientists have been able to keep antimatter particles “alive” has been for 15 minutes. And this was only possible due to the ideal and controlled vacuum environment. This makes any antimatter study a real race against time. If that didn’t make it difficult enough, there is another big problem. It turns out that creating antimatter particles artificially is very expensive, very, very inefficient.
To get a sense, to create a single antimatter particle requires the use of 10,000 particles of matter. And this is only possible if done at high speeds, which demands a huge amount of energy. Consequently, also greatly increasing the costs of this operation.
According to findings from a study by NASA researchers and two Pennsylvania universities, producing an ounce of antimatter would require an investment of about $ 25 trillion.