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CERN Ups Antimatter Confinement Record to 15+ Minutes 206

Posted by timothy
from the why-so-negative? dept.
A team at CERN has vastly increased its ability to confine antimatter, says an article published today at Scientific American. Last year, the same researchers managed to trap atoms of antihydrogen. "But," says the SciAm report, "the antihydrogen had at that time been confined for less than two tenths of a second. That interval has now been extended by a factor of more than 5,000. In a study published online June 5 in Nature Physics, the ALPHA group reports having confined antihydrogen for 16 minutes and 40 seconds. The more relevant number for physicists, who often deal in powers of 10, is 1,000 seconds."
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CERN Ups Antimatter Confinement Record to 15+ Minutes

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  • by Hermanas (1665329) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @06:08PM (#36345290)
    Then I don't know what is. These guys are no longer playing with the stuff our universe is made of, they're now playing with what it's /not/ made of. That's quite amazing, if you ask me.
    • by FooAtWFU (699187)
      Wait until they start building bigger bombs with it. ;)
      • by iggymanz (596061) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @06:20PM (#36345378)

        since they've to date confined less than 400 anti-atoms, there is no danger of any kind of weapon being built with this kind of technology in the next few decades. Antimatter is horribly energy-intensive to make, well known stat you can check at wikipedia is at the current production rate at CERN it would take 100 billion years to make a gram of the stuff. We're not going to get the hundreds of tons for a fast starship drive this way.

        • by jdpars (1480913)
          The whole point of this story is that they're getting better at dealing with antimatter. Eventually, the antimatter bomb will be the next nuclear bomb.
          • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

            by iggymanz (596061)

            nope, they're getting better at *storing* it, but there's no changing the fearsome energies to make it. We could make antimatter until the Sun burns out, and the total wouldn't be enough to blow your nose, let alone blow up a building.

            • by GooberToo (74388)

              You're right. With the money required to create an anti-matter bomb, you could afford to carpet bomb the world with nukes. And at this time, that doesn't seem likely to change anytime in the next hundred years - at least!

            • by cduffy (652) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Sunday June 05, 2011 @07:25PM (#36345790)

              The most thorough treatment of the subject I've seen is that of Robert Forward (who did a study on the subject commissioned by the military). His findings were to the effect that if antimatter production were treated as an engineering problem rather than a scientific one, production of useful quantities would be entirely feasible using incremental and reasonably-foreseen advances on existing technology.

              Whether or not you buy his argument in full, there's no doubt that we throw away most of the energy involved in creating antimatter, and much of that needlessly (as we only know how to capture a very small portion of the results). As such, the claim that "there's no changing" the power requirements is false on its face.

              • ... that if we spent billions and billions of dollars solving this "engineering problem", we'd be able to... do the same stuff we can already do with chemical propellants and or nuclear explosives? I can't imagine why no one's taken you up on this.
            • by fnj (64210)

              You're pretty sure about that, are you? One microgram of antimatter reacting with one microgram of matter would liberate as much energy as detonating 43 kg of TNT. About 4 nanograms would liberate as much energy as a hand grenade. I don't know how much antimatter we could "make" until the Sun burns out (that's a pretty long time), but it wouldn't take very much anti-matter to be enough to blow your nose. Something well below the picogram range I would say.

              • But 1 gram of hydrogen is 6 * 10^23 atoms. So yes, unless there is some big leap in production capacity it will be centuries before we can even produce a useful amount for a weapon.

              • by sjames (1099)

                We've so far managed 400 atoms worth worldwide. If we do that a mere 6*10^20 more times we'll have enough for something a bit more powerful than Fat Man (but only a bit).

                So, let's be really generous and assume 400 atoms a year. When the sun swells and engulfs the earth in about 5*10^9 years, we'll have produced about 3 picograms worth.

                That's enough to blow your nose OFF, so you're technically correct. However, if we want an antimater bomb, we'll have to step it up.

              • Can I ask where you get your figures from? I was under the (possibly very mistaken) impression that the explosion created when matter combined with anti-matter was likely a myth and that really they just cancel each other out.
          • Fissile material with vast stores of potential energy occurs naturally. Every subatomic particle of weaponized antimatter would have to be synthesized using orders of magnitude more power than the weapon would have. Before you create enough antimatter to light a bulb, you could wipe out most of humanity with ordinary nuclear weapons. Regardless how easy it will become to produce or store antimatter, it will always take more energy than it is worth.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward
              This is not true. Antimatter is the most potent known energy storage medium in the universe and as such can be used from anything to near-luminal space travel to power for micro-machines. Also, you're statement about it taking more energy to produce that it releases during annihilation applies to any energy storage medium because of the 2nd law of thermodynamics although I do admit it does take much more excess work energy to store energy in the form of antimatter. ( remember that you also have to enrich ur
              • Also, you're statement about it taking more energy to produce that it releases during annihilation applies to any energy storage medium because of the 2nd law of thermodynamics although I do admit it does take much more excess work energy to store energy in the form of antimatter.

                Would you care to elaborate what the 2nd law of thermodynamics has to do with energy storage? Especially in case of anti matter?

                However you are right regarding the cost of antimatter production.

            • Regardless how easy it will become to produce or store antimatter, it will always take more energy than it is worth.

              How much it is worth will determine the market.
              I know enough people who would pay everything they have to get a few grams. Imagine a trip to mars under full 1 g acceleration ...

            • Wouldn't that be an anti-matter dark sucker?

        • On the other hand, in a few short years we've gone from picoseconds to 16 seconds.

          • by pushing-robot (1037830) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @06:52PM (#36345598)

            16 minutes (closer to 17), not sixteen seconds.

            Speaking of 17 minutes, I'm waiting for someone to write a short story about someone needing to crack a NTLM password before an antimatter bottle loses containment.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Paua Fritter (448250)

            On the other hand, in a few short years we've gone from picoseconds to 16 seconds.

            Ha! You Americans with your old-fashioned units of "years" and "hours" and so on ... get with the programme people!
            If you had 28 grammes of sense you would just take 6 dekaseconds to learn the Systeme Internationale - it's not that hard.

            • by Lije Baley (88936)

              As I often say, no unit can be taken seriously unless it can be kept in a jar in France! However, I'm still trying to figure out where they keep that 300,000 kilometer long jar with the second in it.

            • a metric time system doesnt sound so bad.
            • by jdpars (1480913)
              We need units with better names than "dekaseconds" though. Perhaps we could use seconds, lilbits, justaminutes, awhiles, and latres?
        • by symbolset (646467) *

          At the current rate of progress it should be a useful method of storing energy for weapons or space travel in about 15 years. It's not linear. They're doing good work here. I don't know why you think a starship would require hundreds of tons of antimatter. That's an awful lot.

          We don't need any new weapons. We've enough applied physics to immolate the world already and enough applied chemistry and biology to wipe out the survivors. Of course weapons will be made, but we're past the point where they m

        • by khallow (566160) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @07:23PM (#36345780)

          there is no danger of any kind of weapon being built with this kind of technology in the next few decades.

          And you base this on what? Not so long ago, they couldn't store antimatter at all. Going from nothing to something is a bigger hurdle than going from storing small amounts for short times to storing militarily useful amounts for a long time.

          Antimatter is horribly energy-intensive to make, well known stat you can check at wikipedia is at the current production rate at CERN it would take 100 billion years to make a gram of the stuff.

          If someone figures out how to convert electricity to stored antimatter (halflife of storage, say being on the order of decades to centuries) at a 1% efficiency, then the current electricity output of the US (roughly a terawatt averaged over a year) could produce a kilogram of antimatter every 7-8 months or so. That's equivalent to a bit over 40 megatons of bomb (including the kilogram of regular matter which also gets converted to energy).

          Still that's roughly 3 billion usd per megaton of explosive power (just in energy cost at $0.05 per kWh). I see antimatter bombs not filling the roles of the 250kton-1 megaton bombs (or larger), but things on the order of compact 0.1-1 kiloton bombs (useful for shattering deep underground structures). Much cheaper and fills a niche that currently isn't covered by nuclear or conventional weapons.

          • by ppanon (16583)
            I wonder if you could use antimatter as a hydrogen bomb trigger. Would the shock front from the antimatter annihilation be enough to compress D2 in surrounding heavy water to fusion? If it could then it would amp-up the released energy while keeping a compact package. For instance, what if you had four or six traps and emptied them out in a controlled fashion at a central repository of heavy water so that you used anti-matter annihilation to reproduce on a large scale what the laser ignition facility does
            • Look up antimatter catalyzed micro fusion. In other words, Yes.
            • Why bother? If you could generate enough anti-matter to make a decent trigger out of (and contain it) why not just make an antimatter bomb? Matter-anti-matter reactions are something like 50x as powerful as nuclear reactions of the same mass (I forget the exact numbers and am not willing to look it up right now). And all you would need would be a containment vessel and a means to stop containing the anti-matter. Big boom, done.
          • then the current electricity output of the US (roughly a terawatt averaged over a year) could produce a kilogram of antimatter every 7-8 months or so.

            then

            Still that's roughly 3 billion usd per megaton of explosive power (just in energy cost at $0.05 per kWh). I see antimatter bombs not filling the roles of the 250kton-1 megaton bombs (or larger), but things on the order of compact 0.1-1 kiloton bombs (useful for shattering deep underground structures). Much cheaper and fills a niche that currently isn't co

        • by Muad'Dave (255648)

          You don't need anti-atoms for weapons. Regular old anti-particles will do; they're much easier to confine, and they're made naturally all the time. See my recent post [slashdot.org] that points out some of the natural ways antiparticles are produced.

        • by radtea (464814)

          since they've to date confined less than 400 anti-atoms, there is no danger of any kind of weapon being built with this kind of technology in the next few decades

          I believe the term you're looking for is "moonshine". That is the traditional way of dismissing a scientific discovery still in it's infancy yet only twenty years away from changing the world.

    • by EdZ (755139)
      Nope, the universe just isn't made mostly of antimatter. Antimatter is created by natural (if staggeringly high energy processes) without human intervention.

      Now if they'd created and confined matter with a negative energy, THEN I'd be very surprised.
      • by crgrace (220738)

        Beta+ decay isn't a particularly high energy process. It happens in the brain of anyone who has ever had a PET scan, and they live to tell the tale.

      • if they'd created and confined matter with a negative energy, THEN I'd be very surprised.

        Imagine negative mass, it's attracted to normal mass but normal mass is repelled by negative mass. A piece of negative mass near a piece of normal mass will be under constant acceleration.

        Somewhat like a geek near a pretty girl.

      • Now if they'd created and confined matter with a negative energy, THEN I'd be very surprised.

        Simple. Store it in a room arranged by a very bad Fung Shui [wikipedia.org] decorator.

    • by crgrace (220738)

      Oh, please.

      Equal parts of matter and anti-matter were created in the Big Bang, and anti-matter is created regularly as part of Beta decay. It isn't "not of this universe".

      It is quite amazing, though. I agree with you there.

      • If the two were created in equal amounts, why is the universe we see mostly positive matter? There was possibly some effect or interaction in the first few picoseconds to skew the balance in favor of the stuff we're made up of, otherwise the universe would have been reduced to a hot photon soup pretty fast by runaway annihilation.

        • That is currently one of the biggest unanswered questions in the world of science. Theoretically, equal parts of matter and antimatter where created during the big bang. Why they didn't annihilate each other hasn't been explained yet.

        • by Rogerborg (306625)

          If the two were created in equal amounts, why is the universe we see mostly positive matter?

          The universe should be soup anyway. Something went went wrong with the recipe, and it got lumpy. Given the essential improbability of our existence, I don't have a problem with all the extant matter being hither and all the extant antimatter yonder, on the galactic or galactic-cluster scale.

          • Boltzmann brains? If that were true, I wonder why my imagination created all the bastards this world has... :)

    • That's because you've set your bar of a "God" way too low - it's not like they've changed the vacuum speed of light, or the gravitation constant, or made 1+1=3 for everywhere in the universe, yet.
    • If that's not playing God, then I don't know what is. These guys are no longer playing with the stuff our universe is made of, they're now playing with what it's /not/ made of. That's quite amazing, if you ask me.

      My understanding is that the universe is made of both matter and antimatter, just much more of the former and not so much of the later. Matter is just more prevalent and has therefore survived the annihilations.

    • Then I don't know what is. These guys are no longer playing with the stuff our universe is made of, they're now playing with what it's /not/ made of. That's quite amazing, if you ask me.

      Uhh. The universe IS made of both matter and anti-matter, so...

    • by Jonner (189691)

      The universe is made of both matter and antimatter. It's just that there turned out to be more matter for some reason that still hasn't been discovered. Since we're made of matter, we don't see any antimatter nearby as it would annihilate us.

  • Powers of ten (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tttonyyy (726776)

    I don't read slashdot anywhere near as much as I used to. And on this brief foray to sample from the pool of away-from-maintream reporting, what am I met with - an exciting progression in scientific endevour twisted into a painfully patronising slashdot summary.

    See you in another 10^3 days, hopefully there will be some improvement, but I won't be holding my breath :/

    • by CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @06:40PM (#36345532)

      Well thank god you logged in long enough to register your disgust. How else would we have know to be appropriately sad for being deprived of your magnificent presence ?

      • by tttonyyy (726776)

        Well thank god you logged in long enough to register your disgust. How else would we have know to be appropriately sad for being deprived of your magnificent presence ?

        You make a fair point. But also; welcome to the internet ;)

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @06:21PM (#36345394) Journal
    As a true, red-blooded American I take pride in my nation's tough-on-crime policies of long sentences and harsh incarceration. It is simply unacceptable that some multinational research team of limp-wristed European eggheads is imposing tougher sentences on antiparticles than we are.

    I, for one, will not be voting for anybody who can't promise that 25% of the world's antihydrogen will be doing 20-to-life in our very own 'SuperMax' high energy physics institutes.
    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @06:35PM (#36345512) Homepage
      You fool! You put antimatter in a SuperMax prison with all sorts of hardened criminals and you'll get ANTIHEROs.

      And then where will we be, Mr. Smartypants American Patriot? There is a reason that the world hates us.
      • You put antimatter in a SuperMax prison with all sorts of hardened criminals and you'll get ANTIHEROs.

        Will they shoot first, or will they let Greedo take the first shot while doing a weird head-dance around the blaster bolt?

      • Billions and billions of anti-HEROS are going through you at this very moment. But not nearly as many as HEROS, modern science still doesn't fully understand this asymmetry but given a few more strings multi-billion dollar labs we'll figure it out in time for your great grand children's 6th grade term paper.
      • by syousef (465911)

        You fool! You put antimatter in a SuperMax prison with all sorts of hardened criminals and you'll get ANTIHEROs.
        And then where will we be, Mr. Smartypants American Patriot? There is a reason that the world hates us.

        Bad superhero jokes?

    • Chill. It doesn't matter.

    • by melikamp (631205)
      I am so sick of you antiantimatter conservatives! I, for one, believe that matter and antimatter can co-exist peacefully. I refuse to discriminate based on a trivial single-bit difference, and will continue working together with our antimatter brethren on building a brighter futuNO CARRIER
  • it blows at the of 38min give or take
  • In a conference room, somewhere deep underground at CERN's Top Secret Command Center:

    "Those bastards at Fermilab have discovered the Higgs Boson [discovermagazine.com] before we did! It's time to initiate... Plan Z."

    "Sir, you't seriously mean to--!"

    "Oh, but I do. PREPARE THE ANTIMATTER BOMB!"

    [Disclaimer for the perdantic: I know the 150GeV bump is probably not the Higgs boson.]

  • Photon torpedos.
  • ...and then Vatican City will be consumed by light.
  • Wake me up when they can do 1024 seconds!
  • when they manage to synthesize Anti-Christ for more than a few seconds.

  • "The more relevant number for physicists, who often deal in powers of 10...."

    And what if their work doesn't involve base ten numeracy? What if they live on a planet where people only have eight fingers... and digits?

  • by GargamelSpaceman (992546) on Monday June 06, 2011 @09:41AM (#36349470) Homepage Journal

    How close are they to being able to tell whether antimatter falls up or down?

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