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Q & A: Making Antimatter

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
would it be possible to make an antimatter factory that was cost efficient, substantially small, fast in the production of antimatter, and yet produced adequate amounts of antimatter to power an interstellar spacecraft to reach the nearest star? If yes, then how?
- Michael (age 14)
San Antonio, TX
A:
Michael -

Simply, no. Currently, making antimatter takes about a billion times as much energy to do as you can get back when you actually use the stuff. This is not cost effective. Nor can it be done very quickly or in a small facility.

According to Gerald Gabrielse, a Harvard professor who is doing research on the production and storage of antihydrogen (a form of antimatter), even if you could collect all of the antiprotons ever made (by humans), you couldn't even heat up a cup of coffee. In regards to space flight, he says:

"Making antimatter fuel for one rocket is theoretically possible. But I don't see it happening anytime soon. There are significant problems I don't know how to solve. A fuel that requires more energy to make than it releases is not much of a fuel source. It's pretty clear no one is going to make a rocket engine fueled by antimatter in the next 10 years."

(from

All in all, it's a nice idea, and one that's currently being looked at. But for the time being, actually making it work is a job for science fiction writers, not scientists.

-Tamara

(published on 10/22/2007)

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