Thunderstorms can shoot beams of antimatter into space—and the beams are so intense they can be spotted by spacecraft thousands of miles away, scientists have announced.
Most so-called normal matter is made of subatomic particles such as electrons and protons. Antimatter, on the other hand, is made of particles that have the same masses and spins as their counterparts but with opposite charges and magnetic properties.
Recently, radiation detectors on NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope lighted up for about 30 milliseconds with the distinctive signature of positrons, the antimatter counterparts of electrons.
Scientists were able to trace the concentrated burst of radiation to a lightning flash over Namibia, at least 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers) away from the Earth-orbiting telescope, which was passing above Egypt at the time.
“This is a fundamental new discovery about how our planet works,” said Steven Cummer, a lightning researcher from Duke University who was not part of the study team.
“The idea that any planet has thunderstorms that can create antimatter and launch it into space is something out of science fiction. The fact that our own planet is doing it is truly amazing.”