Earth orbit lousy with antiprotons, no Romulan warbirds yet

In a rare moment of thinkingaheadedness, scientists have deployed a ring of antiprotons in an effort to stave off sneak attacks by spaceships equipped with cloaking devices. Actually, that's not at all true. Except for the bit about the ring of antiprotons surrounding the Earth. 'Cause we've got one of those.

Cosmic rays (those things that are guaranteed to make you a superhero) are flying in from space all the time, and when they smash into particles in our atmosphere, all kinds of weird stuff flies out from the collision, including antiparticles. Most of the time, antiparticles just immediately annihilate with their counterparts, but sometimes, they end up trapped in a giant ring, constrained by the Earth's magnetic field. Essentially, it's the same way we produce and trap antimatter here on Earth in particle accelerators, except on a much larger scale.

Italian scientists detected this region of antimatter using a satellite designed to spot cosmic rays, and while we already knew that positrons (anti-electrons) were caught up there, this is the first we've seen that it can also happen to antiprotons, which are 2000 times more massive.

The really cool part about all this has nothing to do with detecting Romulans, but it does have something to do with Star Trek. Antimatter (what powers warp engines) is a fantastic source of energy. In fact, it's the most fantastic source of energy that exists, producing energy about 10,000,000,000 (that's ten billion) times more efficiently than a chemical reaction like burning gasoline. We can't really utilize this potential since it's so hard for us to produce antimatter here on Earth, but if we can just harvest the stuff from space, we could use it to power rockets or anything (and everything) else.

Via New Scientist

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