Lightning can result in matter-antimatter annihilation.
What is antimatter? It is the physical opposite of matter.
Antimatter is a material composed of the antiparticle (or "partners") to the corresponding particles of ordinary matter. In theory, a particle and its anti-particle have the same mass as one another, but opposite electric charge, and other differences in quantum numbers.
Conceptually, when matter meets antimatter, the two entities are supposed to violently eliminate each other. Conceptually, in my opinion, equal amounts of each part of space would be eliminated, perhaps creating a void in the physical space… maybe even in time. In my science-fiction world, an explosion between matter and antimatter would rip a hole in the fabric of time and space…
That wouldn’t mean we could pass into the antimatter universe, or antimatter creatures pass into ours… each would be made of the corresponding matter/antimatter particles, and thus in coming in contact with its opposite, would cause a big ka-BOOM!!!!.
Anyhow… in a collaborative study appearing in Nature, researchers from Japan have determined how gamma rays (think how the Incredible Hulk was formed) from lightning react with the air to produce radioisotopes and even positrons—the antimatter equivalent of electrons.
"We already knew that thunderclouds and lightning emit gamma rays, and hypothesized that they would react in some way with the nuclei of environmental elements in the atmosphere," explains Enoto Teruaki (surname first) from Kyoto University, who leads the project.
"In winter, Japan's western coastal area is ideal for observing powerful lightning and thunderstorms. So, in 2015 we started building a series of small gamma-ray detectors, and placed them in various locations along the coast."
The team built detectors and installed them across the northwest coast of Honshu. And then in February 2017, four detectors installed in Kashiwazaki-shi (Kashiwazaki City), Niigata-ken (Niigata Prefecture) recorded a large gamma-ray spike immediately after a lightning strike a few hundred meters away.
It was the moment the team realized they were seeing a new, hidden face of lightning.
When they analyzed the data, the scientists found three distinct gamma-ray bursts. The first was less than one millisecond in duration; the second was a gamma-ray afterglow that decayed over several dozens of milliseconds; and finally there was a prolonged emission lasting about one minute.
Enoto explains, "We could tell that the first burst was from the lightning strike. Through our analysis and calculations, we eventually determined the origins of the second and third emissions as well."
The second afterglow, for example, was caused by lightning reacting with nitrogen in the atmosphere. The gamma rays emitted in lightning have enough energy to knock a neutron out of atmospheric nitrogen, and it was the reabsorption of this neutron by particles in the atmosphere that produced the gamma-ray afterglow.
The final, prolonged emission was from the breakdown of now neutron-poor and unstable nitrogen atoms. These released positrons, which subsequently collided with electrons in annihilation events releasing gamma rays.
"We have this idea that antimatter is something that only exists in science fiction. Who knew that it could be passing right above our heads on a stormy day?" says Enoto.
The team still maintains over 10 detectors on the coast of Japan, and are continually collecting data.
Aside from the witty repartee at the beginning of this article, and the odd bit of me editing for this blog’s style (I actually have style! Finally!), the rest is taken directly from an article.
Credits: Kyoto University. "Lightning, with a chance of antimatter: Netizens help scan lightning for gamma rays." ScienceDaily, 22 November 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171122131353.htm>.
Photo Credit: Kyoto University/Teruaki Enoto
Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening to
PS: I do not take credit for the awesome headline, a pun based on the movie, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. That was ScienceDaily. Smart and Funny. Sexy.