Space-Based Search for Anti-Matter Going Live (Weekend Feature)


If matter and antimatter had come out even in those first moments, they would have instantly destroyed each other, leaving nothing but energy behind. There would be no galaxies, stars, planets, or skeptical Monday weekend pundits reading this post. 

Antimatter destroys any matter that it touches in a pyrotechnic flash, an explosion that releases all the energy that had been locked inside for billions of years. Antimatter thus could become a wonderful source of power, the technology of the 21st century. Or instead, its potential to consign matter to oblivion could make it the ultimate weapon, according to Frank Close, University of Oxford, author of Antimatter.

The fact that antimatter can create huge explosions is accurate. Antimatter meeting matter isn't even called an explosion, it's called "annihilation", and this is in scientific circles who refer to thermonuclear detonations as "events." The energy released is the mass times the speed of light squared, and which means one kilogram gets you ninety quadrillion joules – two thousand times the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

A space-based search for antimatter is about to go live: a scheduled July mission by space shuttle Endeavor has been delayed until November so that NASA scientists can make changes designed to extend the lifespan of the onboard Alpha Magnetic Spectometer (AMS) particle detector.

The September 30 Discovery mission, which will see the Discovery return to the International Space Station (ISS) with supplies, will now directly follow the Atlantis mission. Endeavor will then close out the shuttle program by delivering the $6 billion AMS to the ISS.

According to Irene Klotz of Reuters, "AMS, which is designed to look for antimatter particles and other exotic forms of matter in space, had been set to fly in July. But with the Obama administration's proposal to extend the space station program until at least 2020, scientists decided to switch the detector's cryogenically cooled superconducting magnet, estimated to last three years, to a permanent magnet that would last 10 to 18 years.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, also designated AMS-02, is a particle physics experiment module that is to be mounted on the International Space Station. It is designed to search for various types of unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays. Its experiments will help researchers study the formation of the universe and search for evidence of dark matter and antimatter. 

Scientist plan on replacing the liquid helium cooled magnet in the anti-matter detector on the ISS, with an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer which will increase the life span of the detector from 3 years to about 18 years

The AMS (anti-matter spectrometer) is designed to search for anti-matter particles as well as perform other experiments. The device is equipped with over 300,000 data channels that require compression with an on-board supercomputer before the information can be transmitted to Earth.

Samuel Ting, Nobel laureate particle physicist of MIT is overseeing a 500 member global team of scientist to work on this 1.5 billion dollar project. This was made possible because US President Barack Obama has proposed to extend the space station for a minimum of 5 years beyond 2015, with an additional budget of 3 billion dollars per year.

In an interview with BBC News Ting stated: “This really is the very first very, very precise particle physics detector. You enter into a totally new domain. It's very hard to predict what you'll find."

AMS functions by sampling high-energy particles from deep space. The sensitivity of the AMS is more than 100 to 1,000 times more sensitive than previous instruments.

Scientists continue to push on for the creation of instruments capable of detecting dark matter and dark energy . One such device is the recently completed Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), the crowning work of engineers at NASA and the US Department of Energy (DOE). 

Space-based spectrometers are not something new, but this instrument is particularly important because it represents the first one of its type to take a superconducting magnet to low-Earth orbit. The international physics community hopes that, through measurements collected with the AMS, they will be able to answer at least a small portion of yet-unanswered, Universe-related questions that deal with the origins and the future of the Cosmos, Space reports. 

 “The space station [AMS device] can detect particles of practically unlimited energy,” Ting added, which means that it can also hunt for proposed galaxies made of the elusive dark matter. 

Its observations will probably build up on those obtained by the Italian satellite PAMELA, a high-energy particle observer launched in 2006. This observatory has already gathered some interesting leads on pinpointing the first clear pieces of evidence on dark matter, and the AMS will have the ability to either permanently confirm or deny these findings, and the dark matter/dark energy theory as a whole

The AMS is a prototype that flew on a 1998 space shuttle mission and was recently taken out of a clean room storage facility in Germany. By replacing the liquid helium cooled magnet with the AMS cuts the power of the magnetic field that is used bend the path of charged cosmic particles while they pass through various detectors.. 

Casey Kazan via the BBC News


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