A thin belt of antimatter particles called antiprotons were discovered around the Earth recently by researchers.
The find was published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, and it confirms that the Earth’s magnetic field could trap antimatter, proving past theories proposed by scientists to be true.
The antiprotons discovered, lie between the Van Allen belts of trapped “normal” matter according to researchers and were found using the PAMELA satellite which was launched in 2006 to study the nature of high-energy particles from the sun and from beyond our solar system-so called cosmic rays.
The cosmic rays rain in from space colliding with Earth’s atmosphere. When that happens a spray of new “daughter” particles are created, which then get caught in the Van Allen belts, doughnut-shaped regions where the Earth’s magnetic field traps them.
Piergiorgio Picozza of the University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy, first detected the antimatter particles while using the (Payload for Antimatter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics) or PAMELA satellite, fulfilling one of its original goals in finding antimatter particles among the far more abundant “normal” particles such as protons and the nuclei of helium atoms around the Earth.
The satellite orbited through the South Atlantic Anomaly, allowing it to study geomagnetically trapped particles found in the inner radiation belt.
After about one-and-a-half-years of research, PAMELA detected 28 antiprotons trapped in spiraling orbits sprouting from the Earth’s South Pole which form a band around the Earth’s magnetic field.
The band is “the most abundant source of antiprotons near the Earth,” said Alessandro Bruno of the University of Bari, a co-author of the work, according to the BBC.
According to Bruno there may be enough antiprotons to use for possibly fueling spacecrafts in the future, an idea explored in a report for Nasa’s Institute for Advanced Concepts.