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Air Force Researching Antimatter Weapons 1062

mlmitton writes "The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that the Air Force is actively pursuing antimatter weapons. Such weapons would easy eclipse nuclear weapons in power, e.g., 1 gram of antimatter would equal 23 space shuttle fuel tanks of energy. Perhaps more interesting, after an initial inquiry by the Chronicle in the summer, the Air Force issued a gag order that prohibits any Air Force employee from discussing antimatter research or funding."
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Air Force Researching Antimatter Weapons

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  • by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:02PM (#10432605) Homepage Journal
    as an energy source.

    But destructe research wins over constructive alternatives hands down.

  • Really... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jsoffron ( 718739 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:03PM (#10432617)
    isn't this a tremendous waste of money? I'm generally pretty high on national defense, but is our biggest national security threat really that nuclear bombs aren't powerful enough?

    We can not afford a mine shaft gap!
  • by FTL ( 112112 ) * <slashdot AT neil DOT fraser DOT name> on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:04PM (#10432628) Homepage
    One of the potential problems with antimatter is how to use it. If one just removes it from its isolation container, it may just glow, spit and fizzle for an extended period of time, rather than explode properly. As the first particles of matter comes in contact with it, that matter (and the corresponding amount of anti-matter) will annihilate, causing a blast that may separate the two objects for a while. So to detonate properly one might need some very fancy geometries or implosion schemes that make an atomic bomb look like child's play.

    Alternatively antimatter may blow up just fine without any assistance. It's all theory just now. We'll have to drop a gram of it to be sure.

  • Schweet! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:04PM (#10432636) Journal
    F-22 Raptors with photon torpedoes on multiple-ejector racks.

    How many megatons yield per aircraft?

    OK, now I'm scared.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:04PM (#10432644)
    and war is part of the human psyche, we may as well develop weapons that just kill cheap humans and don't fuck up the planet or start nuclear winters.
  • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:06PM (#10432675)

    The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that the Air Force is actively pursuing antimatter weapons. Such weapons would easy eclipse nuclear weapons in power, e.g., 1 gram of antimatter would equal 23 space shuttle fuel tanks of energy.

    Are we sure they're pursuing weapons? We are talking about the Air Force, and it's funny how they'd compare the relative energy to a spaceship fuel tank, of all things...

  • I guess this is it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by robogun ( 466062 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:07PM (#10432683)
    Paraphrasing the article:
    "Oh, they're safer, there'll be no fallout..."
    A couple pounds of antimatter, combined with matter, and there'll be no earth to fall to.
    If they succeed, this is it.
    In 10 billion years, some future race will detect a gamma ray burst from the Milky Way Galaxy...
  • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:07PM (#10432694) Homepage
    During a panel at LACon II in '84, Dr. Forward mentioned that calculations showed that an anti-matter bowling ball wouldn't go up in a blaze of light and gamma, it'd sit on the floor sizzling like a drop of water on a griddle for several minutes. From what I gathered, the matter and anti-matter only interact as they come into contact with each other, and even in a normal Earth atmosphere there's a limit as to how many particles touch at any given time. Also, of course, the reaction heats the air up, causing convection currents that lower the pressure. Thinking about it, I guess you'd get the fastest reaction with an anti-dust so that there's as much surface as possible.
  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:07PM (#10432701) Homepage Journal
    Should Starfleet be the one researching this? We all know they'll be using it in the future for their spacecrafts.

    Look for a patent infringement suit.

    A bigger bomb isn't the answer. Guerilla warefare has shown you have to fight door-to-door. Daisy-cutters, as impressive as they were and 'Shock and awe' seem, upon reflection, to be greatly overrated in their effectiveness. People fear nuclear weapons, not just because they can kill so many, but because they can poison the land for years to come.

  • by nacturation ( 646836 ) <nacturation @ g m> on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:08PM (#10432716) Journal
    But destructe research wins over constructive alternatives hands down.

    Given that matter + anti-matter is a purely destructive process to begin with, it isn't surprising that this is a key area of military research. On the brighter side, tons of everyday inventions funnel down from military funded projects, so it's not all doom and gloom.
  • Re:Really... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by harks ( 534599 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:10PM (#10432741)
    Agreed... nukes are too powerful as it is, for practical use. Why would we need anything MORE powerful?
  • So yea, woo hoo anti-matter power!

    Sure, it's radioactive, just like fission, but hey antimatter is cheap at $62.5 trillion per gram, and it's 10-100 times more powerful!

    Not sure what the point would be in antimatter weapons, besides serious coolness. Nukes are at least stable at room temperature, and if you drop a ball of plutonium on your foot, all you get is broken toes. Wouldn't want to have a power failure anywhere NEAR antimatter.
  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:12PM (#10432783) Homepage
    Silly boy - we need anti-matter weapons to secure mid-east oil supplies.

  • Why positronium? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:13PM (#10432807)
    Why do people make a big deal over positronium, aside from the fundamental physics that can be learned from it? Positronium, like hydrogen, is a neutral particle and as such, is unaffected by magnetic fields. It seems to me that the storage problems would increase by storing antimatter as positronium as opposed to storing it as seperate positrons and anti-protons.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:14PM (#10432819)
    Because of the vast amount of energy required to create antimatter. The sun is an energy source because it's there and only needs to be harnessed. Likewise sun created energies such as wind, wood and petroleum. The energy has already been created and stored.

    Any energy you have to 'make' invokes the Second Law. This doesn't mean you shouldn't bother, because we still need ways to store and transfer energy, which is what we do with hydrogen, antimatter or storage batteries. The fact they are total energy negative isn't the point, it's that they put the energy where we want it in an extractable form.

    And extracting energy where you want it is what weapons technology is all about.

    Lots of energy. It doesn't matter what that energy cost you in energy.

  • Pointless. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jaywalk ( 94910 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:15PM (#10432838) Homepage
    Exactly what military threat do they envision where they need a bigger "boom" than what they have now? Every current military threat isn't a matter of having insufficient explosive power, but having difficulty ascertaining the target. This stuff may have practical use as a non-military explosive (e.g., asteroid deflection) but the U.S. military already has the necessary force to blow up anything on earth using existing technology.
  • by Egonis ( 155154 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:19PM (#10432921)
    How about using this kind of power for POSITIVE purposes? Like low-cost, efficient, and safe energy?
  • Anti-Matter Resch. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by a3217055 ( 768293 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:20PM (#10432931)
    This is research has two paths either great and powerful things or some sort of "nuclear mineing" ( they would use nuclear weapons to do strip mineing. The air force needs to do something better with its time. Anti-matter weapons. In a couple of years we will see this ... "Aircraft carrier vanishes in large explosion because of anti-matter containment field failing". How foolish.... Maybe it is an arm's race against the terrorists who are taking away America's liberty ?
  • by YetAnotherAnonymousC ( 594097 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:21PM (#10432949)
    You are correct. And further, the question of whether its better to maim a solider and thus require several of his buddies to carry him off, or kill him outright. Hence the question of 5.56mm vs. 7.62mm, etc.
  • by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:22PM (#10432955) Homepage Journal
    "How about research an energy source.
    But destructe research wins over constructive alternatives hands down."

    Um, yeah, so? Desctructive research is cheaper, and gee, that's also the job of the airforce. What do they need an anti-matter power source for? That's like complaining that cheetahs eat animals when they could be protecting them from other predators.
  • expensive (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mnemonic_ ( 164550 ) <(ude.hcimu) (ta) (cemaj)> on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:25PM (#10432999) Homepage Journal
    Antimatter is currently the most expensive substance on earth, at $1.75 trillion per ounce.

    And antimatter bombs have been proposed as far back as the 70s, but of course anything's "new" when the public hears about it regardless of when the ideas were first conceived. The militarization of space, super efficient warheads, "brilliant" weapons (as opposed to "smart"): all have been under thorough investigation by the USAF for decades. All have been underlying trends in military scientists' minds representing a natural progression in defense technology, with nothing extraordinary about them.

    All of those things, in today's sensationalist world, are perceived as indicators of the US military's suddenly new drive to take over the world, when in reality, there's nothing new about them. We all gasp when we hear about them, but to the aged scientists working at Edwards, it's all old hat. The USAF's overall plans haven't changed (though they certainly have progressed), only the public's perceptions.
  • Re:Really... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jacer ( 574383 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:32PM (#10433107) Homepage
    If you can have a weapon more powerful than a nuke, without the fallout, they'll be more prone to use them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:35PM (#10433142)
    > How would the blast seperate the antimatter from the matter when the antimatter is *surrounded* by matter? Antimatter that is merely exposed to air will prompty annihilate; the blast can only push the antimatter into more air.

    The Victorians already knew this to be false. Their problem was trying to keep propellers on their steam ships in contact with water. If the propeller was too powerful, it would push the water away from it and a bubble of vacuum would open up. It's called cavitation. If Victorian steam engines are powerful enough to create a vacuum around a propeller in water, I'd imagine that a chunk of antimatter would have no problems at all keeping air away from itself.

  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:36PM (#10433155) Homepage Journal
    Antimatter research is extremely valuable science. Insight into the mechanisms of anti/matter annihilation, and its total (or nearly) conversion to energy, will inform science from nuclear energy to nano (femto?) tech and beyond. It's best performed in space, away from the rest of the world which it can contaminate with either annihilable (anti)material or radiation from the reaction. But budgeting the Air Force to make bombs out of it is insane. We've already got expensive ginormous bombs that scare everyone silly, and send the craziest of us into terrorism to compete. How about we just shift that Pentagon budget across to NASA? That will satisfy the aerospace bribers^Wlobbyists who are pushing this stuff, but keep them serving a sustainable market.
  • Re:Evil Twin (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:39PM (#10433218)
    Maybe you're the evil twin.........
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:39PM (#10433220) Homepage Journal
    They say soldiers, but hasn't the only use of nuclear weapons in a wartime scenario been against civilians? Oh and our own guys in testing, of course. I was not under the impression that nuclear weapons have ever been used against anyone else's army. And during the cold war, I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of the targets on either side were not military.

    So lets not decieve each other about who such a weapon will be used on, nor its ultimate purpose. Such a bomb would be a weapon designed to kill off the civilian population of a country while leaving their oil fields standing. OK, maybe I'm a little cynical, but I grew up during the height of the cold war at what would have been ground 0 had there been a war. I think I've earned the right to be a bit cynical.

    It's been a while, but I believe I heard about several treaties back in the day banning the research on the "Neutron Bomb." No one particularly liked the idea of a clean weapon that could kill off a large population. All you'd have to do is bomb a region, send some guys in to clear the bodies out and then start moving your own people in. I wouldn't trust the most saintly of governments with a power like that, much less my own.

    I would not, however, object to a particle/beam weapon that could cut an enemy tank or missile up like a big piece of cheese.

  • by krbvroc1 ( 725200 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:44PM (#10433281)
    Are we sure they're pursuing weapons? We are talking about the Air Force, and it's funny how they'd compare the relative energy to a spaceship fuel tank, of all things...
    Keep in mind that the presentation was at a NASA conference. As far as presentations go, remember, know your target audience.
  • Ding! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mikeee ( 137160 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:44PM (#10433283)
    I think you've got it. Consider that space shuttle.

    It's something like 95% fuel by weight on takeoff. Now, if your engines are burning antimatter, you can replace all that weight with payload and still reach orbit!

    If the antimatter could be manufactured for a reasonable multiple of the energy cost, it would cause the cost of getting stuff into space to drop dramatically.
  • Re:Really... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by carpe_noctem ( 457178 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:53PM (#10433406) Homepage Journal
    This isn't the thing that's kept us from using nuclear weapons in the past. The thing that has is mutually assured destruction (or MAD, if you will).

    Nuclear weapons were successful in ending the second world war because we were the only country that had them at the time. We couldn't use them in any cold war conflicts because our enemies could use them on us.

    Likewise, the development of anti-matter weapons is useless too, because even if we develop the technology to use them, long-range nuclear weapons from our enemies can still be used against us.

    Creating more powerful weapons in an arms race is kind of like seeing who can count to the biggest number faster... I doubt we'll ever reach a largest number, and eventually both people will shout out "infinity plus one!".
  • Re:Really... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:57PM (#10433469)
    Ok, that's good for Iran, but what if you want to destroy Canada?
  • by Un pobre guey ( 593801 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @05:00PM (#10433511) Homepage
    The leak was probably deliberate, in the long and hallowed Pentagon tradition of disseminating disinformation to make gullible Third World generals think the US has awesome Spielbergian weapons systems. How much would it cost to actually produce sufficient weapons grade antimatter to put in a bomb? How would it be stored, transported, and delivered? How do you guard against accidents?

    Wake up, folks. It's bullshit.

  • Less is more (Score:3, Insightful)

    by coyote-san ( 38515 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @05:09PM (#10433653)
    Doesn't anyone here read the regular press?

    If the military needs a 10MT bomb they're use a nuke. It's known, reliable technology. It's even safe... at least for us.

    But if the military wants to hit a target with, oh, 100T to 2000T - that's tons, not kilotons - it doesn't have a lot of options. Conventional cruise missiles can carry a few tons (actually far less but modern chemical explosives are far more powerful than TNT). Aircraft can drop heavier bombs, up to MOAB, but that requires you to actually get a heavy bomber into the area. That can take hours, it has to get past air defenses, etc. You can't just launch a bunch of cruise missiles from a submarine or destroyer and be done with it.

    This is why the military was looking at "mini-nukes"... but there's a lower limit on the size of nuclear weapons and actually testing one will cause a lot of problems on the world stage. Not that this administration gives a damn about that but it is a consideration.

    An antimatter bomb can be as small as you need to disable the target while minimizing the collateral damage. It doesn't even have to be explosive - an intense "sizzling" gamma ray source may even be better than an explosion. It'll kill personnel, disable electronics, wipe magnetic media, etc. without causing the infrastructure to collapse beyond any damage caused by the initial penetration.

  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @05:12PM (#10433681) Homepage
    ... which points out one of the silly things about this. The headline stated:

    "Such weapons would easy eclipse nuclear weapons in power"

    No. Such weapons would easily eclipse nuclear weapons in *fuel energy density*. They would not eclipse nuclear weapons in energy, or even overall energy density, without radical breakthroughs. Antimatter is just too expensive to produce, and requires such large containment structures, that you can't get either sizable amounts of raw antimatter energy, nor great energy density. Perhaps antimatter-catylized fusion might produce new, useful weapons (small fusion bombs that don't need a fission bomb to start the reaction), although I personally am not in favor of blurring the line between conventional and nuclear weapons.

    Still, I guess there is one good thing that will come of this: I always felt we should spend more money on basic research and less on the military. Here, the military is spending its money on basic research ;)

  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Monday October 04, 2004 @05:19PM (#10433753) Homepage Journal
    Considering that I have no idea where they'd get the required amounts of antimatter from, I think the military is having fun blowing smoke up our collective asses. (And those of our enemies.) However, the military *may* be looking into Antimatter catalyzed fission []weapons. Such weapons would need only a few particles of antimatter to fuel a fission warhead that could fit in the palm of your hand.
  • Interesting. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BoneFlower ( 107640 ) <> on Monday October 04, 2004 @06:10PM (#10434217) Journal
    " either pure antimatter bombs or antimatter-triggered nuclear weapons; the former wouldn't emit radioactive fallout"

    Good and bad. Good is no radioactive fallout... the long term consequences of their use, and the collateral damage, are dramatically reduced.

    But thats bad too, since lower consequences will likely mean more likely to use.

    The vast power of a small amount is also troubling. How easy would it be to use a small amount? Sure, any amount would cause a boom, but it might not be practical to weaponize small quantities with the difficulties of safely containing antimatter for long term use. From the article, micrograms are only equivalent to about 83 pounds of TNT, so if amounts that small can be safely and effectively weaponized it could be useful. On the other hand, how far does that initial gamma ray burst travel?

    Interesting technology, but there are serious questions.
  • No no no. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:09PM (#10436250)
    You will still have a "nuclear winter" where debris from the earth are blown up into the atmosphere. You will still have a shitload of gamma radiation ionizing and sterilizing everything in the blast radii.

    If you want a super WMD (gee, didn't we invade IRAQ over those supposedly) that won't have alot of fallout, the "neutron bomb" is a better candidate (has little fallout and leaves buildings standing).

    No this isn't about creating anything useful. Don't delude yourself.
  • Re:Really... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:33PM (#10436344)
    On the other hand, everyone in Iran WILL die. I don't find the idea of making WMDs better attractive at all.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!