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How Antimatter Spacecraft Will Work
by Kevin Bonsor

"Engineering, stand by for warp drive." With that command, the "Star Trek" crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise prepared to hurl the spaceship through the cosmos at superluminal speeds. Warp drive is another one of those science fiction technologies, like teleportation and time travel, that have some scientific basis. It just hasn't been achieved yet. However, scientists are working on developing an interstellar spacecraft engine that is similar to the matter-antimatter engine of the Enterprise. (1 of 6)2/3/2003 12:04:47 AM

Until just recently. It's like the difference between driving an Indy race car and a 1971 Ford Pinto. In 1928. but we will be able to go many times faster than our current propulsion methods allow.htm/printable (2 of 6)2/3/2003 12:04:47 AM 2 . of which the majority of our universe is No engine is likely to generate superluminal speeds.howstuffworks.Howstuffworks "How Antimatter Spacecraft Will Work" Photo courtesy NASA Antimatter spacecraft like this one could some day shorten a trip to Mars from 11 months to one month. like the one used in the space shuttle. the presence of antimatter in our universe was considered to be only theoretical. we will peer a few decades into the future of space travel to look at an antimatter spacecraft.the opposite of normal matter. Dirac said that Einstein didn't consider that the "m" in the http://science.M. A matterantimatter engine will take us far beyond our solar system and let us reach nearby stars in a fraction of the time it would take a spacecraft propelled by a liquid-hydrogen engine. you'll eventually get to the finish line. What is Antimatter? This isn't a trick question. In this edition of How Stuff Will Work. Antimatter is exactly what you might think it is -. In the Pinto. British physicist Paul A. and find out what antimatter actually is and how it will be used for an advanced propulsion system. the laws of physics prevent us from doing that. but it will take 10 times longer than in the Indy car. Dirac revised Einstein's famous equation E=mc .

each lasting only 40 nanoseconds. When antimatter comes into contact with normal matter. these equal but opposite particles collide to produce an explosion emitting pure radiation. we don't see the light that would result from it colliding with matter.Howstuffworks "How Antimatter Spacecraft Will Work" equation -. scientists discovered a possible deposit of antimatter near the center of the galaxy in 1977. researchers at the Berkeley Bevatron produced an antiproton.howstuffworks. literally. If that does exist. Discovered by Carl Anderson in 1932. If there were equal amounts of matter and antimatter. So. why haven't we built a matter-antimatter reaction engine? The problem with developing antimatter propulsion is that there is a lack of antimatter existing in the universe. In 1955. leaving behind other subatomic particles. CERN researchers were pushing the production of anti-hydrogen atoms to 2. those are all that's left. like CERN. scientists at CERN.htm/printable (3 of 6)2/3/2003 12:04:47 AM .com/antimatter. the collision of particles and anti-particles destroys both.000 per hour. are large tunnels lined with powerful supermagnets that circle around to propel http://science.Protons that have a negative instead of the usual positive charge. positrons were the first evidence that antimatter existed. There may be no naturally-existing antiparticles in our universe today. Nine anti-hydrogen atoms were created. However. Scientists have since proven that several anti-particles exist.could have negative properties as well as positive. created the first anti-atom. but the electrical charges are reversed." Atom smashers. These anti-particles are. Both particles that created the explosion are completely annihilated. The explosion that occurs when antimatter and matter interact transfers the entire mass of both objects into energy. it would mean that antimatter exists naturally.Electrons with a positive instead of negative charge. mirror images of normal matter. also called "atom smashers. Since antimatter doesn't exist around us. we will have to create our own antimatter. we would likely see these reactions around us.Pairing together positrons and antiprotons. and the need to make our own antimatter would be eliminated. And because there may have been more particles in the universe to start with. Luckily. Here are some antimatter discoveries of the 20th century: q 2 q q Positrons . It is possible that particles outnumbered anti-particles at the time of the Big Bang. Each anti-particle has the same mass as its corresponding particle. which travels out of the point of the explosion at the speed of light. As stated above. Scientists believe that this energy is more powerful than any that can be generated by other propulsion methods. As of 1998. Anti-protons .mass -. Anti-atoms . there is technology available to create antimatter through the use of high-energy particle colliders. the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Dirac's equation (E = + or mc ) allowed for the existence of anti-particles in our universe. For now.

it slams into a target.Like a particle collider on Earth. Matter-Antimatter Engine NASA is possibly only a few decades away from developing an antimatter spacecraft that would cut fuel costs to a fraction of what they are today. All of the antiprotons produced at CERN in one year would be enough to light a 100-watt electric light bulb for three seconds. the kind used by the space shuttle.htm/printable (4 of 6)2/3/2003 12:04:47 AM .000 times more powerful than the nuclear fission produced in nuclear power plants and 300 times more powerful than nuclear fusion When an atom is sent through this accelerator.When the spacecraft needs more power. matter-antimatter engines have the potential to take us farther with less fuel. Matter-antimatter propulsion will be the most efficient propulsion ever developed. When matter and antimatter collide. a long magnetic nozzle will move the energy created by the matter-antimatter through a thruster. Magnetic rocket nozzle thruster . Some of these particles are antiparticles that are separated out by the magnetic field. It will take tons of antiprotons to travel to interstellar destinations. The problem is creating and storing the antimatter. In October 2000. There are three main components to a matter-antimatter engine: q q q Magnetic storage rings . creating particles. according to a report in that month's issue of Journal of Propulsion and Power.howstuffworks.Howstuffworks "How Antimatter Spacecraft Will Work" atoms at near-light speeds. Photo courtesy Laboratory for Energetic Particle Science at Penn State University Antimatter spacecraft like the one in this artist concept could carry us beyond the solar system at amazing speeds. NASA scientists announced early designs for an antimatter engine that could generate enormous thrust with only small amounts of antimatter fueling it. the antimatter will be released to collide with a target of matter. http://science.Antimatter must be separated from normal matter so storage rings with magnetic fields can move the antimatter around the ring until it is needed to create energy. These high-energy particle accelerators only produce one or two picograms of antiprotons each year. Feed system . the energy released by their annihilation releases about 10 billion times the energy that chemical energy such as hydrogen and oxygen combustion. releases. A picogram is a trillionth of a gram. The amount of antimatter needed to supply the engine for a one-year trip to Mars could be as little as a millionth of a gram. Matter-antimatter reactions are 1. So. which releases energy. because 100 percent of the mass of the matter and antimatter is converted into energy.

it takes nearly a year for an unmanned spacecraft to reach Mars. Approximately 10 grams of antiprotons would be enough fuel to send a manned spacecraft to Mars in one month. Today. Lots More Information! Related How Stuff Works Articles: q q q q How Rocket Engines Work How Solar Sails Will Work How Teleportation Will Work How Time Travel Will Work http://science. the Mars Global Surveyor took 11 months to arrive at Mars. the point at which the sun's radiation ends. It would be possible to make trips to Jupiter and even beyond the heliopause.htm/printable (5 of 6)2/3/2003 12:04:47 AM . In 1996. But it will still be a long time before astronauts are asking their starship's helmsman to take them to warp speed.Howstuffworks "How Antimatter Spacecraft Will Work" Photo courtesy Laboratory for Energetic Particle Science at Penn State University The storage rings on the spacecraft will hold the antimatter.howstuffworks. Scientists believe that the speed of an matter-antimatter powered spacecraft would allow man to go where no man has gone before in

com/antimatter. http://science.howstuffworks. NASA Advanced Propulsion Systems: Antimatter Propulsion Scientists Examine Using Antimatter to Propel Spacecraft Antimatter Propulsion Antimatter Space Propulsion at Penn State University Antimatter: Mirror of the Universe Scientists Consider Ways to Give Extra Kick to Spaceships The Science of Star Trek What's the Matter with Antimatter? Home Store Newsletter Search Advertising Privacy Contact About Help © 1998 .Howstuffworks "How Antimatter Spacecraft Will Work" Other Interesting Links: q q q q q q q q q Antimatter Hard to Come By — But We’re Getting There (ABCnews.2005 HowStuffWorks.htm/printable (6 of 6)2/3/2003 12:04:47 AM .

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