Categories
GeekWire

Study could point to piece in antimatter puzzle

Experiment cryostat
Researchers work on the delicate wiring of a cryostat, which chills the germanium detectors at the heart of the Majorana Demonstrator experiment. (Sanford Underground Research Facility Photo / Matthew Kapust)

An experiment conducted deep underground in an old South Dakota gold mine has given scientists hope that a future detector could help solve one of physics’ biggest puzzles: why the universe exists at all.

Put another way, the puzzle has to do with the fact that the universe is dominated by matter.

That may seem self-evident, but it’s not what’s predicted by Standard Model of particle physics as currently understood. Instead, current theory suggests that the big bang should have given rise to equal parts of matter and antimatter, which would annihilate each other within an instant.

Scientists suspect that there must have been something about the big bang that gave matter an edge more than 13 billion years ago. So far, the mechanism hasn’t been identified — but one leading theory proposes that the properties of neutrinos have something to do with it.

The problem is, neutrinos interact so weakly with other particles that it’s hard to detect what they’re doing. The experiment conducted in the nearly mile-deep Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota was aimed at figuring out whether a detector could be shielded well enough from background radiation to spot the effect that scientists are looking for.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Going to Alpha Centauri? Try antimatter

An artist’s conception shows a positron rocket engine. (Positronics Research via NASA)
An artist’s conception shows a positron rocket engine. (Positronics Research via NASA)

Project Blue’s scientists still have to raise more than $800,000 over the next 15 days to reach their initial crowdfunding goal for a mission to observe Alpha Centauri’s alien planets, but they’re already thinking about how future explorers could get there.

It would take tens of thousands of years to make the 4.37-light-year trip using the best rocket propulsion that’s available today.

But a video created by Speculative Films, with input from Project Blue as well as Positron Dynamics, focuses on how antimatter propulsion could reduce that travel time to 40 years.

Antimatter drives have been a science-fiction standby since the original “Star Trek” TV series. They’ve also been the subject of real-world research. Almost two decades ago, researchers were talking with NASA about an antimatter-driven sail that could send a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in the 40-year time frame.

Positron Dynamics’ concept calls for cooling down a stream of positrons — the antimatter equivalent of electrons — and smashing them into a stream of electrons. Theoretically, that could produce enough oomph to accelerate a probe to more than one-tenth of the speed of light.

Get the full story on GeekWire.