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Q & A: anti-matter intro

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Most recent answer: 05/29/2010
Q:
I was curious in regards to Theoretical Physics in reference to Anti-Matter which is meaningless in terms of its name; However, I have read that if antimatter were to make contact with matter a destructive energy (heat, light..., etc) would be released? Is this at all plausible? Just Curious.
- Michael (age 29)
Levittown, Pa
A:
Anti-matter is just like ordinary matter except that for each anti-particle the electrical charge (and the "charges" associated with the nuclear forces) is exactly opposite to that for the matter particle. So when a particle and its anti-particle combine, their energies add up but the charges cancel. What comes out can be any other sort of particle-antiparticle combination whose energies add up to be the same as the starting energy.  When a positron annihilates with an electron, usually two or three photons are emitted.

There's nothing more or less destructive about that output (say some light, or an electron-positron pair, etc) than any other little burst of energy.

This whole process is not just possible but routine, both at accelerators and from cosmic rays.

Mike W.

(published on 05/29/2010)

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