Attention Deficit Disorder Prosthetic Memory Program

Antimatter Cost

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Antimatter Cost - © Attention Deficit Disorder Prosthetic Memory Program

In modern physics, antimatter is defined as matter that is composed of the antiparticles (or “partners”) of the corresponding particles of “ordinary” matter. Minuscule numbers of antiparticles are generated daily at particle accelerators – total production has been only a few nanograms (ng)– and in natural processes like cosmic ray collisions and some types of radioactive decay, but only a tiny fraction of these have successfully been bound together in experiments to form anti-atoms. No macroscopic amount of antimatter has ever been assembled due to the extreme cost and difficulty of production and handling.

Scientists claim that antimatter is the costliest material to make. In 2006, Gerald Smith estimated $250 million could produce 10 milligrams of positrons (equivalent to $25 billion per gram); in 1999, NASA gave a figure of $62.5 trillion per gram of antihydrogen. This is because production is difficult (only very few antiprotons are produced in reactions in particle accelerators) and because there is higher demand for other uses of particle accelerators. According to CERN, it has cost a few hundred million Swiss francs to produce about 1 billionth of a gram (the amount used so far for particle/antiparticle collisions). In comparison, to produce the first atomic weapon, the cost of the Manhattan Project was estimated at $23 billion with inflation during 2007.

Several studies funded by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts are exploring whether it might be possible to use magnetic scoops to collect the antimatter that occurs naturally in the Van Allen belt of the Earth, and ultimately, the belts of gas giants, like Jupiter, hopefully at a lower cost per gram.

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