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NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has found evidence of thunderstorms on Earth shooting antimatter particles into space. According to New Scientist, thunderstorms are known to shoot out terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs), which Fermi observed in several instances. Sometimes, gamma-rays interact with atoms in the atmosphere to form electrons and their antimatter opposite, positrons. Fermi was also able to detect these rare occurrences. “While observing [TGFs],” writes New Scientist, “Fermi also detected a separate set of gamma rays with an energy of 511 kiloelectronvolts. These rays were produced when a barrage of positrons struck the spacecraft’s detectors and were annihilated by making contact with electrons there.” “These signals are the first direct evidence that thunderstorms make antimatter particle beams,” said Michael Briggs, who presented his team’s findings on January 10 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington.
Devotees of Star Trek will need no reminding that the starships Enterprise and Voyager are powered by engines that utilize antimatter. Far from being fictional, the idea of propelling spacecraft by the annihilation of matter and antimatter is being actively investigated at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Pennsylvania State University, and elsewhere. The principle is simple: an equal mixture of matter and antimatter provides the highest energy density of any known propellant