Feeds

Has CERN made the VATICAN ANTIMATTER BOMB for real?*

Physicists in veiled threat to gov funding bodies

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

So - Dan Brown's turgid blockbuster Angels and Demons, in which a nefarious papal official nicks a vial of antimatter from CERN as part of a complicated scheme to become Pope by menacing the Vatican with explosive destruction. Twaddle? Or actually a perfectly feasible plan ripped from today's headlines, style of thing?

Macroscopic quantity of antimatter as envisaged in Angels and Demons

Just a few minor technical errors here

We here on the Reg particle-meddling desk naturally have no interest in the arcane Vatican rules of succession, the putative Illuminati secret society, the likelihood of finding a priest in the Pope's inner circle who would be capable of flying a helicopter etc.

We merely bring the matter up as it turns out that in fact there really is a team of scientists at CERN - the Organisation (formerly Conseil) Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire - striving to contain unprecedented amounts of antimatter: and they have just announced a major success in this extremely difficult undertaking. Could it be that Dan Brown has actually got one right? Would a tiny, pocketable amount of antimatter really be sufficient to rip the guts out of Rome in a blast equivalent to that of a small nuke?

On the face of it, yes. Antimatter reacts with normal matter to convert the entire mass of both into energy; it is the most powerful type of explosive possible, easily capable of making a global thermonuclear war look like angry cockroaches lighting their farts at each other.

Just a third of one measly gram of antimatter reacting with matter (for instance with the walls of its containment vessel) would cause a 15-kilotonne blast equivalent to that of the atom bomb which destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 - surely enough to wipe out the Vatican and quite a lot of Rome too.

QED: everything you read in Dan Brown books is true. Better still, the incomparably superior fiction of Star Trek might also be on the verge of becoming reality with antimatter at last available as a power source. As all Trekkies know, the Enterprise's warp drives were powered by a matter/antimatter reaction.

Whoa there! Not so fast.

First off, we're sorry to report that the international boffins of the ALPHA collaboration at CERN have succeeded in trapping only a sub-ultra-minuscule amount of anti-hydrogen, not even close to the milligrams range.

"We've been able to trap about 38 atoms, which is an incredibly small amount, nothing like what we would need to power Star Trek's Starship Enterprise - or even to heat a cup of coffee," says Rob Thompson, Canadian physics prof and member of the ALPHA group.

He's not kidding: each atom of nega-hydrogen masses something like 1.67x10-27 kg. Thirty-eight of them converted to energy according to Einstein's famous and pleasingly simple-enough-for-hacks equation E=mc2tells us that should a rogue Vatican official manage to abscond with Thompson's antimatter stash and annihilate it in the heart of the Catholic Church, he would liberate approximately 11 billionths of a single measly joule. And in fact it's even worse than this: the ALPHA experiment didn't contain its 38 anti-atoms all at once.

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Simon's says quantum computing will work
Boffins blast algorithm with half a dozen qubits
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
How to determine if cloud backup is right for your servers
Two key factors, technical feasibility and TCO economics, that backup and IT operations managers should consider when assessing cloud backup.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
The Heartbleed Bug: how to protect your business with Symantec
What happens when the next Heartbleed (or worse) comes along, and what can you do to weather another chapter in an all-too-familiar string of debilitating attacks?