One of the universe’s least-understood phenomena is produced in a common lightning strike.
So say NASA researchers, who used an observatory in Earth-orbit to catch minute quantities of antimatter produced in storms shooting off into space. Scientists had previously suspected antimatter particles were produced during storms, but “this is the first time it has been absolutely, unambiguously detected,” Duke’s Steven Cummer, an electrical engineer, told the Los Angelas Times.
Antimatter is what it sounds like – a direct opposite of normal matter. Where matter is composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons, antimatter consists of antiparticles with inverse charges. Scientists believe antimatter was born along side regular matter in the universe’s first moments, but its explosive properties make observance tricky. When antimatter contacts with regular matter, the two are both destroyed in a reaction that produces a great deal of energy in the form of gamma rays. Its these tell-tale waves that were measured by NASA’s orbiting Fermi observatory.
Even with this new data, scientists don’t understand exactly why a thunderstorm can produce this quantity of antimatter particles or really what’s going on inside a thunderstorm at all. The Times notes that storm activity the moment of a lightning strike is still largely not understood either. “It illustrates the amazing things that thunderstorms can do,” physicist Joseph Dwyer told the paper. (via the L.A. Times)