Antimatter Wave-Particle Duality


  1. Antimatter wave-particle duality
  2. Scamming NASA? That's just unpatriotic!

Today I learned

It's been a while since I've covered quantum physics on Astronomical Returns, but there was a big discovery this month: physicists successfully performed the famous double-slit experiment on antimatter, proving antimatter wave-particle duality! Not sure what that means? Keep reading!

Wave-particle duality is one of the fundamental principles of quantum physics, stating that all light and matter exhibits characteristics of both a wave and a particle (click here for a refresher). So light, which we normally consider a wave, can also be described as a stream of light particles (called photons) flying around. And all the matter in the Universe, which we normally think of as being made of particles, can also be thought of as a wave! In fact, I vividly remember calculating the wavelength of a baseball once in high school (bizarre, right?). This awesomely counterintuitive reality was proven by the double slit experiment - the below video is a must-watch!! 

Scientists believed the same would hold for antimatter, but repeating this experiment is tricky because it's hard to generate a strong beam of antiparticles. A team of Italian and Swiss physicists finally figured out how to use the radioactive decay of sodium-22 to produce a positron (anti-electron) beam through two slits only a few hundred nanometers wide. The result - the positron beam produced the classic interference pattern on the silver bromide detector!

The traditional double-slit experiment (using light) produces a characteristic interference pattern of alternating light and dark bands. The antiparticle beam did the same!

Curious to learn more? A more detailed article can be found here. To learn more about antimatter, don't forget the Further Learning section of Astronomical Returns - this page here!

Current events

Of course there are unscrupulous businesses out there who try take advantage of gullible customers, but who could ever have the gall to scam NASA? For 20 years, Sapa Profiles has been intentionally forging product certification tests and selling faulty aluminum for NASA's rocket payload fairings. If you're unfamiliar, a payload fairing is the nose cone that protects the payload (what you're trying to send to space, like a satellite) from aerodynamic pressure during launch.

This exploded diagram of the ULA Atlas V shows how the payload fairing encapsulates the satellite
Payload fairings need to detach and fall away once the rocket reaches space to save weight, but Sapa's crappy product prevented the nose cone from separating, directly causing two NASA launch failures: the Orbiting Carbon Observatory and the Glory scientific satellite, for a total loss worth \$700mm. NASA is suing for \$46 million in damages; I'm assuming they can't get more because the company simply can't afford more. What a loss for all American taxpayers, and for all of science

Full article can be found here