Our Strange Sky: Fermi Space Telescope Detects Antimatter in Earth’s Thunderstorms


We won’t even attempt to translate what was read in the BBC article. Here’s a bit on the actual anti-matter find.

But within that gamma-ray data lies an even more interesting result described at the meeting by Dr McEnery and her collaborators Michael Briggs of the University of Alabama Huntsville and Joseph Dwyer of the Florida Institute of Technology.

“We expected to see TGFs; they had been seen by the GBM’s predecessor,” Dr McEnery explained.

“But what absolutely intrigues us is the discovery that TGFs produce not just gamma rays but also produce positrons, the antimatter equivalent to electrons.”

When gamma rays pass near the nuclei of atoms, they can turn their energy into two particles: an electron-positron pair.

Because electrons and positrons are charged, they align along the Earth’s magnetic field lines and can travel vast distances, gathered into tightly focused beams of matter and antimatter heading in opposite directions.

The dance of light and matter continues when positrons encounter electrons again; they recombine and produce a flash of light of a precise and characteristic colour.

It is this colour of light, picked up by the Fermi’s GBM, that is a giveaway that antimatter has been produced.

The magnetic field can transport the particles vast distances before this characteristic flash, and one of the Fermi detections was from a storm that was happening completely beyond the horizon.

The results will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters

Informative video below.



NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has detected beams of antimatter launched by thunderstorms. Acting like enormous particle accelerators, the storms can emit gamma-ray flashes, called TGFs, and high-energy electrons and positrons. Scientists now think that most TGFs produce particle beams and antimatter. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

These signals are the first direct evidence that thunderstorms make antimatter particle beams,” said Michael Briggs, a member of Fermi’s Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) team at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). He presented the findings Monday, during a news briefing at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

via bbc, nasa

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