In Angels and Demons, Dan Brown’s villain steals some antimatter, to make a bomb.
Would that work in real life?
How big a bang?
We know that when antimatter annihilates with matter, all the mass is converted into energy. Let’s imagine that our villain steals 1 gram of antimatter, keeps it safe, and then arranges for it to annihilate with the same amount of matter. How much energy would be released?
We can work it out, using Einstein’s formula: E=mc2
- E is the amount of energy that would be released.
- m is the mass: that’s 1g of matter, plus 1g of antimatter = 0.002kg
- c is the speed of light: that’s 300 000 000 metres per second
E = mc2
E = 0.002 x 300 000 000 x 300 000 000
E = 180 000 000 000 000 joules
How much energy is that? That’s roughly the same as 2 of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima.
How much antimatter?
So 1 gram of antimatter would be enough for a bomb. Could our villain really steal a whole gram of antimatter? That’s about 1023 particles.
So far, the world record for making and storing antimatter is roughly 109 particles. It takes about 20 minutes to do.
Still, 109 particles is a lot less than 1 gram.
How long would it take?
To make and store 1 gram of antimatter, working at the world record speed, would take 1017 seconds.
How long is 1017 seconds?
1017 seconds is a little over three billion years.
Even at the current world record rate, nobody could make and store enough antimatter for our villain to build an antimatter bomb.
So it’s fiction… for now
Dan Brown’s plot makes sense, but he’s had to imagine some unknown technology for making and storing antimatter, with a very different timescale.
In the real world, this myth is BUSTED!