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Astronomers meeting in Washington last week announced that a recent search for bright exploding stars -- commonly called supernovas -- found something quite unusual: antimatter.
Usually stars like our sun are powered by fusion reactions in which the nuclei of two atoms fuse together to form a heavier nucleus. In Y-155, a star in the constellation Cetus, the astronomers argue that another process was crucial: the making and unmaking of antimatter particles.
Astronomers have discovered evidence for antimatter near the center of our Milky Way galaxy by observing photons with an energy of 511 keV -- the energy created when a positron and an electron collide and annihilate. This image shows contours of 511 keV radiation detected by NASA's Compton Gamma Ray Observatory overlaid on an optical picture of the Galactic center. The vertical structure is a jet of mutually-annihilating electrons and positrons. [more information from Northwestern University and NASA HQ]
On Earth all antimatter that exists is counted in individual atoms. Low energy positrons are routinely used in a medical imaging technique called Positron Emission Tomography as well as studies of important materials used in electronics circuits. These positrons are the result of the natural decay of radioactive isotopes.