Are anti-matter bombs a credible threat?

Years ago I read a small article in SciAm that researchers had managed to keep anti-lithium stable in solution for several seconds – this being half of forever on an atomic scale. The researchers said they felt confident they’d have no difficulty increasing the time indefinitely. After that I heard nothing, and to this day I can find nothing which tells me whether or not they succeeded. It’s this very “nothing” I find alarming.

Anti-matter has the potential to make nuclear weapons look like champagne corks by comparison. An anti-matter bomb powerful enough to wipe a city off the map could be hidden in a false tooth. The example I remember reading to illustrate the power bound up in matter was that if it was possible to extract all the energy from gasoline – as happens with a matter/anti-matter reaction – a car could be driven for its entire useful lifespan on the energy contained in a single drop of gas.

The fact that we have hear absolutely nothing about the development of stable anti-matter makes me wonder just how far the war industry has gotten, and whether or not I should be concerned about the feasibility of someone carrying a planet-buster in his pocket.


To elaborate: the total amount of antimatter produced in the entire history of the human race would be enough to run a laptop for less than a day.

I’m no expert, but I suspect that the miniscule amount of antimatter that lasted for several seconds was housed in a very large container, like maybe a particle accelerator or something. So although it would take very little anti-lithium fuel to destroy a city, good luck fitting the container in your false tooth.

That’s only what the scientific establishment knows about. What goes on in secret military research facilities is anyone’s guess. And with a nuclear reactor running full-out, using its full output to produce anti-matter, it might take months but you could certainly produce enough to create a weapon – provided you had a way to keep it stable.

First of all, the antimatter itself might be very small, but what about the apparatus required to contain it? That’s probably going to be extremely big, bulky, power-hungry, and non-portable.

Second, before you can use the antimatter, you have to produce it somehow. The only known mechanism for producing antimatter is to start with a heck of a lot of energy and produce particle-antiparticle pairs. Even if the process for doing this were 100% efficient (which it’s not, by many orders of magnitude), you’d need to consume a city-destroying amount of power to produce a city-destroying bomb.

Third, scientists are notoriously difficult to keep quiet. Maybe you’re not reading much about antimatter storage in the popular press any more, but the work is continuing, and it’s not secret.

There is no way that such an operation could even conceivably be kept secret from other governments, the scientific community, or even layman watchdog organizations.

Unlike nuclear weapons, we have to supply the destructive energy ourselves, instead of just digging it up and processing it. Even if you can create antimatter with 100% efficiency, the act of creating the bomb requires enough energy to blow up the city. And the infrastructure required to stop the bomb going off prematurely would be far larger than for a nuclear weapon, where you just have to keep the fuel in subcritical pieces until detonation.

After the production of the anti matter, no small task in itself; it would be nessicary to contain it. This would involve superconducting magnets and a very good vacuum (any stray molecule/atom of regular matter in the vscuum would react with the antimatter, so you need a very clean vacuum). We are talking at least a semitrailer, with a pocket nuclear reactor (Availible in Aisle 17 at Walmart, next to the Unobtainium) to power it. On top of that the equipment is finicky and would require a small team of technicians working constantly to maintain the supermagnets, the cryogenic cooling systems, vacuum integrity, and a bunch of other stuff. One would have to more or less build the bomb on site, it would hardly be portable…

As mentioned, both production and storage are probably bigger issues than you realize.

Having said THAT, I cant see any fundamental law of physics that doesnt allow matter to be converted to antimatter “directly” without input of significant amounts of energy. IANA particle or quantum physicist and I also have no idea of what, if any, mechanism, would allow you to do such a thing.

Presumably, this is the same simple process that turns Lead into Gold, right?

Look how little time it took for the Soviet Union and others to figure out how to make atomic and hydrogen bombs. Why should they have any more luck keeping antimatter bombs secret?

Uh-uh. Try two billion years for CERN to create a gram of antimatter at current production rates.

ETA: If you did make a gram of antimatter, it would only create a bomb twice as powerful as the atomic bomb that we dropped on Hiroshima. There are hydrogen bombs that are much more powerful than that and don’t take two billion years to make.

What would an antimatter bomb do that a hydrogen bomb (or several hydrogen bombs) couldn’t? The antimatter bomb is likely to be much more expensive and harder to maintain.

That doesnt violate any laws either. But I suspect the “energy difference” between the two states would be energy cost prohibitive.

If I take a hydrogen atom and convert it to an anti hydrogen atom (how, I have no idea), have I created any more energy or matter than I had in the first place? Thats a question more than a statement of fact in case anyone is wondering.

IMO all I have done is make the energy more easy to extract at some later date should I desire to do so. The same could be said for nuclear fission in general, in which the energy you can get out is WAY more than the energy you put in to make it possible in the first place.

Think it through. What good is a bomb that has to be maintained constantly * without interruption * or it goes off in your lap? Any sort of power failure, any failure in the containment mechanism, and it’s the Tunguska event all over again. From a military standpoint, such a weapon would be more of a handicap than an advantage.

I suppose it could be useful if one wanted a doomsday device. But Dr Strangelove showed us why that’s not such a good idea.

Just don’t keep it a secret…

The law of conservation of hadron number (type that carefully!) is the one you’re looking for. One mole of monatomic hydrogen has a positive Avogadro number of nucleons, mostly protons – multiply by the atomic weight, rounded to a whole number, for any given substance (and consider that at least half will be neutrons).

A similar quantity of antimatter, if it existed, would have a negative Avogadro number of (anti-)nucleons. What you’re suggesting is akin to saying “tale ten tons of iron and turn it into a negative ten tons (i.e., with a buoyancy of ten tons) of Cavorite.”

Everyone is assuming that we’re dealing with currently-available, widely-known technology. Firstly, even though it doesn’t exist today, some day it will. And secondly, if shadowy military defence contractors have developed stable anti-matter technology, who’s to say they haven’t also developed miniaturized magnetic bottles or ambient-temperature superconductors. And in any case, perhaps it’s my scientific ignorance, but I can’t understand why one couldn’t make an anti-matter bomb out of a couple of grams of anti-iron suspended in vacuum inside a glass sphere the size of a golf ball with rare earth magnets distributed around it.

As for its utility, it’s a lot easier to get a golfball-sized glass sphere inside a diplomatic pouch than a hydrogen bomb – and there’s no telltale radioactivity to give it away.

THATS why I put I am not a particle dude in there, I figured there was something like that.

Having said that, what does it COST you to violate that law? Obviously there is a process currently that allows the creation of antimatter. Is the efficiency of that process a well understood and theorectical limit, or is it just a thats the best we can do it the way we can currently do it kind of number?

Or it won’t. There’s no reason to believe it will ever be developed.

Since there’s no evidence that this has happened, and there’s no way it could happen without lots of evidence, we can assume this is a non-starter.

You don’t violate it. You put in a whole heck of a lot of energy, and you get out some antimatter and some matter, such that the antimatter and regular matter you get out are enough to cancel each other out.

Now, there may be ways to get around this. In most of the models which would unify the Strong and Electroweak forces, it’s predicted that the proton is unstable, just with a fanatically long lifespan (trillions of years, perhaps). Occasionally, very, very rarely, then, a proton (with baryon number 1) will decay into, say, a positive pion, a neutrino, and possibly some photons (total baryon number 0). If this is the case, then the conservation of baryon number would not be an exact law, just a really, really good approximation. Now, we can’t wait trillions of years for our protons to decay, but these same models predict that the process would be greatly catalyzed in the presence of a magnetic monopole (that is, a north without a south, or vice-versa). But of course, nobody’s managed to make a magnetic monopole yet, either (though there’s a chance that we just might have maybe found one).

Alternately, the baryon number of a black hole is meaningless, and Hawking radiation will produce equal amounts of matter and antimatter, no matter what you used to make the black hole in the first place. So if one had a hole of the appropriate size, one could continually feed in normal matter at the same rate as the Hawking radiation, and get a mixture of matter and antimatter out. Of course, nobody’s ever managed to produce or find a black hole of appropriate size, either.

You couldn’t just use permanent magnets. There’s no way to arrange permanent magnets to suspend something stably inside of them. Those “levitating” toys you sometimes see always have either a thin string holding them in place, or variable electromagnets that monitor whether the suspended object is moving and continually adjust the strength of the field. It’s sort of like how you can’t set a yardstick on its end on a table, but you can balance it on your hand by continually moving around. The string is of course out, but you could (in principle, if you could make a large enough amount of magnetic antimatter) use a continually-adjusted system to contain it. Of course, then you’re back to the problem of it going off prematurely if there’s a power outage.