In order to travel at warp speed, the starship Enterprise must generate enormous amounts of energy.  It does this using antimatter fuel.  When antimatter touches regular matter, the two explode, releasing 100% of their energy.  By contrast, nuclear fission only releases about 1% of the energy stored in uranium atoms.  To make things even better, antimatter leaves no gas fumes, no nuclear waste, nothing to hurt the environment.

Antimatter could not only propel starships through space, but it could solve our energy crisis.  Unfortunately, any antimatter supplies that may have existed on earth touched some matter long, long ago and exploded.  So we have to make it using particle accelerators, which is an extremely difficult and expensive process.

In recent years, however, scientists have found antimatter in some of the most unlikely places.  Antiprotons, produced by cosmic rays outside our Solar System, are getting caught in Earth’s magnetic field.  Scientists at NASA say they’ve also discovered that positrons, or antielectrons, are sometimes produced by thunderstorms.  These positrons get caught in Earth’s magnetic field too.  They’re just sitting up there, waiting for us to collect them.

Individual particles of antimatter won’t do much by themselves.  When a positron collides with a satellite in orbit, for example, it destroys one electron in that satellite in a microscopic explosion.  It doesn’t damage the satellite, and it doesn’t threaten the safety of astronauts.  But imagine what we could do if we gathered all those particles together, stored them safely, and put them into a power plant.

For more on antiprotons in Earth orbit, click here.  For more on positrons made by thunderstorms, click here.

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