Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Science and Bad Movies

Tom Hanks was on The Daily Show last night to talk about Angels and Demons, and the discussion into the science of antimatter was, not to put too fine a point on it, excruciating. I now know not to ask Tom Hanks or Jon Stewart any physics questions.

I must correct the scientific record - I think it's in my contract or something.

What actually happens is that the amount of antimatter that is created is very small (it's a bunch of antiprotons, and they're smaller than 10^-15 meters across), and it needs to be held in a magnetic field to remain stable - it actually moves around a storage ring at very high speeds. The explosions that the antiprotons make when they collide with protons wouldn't really be visible at all, since none of the particles they create are large enough to see and they don't emit light in the visible range. The detectors that we use to see the products of the collision are huge, expensive, and very complicated. You couldn't walk around with a vial of antimatter, because you need something to generate the magnetic field to hold the antiprotons away from so-called normal matter.

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