A group of researchers has outlined a surprisingly simple method for recreating the conditions near a neutron star, a breakthrough that could lead to new unimagined scientific discoveries revolving around the mysterious role of antimatter, a report from New Atlas explains.
The team of physicists designed a device, detailed in a paper in the journal Communications Physics, that fires two lasers at each other. The result is that the energy from the two lasers is simultaneously converted into matter, in the form of electrons, as well as antimatter, in the form of positrons.
Laser pincers could enable controlled beams of antimatter in labs
Antimatter's rarity and instability mean that it is notoriously difficult to investigate. It is typically produced near black holes and neutron stars, while here on Earth it can be observed after lightning strikes, or in facilities like the Large Hadron Collider. Thanks to this new method, however, scientists worldwide may now be able to produce antimatter in the lab. Though they have yet to build the laser device required to produce antimatter, simulations show that the principles behind the device are sound.
Specifically, the new device, which has been labeled as "laser pincers", will fire two powerful lasers at a block of plastic from both sides. The block contains tiny crisscrossed channels, only micrometers wide, which help to accelerate a cloud of electrons within the material once the laser has shot through the plastic. When the clouds of electrons from the separate laser beams collide, they produce a large number of gamma rays, which produces matter and antimatter — in this specific case, electrons and their antimatter equivalent, positrons. As an added measure, the device also utilizes magnetic fields to concentrate the positrons into a focused beam.
"Over a distance of just 50 micrometers, the particles should reach an energy of one gigaelectronvolt (GeV) – a size that usually requires a full-grown particle accelerator," the researchers explain in their press release.
Investigating the mystery of matter-antimatter asymmetry
The team of physicists says that the process replicated by its device likely mirrors processes seen in the magnetosphere of pulsars, which are rapidly rotating neutron stars. "With our new concept, such phenomena could be simulated in the laboratory, at least to some extent, which would then allow us to understand them better," Alexey Arefiev, one of the authors of the study, explained.
Antimatter, which is composed of the opposite charge particles of "ordinary" matter is surprisingly scarce in comparison to matter, and scientists aren't quite sure why that is. The new research may help scientists to crack this mystery of matter and antimatter asymmetry, which posits that matter and antimatter should have collided and annihilated each other in the years following the Big Bang as they are believed to have been produced in equal amounts. Instead, today, matter far outweighs antimatter.
New findings, such as the first observation matter particles turning into antimatter, are allowing scientists to slowly piece together fragments and gain a better overall understanding, but we are still far from knowing why the amount of antimatter in the universe is so much lower than that of its opposite. Discovering the reason behind this could shift our entire understanding of the universe and lead to new, previously unimagined avenues of research.