Slow Burning Antimatter

  • Thread starter gatztopher
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I'm working on a story that involves planting a chunk of antimatter the size of the US capital... well, on the US capital. Unfortunately, I realized that it would probably blow up like an atom bomb the size of the Empire State Building, and would take half the solar system with it.

The antimatter chunk is actually a Godzilla-esque monster. For my purposes, it's important that it be large, totally made of antimatter, and be able to not dissipate for at least a few days. So, my question...

Is there a way to slow burn antimatter? Even something flimsy, like "the angle of collision wasn't head on" or "the particles were all colliding with non-matching antiparticles." I want something to appease the particle physicists. I could just flub the energy conversions (c to the power of... 0.25...) but the thought of particle physicists rolling their eyes would drive me crazy.

Thank you!
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
Ryan_m_b
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The moment antimatter touches any matter (e.g the ground and air) it will annihilate.
 
  • #3
Danger
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Maybe you could propose a neutral energy field of some sort that would allow only a few atoms of antimatter at a time to seep through into the normal-matter environment.
 
  • #4
Ryan_m_b
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Maybe you could propose a neutral energy field of some sort that would allow only a few atoms of antimatter at a time to seep through into the normal-matter environment.

Which would have many other scientists rolling their eyes at such technobabble. The only option for separating matter and antimatter is with vacuum with the antimatter suspended in magnetic fields (which will of course only work if the antimatter is susceptible to magnetic fields e.g. it is anti-iron or made up of ions).
 
  • #5
DaveC426913
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The moment antimatter touches any matter (e.g the ground and air) it will annihilate.

(To be clear though - it will only annihilate in equal amounts. To annihilate a chunk the size of the U.S. capital would require it coming into contact with an amount of matter equivalent to the US capital.)

gatztopher: note that, to get the chunk of antimatter anywh
ere near the capital from anywhere else, it would already have to have a containment system. If it were simply pushed there from some outer space location, the thing would glow like blazes from all the gas and dust it swept through passing through the solar system.

So, how did it get to where it is without annihilating? Therein we be your answer. Obviously its existing containment structure is ... leaky.
 
  • #6
Ryan_m_b
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(To be clear though - it will only annihilate in equal amounts. To annihilate a chunk the size of the U.S. capital would require it coming into contact with an amount of matter equivalent to the US capital.)

Whilst this is true it's a bit of a quibble, the energy released by a much smaller annihilation would destroy Washington DC. This isn't a very scientific way of working things out (just a fun one) but using http://www.carloslabs.com/node/20" [Broken], e=mc2 and converting joules to kilotonnes it looks like only 1.4 megatonnes or ~37.5g of annihilated matter and matter is enough to destroy the capital.
 
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  • #7
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Whilst this is true it's a bit of a quibble, the energy released by a much smaller annihilation would destroy Washington DC. This isn't a very scientific way of working things out (just a fun one) but using http://www.carloslabs.com/node/20" [Broken], e=mc2 and converting joules to kilotonnes it looks like only 1.4 megatonnes or ~37.5g of annihilated matter and matter is enough to destroy the capital.

Presumably, Dave meant actual mutual annihilation, rather than "mere" destruction.
 
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  • #8
Ryan_m_b
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Presumably, Dave meant actual mutual annihilation, rather than "mere" destruction.

Yes I got that. I was just attempting to highlight how the OP may be able to still achieve his plot goal of destroying the US capital without requiring a US capital sized chunk of antimatter.
 
  • #9
DaveC426913
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Yes I got that. I was just attempting to highlight how the OP may be able to still achieve his plot goal of destroying the US capital without requiring a US capital sized chunk of antimatter.

Yeah. The OP seemed to get that, suggesting that that much antimatter would be enough to charcoalize a goodly portion of the solar system.
 
  • #10
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So, how did it get to where it is without annihilating? Therein we be your answer.

Y'know, it warped in from another dimension, so I suppose I could go with "it's blanketed by an interdimensional field that only leaks a little matter at a time." I just need to read up on... interdimensional fields... I hope hyperphysics has a page for that.

And flubbing the conversion factor, I'll leave that to the film version.
 
  • #11
Ryan_m_b
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Y'know, it warped in from another dimension, so I suppose I could go with "it's blanketed by an interdimensional field that only leaks a little matter at a time." I just need to read up on... interdimensional fields... I hope hyperphysics has a page for that.

And flubbing the conversion factor, I'll leave that to the film version.

I feel I should warn you that this makes no sense scientifically. It is purely http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technobabble" [Broken]. That's fine for science fiction of course unless you want your SF to be as plausible as possible.
 
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  • #12
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This isn't a very scientific way of working things out (just a fun one) but using http://www.carloslabs.com/node/20" [Broken], e=mc2 and converting joules to kilotonnes it looks like only 1.4 megatonnes or ~37.5g of annihilated matter is enough to destroy the capital.

That's one heckuva website. It's even loads on Moscow, the next target!
 
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  • #13
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I feel I should warn you that this makes no sense scientifically. It is purely http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technobabble" [Broken]. That's fine for science fiction of course unless you want your SF to be as plausible as possible.

It's additive technobabble - "the frog genes prevent the T Rex from seeing non-moving objects" - which is better than reformist technobabble - "T Rex's... they just can't see non-moving objects."
 
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  • #14
micromass
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Y'know, it warped in from another dimension, so I suppose I could go with "it's blanketed by an interdimensional field that only leaks a little matter at a time." I just need to read up on... interdimensional fields... I hope hyperphysics has a page for that.

And flubbing the conversion factor, I'll leave that to the film version.

If you want to sound scientific then please do not use words like "interdimensional field" or "another dimension". Every scientist reading that will roll their eyes.

I'm not saying it isn't good SF. But if you don't want scientists rolling their eyes, then talking about dimensions is a no-no.

In fact, things like "another dimension" make very little sense. A dimension is just a number indiciating the number of free variables in an equation. There are no things like "another dimension".

Things like "parallel universe" would make much more sense.
 
  • #15
Ryan_m_b
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It's additive technobabble - "the frog genes prevent the T Rex from seeing non-moving objects" - which is better than reformist technobabble - "T Rex's... they just can't see non-moving objects."

Either way making it nonsense. Which is fine for SF except you professed a wish to keep it within science or at least believable. That isn't possible if you are going to use this level of technobabble; whilst your explanation of X may be plausible people may shake their heads at A, B, C, D, E...
 
  • #16
turbo
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If you want the story to be entertaining (and not very plausible) how about you have your protagonist harvest a micro BH made of anti-matter. It should radiate very slowly in Hawking radiation, and since we know very little about them, you may be able to assert that if you can feed the BH matter, then the energy from matter-antimatter annihilation can overcome the binding energy of the BH and produce a large release of energy of annihilation.

You can claim (in fiction) that there should be anti-matter BHs because matter and anti-matter were created equally in the BB, and existed "early on" at such densities that would allow micro BHs to form. Like my wife says to me when I complain about some off-the-wall plot device, "Hey, it's only a movie/TV show."
 
  • #17
DaveC426913
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In the OP's defense, he hasn't really asked us for a critique on his writing technique.

Perhaps now would be a good time for the OP to say yea or nay to widening his acceptance of our advice. :smile:
 
  • #18
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I definitely appreciate the input, and also, I am open to literary critiquing. I imagine some scientist reading this thread, thinking "Nooooooo, cliche technobabble! And it was so close to being plausible..." and then their eyes roll so hard their neck breaks.

Right now, the field with low permeability is looking like the best option. I like the antimatter blackhole, but I'm hoping to keep my monster sentient. What would the field be? Magnetic is a possibility, where the creature is subject to magnetism. I'm also thinking about the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Membrane_%28M-Theory%29" [Broken] - the monster's from another "membrane" where all the universe's antimatter had previously disappeared to and that membrane still mostly envelopes it on its inter-universal destruction sprees.

Edit: Not that that makes any sense according to M theory... I wouldn't know. Touching M theory feels like a can of worms in any case.
 
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  • #19
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If you want the story to be entertaining (and not very plausible) how about you have your protagonist harvest a micro BH made of anti-matter. It should radiate very slowly in Hawking radiation, and since we know very little about them, you may be able to assert that if you can feed the BH matter, then the energy from matter-antimatter annihilation can overcome the binding energy of the BH and produce a large release of energy of annihilation.

We know enough about black holes to know that's complete nonsense. You can't "overcome the binding energy". Even if you dumped matter and antimatter in one simultaneously, any annihilation reactions that occur beneath the event horizon will just produce photons and other annihilation products that are just as trapped in the black hole as the particles that annihilated.

There is really no believable way for some mysterious field to spontaneously prevent an antimatter monster from interacting with the planet it ends up on. And even if you had it, you're apparently talking about a living thing...which would rapidly suffocate on arrival as the field kept it from contact with the surrounding atmosphere...which would only annihilate with the matter of its lungs in any case.

Why must it be antimatter? I'm having a hard time seeing how the plot could require this. What's the difference to the plot if it can't sear a distant planet's surface?

As an example of one alternative...it's from a parallel universe, it could be made from quite familiar matter that is stable in that universe, but due to slightly different physical constants is unstable in ours. The instability could set in as soon as it reaches our universe, with the monster becoming sicker and more radioactive as radioactive decay products build up, or you could hand-wave some time dependence that will cause a rapid increase in the instability over time.
 
  • #20
Ryan_m_b
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Edit: Not that that makes any sense according to M theory... I wouldn't know. Touching M theory feels like a can of worms in any case.

Lol you're right this doesn't make any sense :tongue2:. If I could offer some advice; why don't you tell us the plot you want (ignore the science for the moment) and then we could try to help you fill it in with some plausible technobabble?

That might be more productive (and less disheartening) than you suggesting something and us rubbishing it.
 
  • #21
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If you are looking for "slow burning anti-matter", you could use an anti-matter producing isotope as your "containment system". An example would be Flourine-18, which is commonly used in PET imaging. F-18 decays by positron emission with a 1.8 hour half-life. Maybe you could make your monster out of a positron emitting isotope?
 
  • #22
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You know how if you drop a drop of water onto a very hot surface it will bounce? The first bit of water to touch the surface vaporizes and creates enough pressure to push the rest of the drop back up. I suspect that a chunk of antimatter that lands on a matter planet would experience a similar phenomena. Considering the energy densities involved there may be enough energy to keep pushing them apart for a considerable time.
 
  • #23
Ryan_m_b
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You know how if you drop a drop of water onto a very hot surface it will bounce? The first bit of water to touch the surface vaporizes and creates enough pressure to push the rest of the drop back up. I suspect that a chunk of antimatter that lands on a matter planet would experience a similar phenomena. Considering the energy densities involved there may be enough energy to keep pushing them apart for a considerable time.

True but water is kept up by riding on a surface of steam. The asteroid sized chunk of antimatter the OP mentions would most likely be fragmented with much of it shot back into space owing to the titanic energy released. That same energy would easily incinerate the surface of Earth in a very short time.
 
  • #24
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True but water is kept up by riding on a surface of steam. The asteroid sized chunk of antimatter the OP mentions would most likely be fragmented with much of it shot back into space owing to the titanic energy released. That same energy would easily incinerate the surface of Earth in a very short time.

If it hit the ground directly I would agree, but it must pass through the atmosphere first. The atmosphere thickens gradually as you go down so the asteroid would have a gradual increase in reaction rate and therefore a slower decent.

You are probably right that in reality the result would not be what the author is looking for, but it is at least remotely plausible. Given a plausible sounding explanation I doubt very many readers of the authors work will do the math to find out if it's actually possible.
 
  • #25
micromass
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If it hit the ground directly I would agree, but it must pass through the atmosphere first. The atmosphere thickens gradually as you go down so the asteroid would have a gradual increase in reaction rate and therefore a slower decent.

You are probably right that in reality the result would not be what the author is looking for, but it is at least remotely plausible. Given a plausible sounding explanation I doubt very many readers of the authors work will do the math to find out if it's actually possible.

The asteroid is made from anti-matter. The atmosphere is made from matter. There will be a huge energy release quite soon, even if the asteroid is high up the atmosphere.
 
  • #26
Ryan_m_b
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If it hit the ground directly I would agree, but it must pass through the atmosphere first. The atmosphere thickens gradually as you go down so the asteroid would have a gradual increase in reaction rate and therefore a slower decent.

You are probably right that in reality the result would not be what the author is looking for, but it is at least remotely plausible. Given a plausible sounding explanation I doubt very many readers of the authors work will do the math to find out if it's actually possible.

As I said the energy released would be HUGE. Let's work it out; the OP suggested a chunk the size of Washington DC, some http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington,_D.C." [Broken]. Assuming it's just one km thick that's somewhere on the order of 117 gigatonnes of matter. From surface to space one square kilometre masses 100 million tonnes*. So if falling from space this antimatter object will come into contact with 17.7 billion tonnes releasing 3.8e17 kilotonnes of TNT equivalent energy (or 1.6e30 joules).

The object is not going to just rest on the surface of this energy release, or even a fraction of it. It's going to be broken up and blasted back into space whilst releasing enough energy down to wipe out the surface.

* Figured out using this and this
 
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  • #27
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If I could offer some advice; why don't you tell us the plot you want (ignore the science for the moment) and then we could try to help you fill it in with some plausible technobabble?

That might be more productive (and less disheartening) than you suggesting something and us rubbishing it.

cjameshuff said:
Why must it be antimatter? I'm having a hard time seeing how the plot could require this. What's the difference to the plot if it can't sear a distant planet's surface?

Agreed, I should show more of my hand. This may move the discussion a little bit away from slow burning antimatter, and induce even more eye rolling, but here goes:

Basically, I want the creature to be antimatter because I take Feynman's conjecture that antimatter has reversed time and tie that into a reversal of the "arrow of time," entropy. I then take the implications to build the universe from which the monster comes. Which is to say...

The monster comes from a world tipped on its head. The lesser creatures are civil (imagine bees without stingers, just making food for everybody), and the higher, vastly more intelligent creatures are extremely anarchistic. Whereas on this earth, evolution's survival of the fittest has been superseded by civilization's survival of the most, there it's the opposite.

Thus my monster is: living backwards in time, extremely intelligent, totally anarchistic, the size of the US Capitol, and scorches the earth anywhere it goes. That's a few notches upwards of the usual giant monster fare. I'm pretty caught up in its coolness.

That said, it's dawning on me that I've painted myself into a technobabble corner. (Relating antimatter time inversion to a universal anthropy... that's not a leap of faith!) I can do my best to handwave over the inconsistencies, or I can go back and rethink the basic ideas. This story could be a teachable moment or a pseudoscience fanfare. Could I sleep at night if it's the latter? Yeah, but it'll bug me.

cjameshuff said:
As an example of one alternative...it's from a parallel universe, it could be made from quite familiar matter that is stable in that universe, but due to slightly different physical constants is unstable in ours. The instability could set in as soon as it reaches our universe, with the monster becoming sicker and more radioactive as radioactive decay products build up, or you could hand-wave some time dependence that will cause a rapid increase in the instability over time.

This is a very viable alternative.
 
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  • #28
Ryan_m_b
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Agreed, I should show more of my hand. This may move the discussion a little bit away from slow burning antimatter, and induce even more eye rolling, but here goes:

Basically, I want the creature to be antimatter because I take Feynman's conjecture that antimatter has reversed time and tie that into a reversal of the "arrow of time," entropy. I then take the implications to build the universe from which the monster comes. Which is to say...
Feynman was using a lot of speculation on this one. I think he was trying to figure out a way that all electrons could be the same one bouncing through time and came up with something mathematically that looked like a positron when going back. There is no evidence for this though and antimatter is perceived to move through time like normal matter, the arrow of time and entropy are not reversed.

The monster comes from a world tipped on its head. The lesser creatures are civil (imagine bees without stingers, just making food for everybody), and the higher, vastly more intelligent creatures are extremely anarchistic. Whereas on this earth, evolution's survival of the fittest has been superseded by civilization's survival of the most, there it's the opposite.
I'm not sure I get this, are you suggesting that traits like eusociality and altruism are related to size? Because they aren't...
Thus my monster is: living backwards in time, extremely intelligent, totally anarchistic, the size of the US Capitol, and scorches the earth anywhere it goes. That's a few notches upwards of the usual giant monster fare. I'm pretty caught up in its coolness.
Like I said the living backwards in time thing doesn't make much sense to me. How would that even work??
 
  • #29
Danger
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Gatz, I'll probably get another infraction for this, but my first advice is to ignore Ryan. Granted that he has degrees in a couple of things that have nothing to do with antimatter, the fact remains that while I never finished high-school, I was (still am, to some degree) a professional writer specializing in hard SF. By his standards, no SF would be acceptable. The entire definition of the genre is to present scenarios which are not immediately possible, but might logically and scientifically be so in the future. The idea of cell phones or GPS trackers was considered insane when Roddenberry thought up the "Star Trek" communicators, but where would our current civilization be without them?
Larry Niven is one of the best hard SF writers who has ever lived, but he incorporates teleportation devices and superluminal stardrives into his work. As for technology... he designed the bloody Ringworld, which is a vastly superior version of a Dyson sphere. To call him down on his scientific acumen is to also call Freeman Dyson down on his. I don't know about anyone else, but I sure don't have the balls or the knowledge to try that.
The whole point of writing is to entertain someone. That can't be done unless you are entertaining yourself in the process. You can go too far for accuracy, though. For my novel, I spent over 25 years of research to design a fighter jet that can fly at Mach 8 and take over 100 g's. There were also several other techie things such as computer systems and weapons that I designed for the book. By the time I got finished one draught, real life was ahead of me, so I had to re-write it with upgrades. That continued as a pattern until I finally just decided to screw it and it's been sitting ever since. If I ever do try to sell it, it will be with the introductory note that it was written during the Viet Nam war, and I'm too damned tired to fix it.
Just write what you feel; details can be amended if necessary. Your audience is more concerned with the atmosphere that you are portraying than with how accurate it is.
Just for the hell of it, though, I am going to start a thread in GD about technical F-ups in show business. :devil:
As for the nature of the field that I was proposing, I'd go with "dark energy", since nobody knows what the hell it is or what it might do, but it is an accepted scientific entity (at least in theory).
 
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  • #30
Ryan_m_b
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Gatz, I'll probably get another infraction for this, but my first advice is to ignore Ryan.
You wont get infracted although I think you're being very rude
Granted that he has degrees in a couple of things that have nothing to do with antimatter
Out of order Danger, out of order. If you have a problem with something factual I have said then address that, don't stoop to childish credentialism.
the fact remains that while I never finished high-school, I was (still am, to some degree) a professional writer specializing in hard SF. By his standards, no SF would be acceptable.
Wrong. I am an avid SF reader of both hard and soft. I have no problem with an author inventing whatever speculative science or technology they want as long as they fully explore the ramifications (especially social) of what they propose. But the OP wasn't asking "do you like my story" he was asking specifically if what he was saying would allow "scientists" to suspend their disbelief. Furthermore...
The entire definition of the genre is to present scenarios which are not immediately possible, but might logically and scientifically be so in the future.
This is different to if the idea is logically and scientifically unsound now. Sure invent a speculative type of matter or phenomenon but if you want to avoid people shaking their head and rolling their eyes get the stuff that we know now right.
 
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