Scientists have discovered antimatter in Earth's Van Allen belt using the PAMELA cosmic-ray detector, which is stationed on a Russian satellite. The findings have been published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The discovery proves a theory that hypothesized that Earth's magnetic field could contain antimatter. The Van Allen radiation belt is a hot spot for highly charged particles. The antimatter, or more specifically, antiprotons were discovered in the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA).
Scientists say that when PAMELA passes through SAA, it detects a thousand times more antiprotons than have been previously discovered. In previous missions that occurred between July 2006 and December 2008, PAMELA discovered 28 antiprotons trapped in a coiled orbit around magnetic field lines originating from the Earth's South Pole. That seemingly miniscule uncovering is about a thousand time more antiprotons than are found in usual conditions.
Since antimatter does not exist in large quantities in nature or space, the discovery makes the Van Allen belt "the most abundant source of antiprotons near the Earth," Alessandro Bruno of the University of Bari, who co-authored the research told BBC.
Scientists see the break through as a possibility for advances in space travel. They propose being able to harvest antimatter directly from the magnetosphere and one day using it as fuel for space crafts. Due to the nature of antiprotons, their negative charge makes it so that when they come into contact with actual protons, both particles self destruct and the result is a burst of energy.
Scientists detail that antimatter fuel could be exactly the type of light-weight, high-energy and more-efficient fuel that is necessary for a spacecraft, noting that antimatter fuel could possibly be up to 10 billion times more efficient than any rocket fuels currently used.
Scientist Michio Kaku told PCMag that the most practical use for antimatter would be in starships because they are concentrated energy.
"And you can't get more concentrated than antimatter," Kaku said.
NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have both begun looking into creating fuel out of antimatter. Their first task will be figuring out how to contain the antimatter, which has only been successfully contained by scientists for 17 minutes.