The scarcity of antimatter means that it is not readily available for use as fuel. Any antimatter propulsion would require engine construction so as to prevent the annihilation of all the fuel simultaneously. Anti-matter could be used as a fuel for interplanetary travel or interstellar travel as part of a antimatter catalyzed nuclear pulse propulsion or other antimatter rocketry, such as the redshift rocket. Since the energy density of antimatter is higher than that of conventional fuels, an antimatter fueled spacecraft would have a higher thrust-to-weight ratio than a conventional spacecraft.
In matter-antimatter collisions resulting in photon emission, the entire rest mass of the particles is converted to kinetic energy. The energy per unit mass (9×1016 J/kg) is about 10 orders of magnitude greater than typical chemical energies, and about 3 orders of magnitude greater than the nuclear potential energy that can be liberated, today, using nuclear fission (about 200 MeV per atomic nucleus that undergoes nuclear fission, or 8×1013 J/kg), and about 2 orders of magnitude greater than the best possible results expected from fusion (about 6.3×1014 J/kg for the proton-proton chain). The reaction of 1 kg of antimatter with 1 kg of matter would produce 1.8×1017 J (180 petajoules) of energy (by the mass-energy equivalence formula, E = mc2), or the rough equivalent of 43 megatons of TNT – slightly less than the yield of the 27,000kg Tsar Bomb, the largest thermonuclear weapon ever detonated.
Not all of that energy can be utilized by any realistic propulsion technology because, while electron-positron reactions result in gamma ray photons, in reactions between protons and antiprotons, their energy is converted into relativistic neutral and charged pions. While the neutral pions decay into high-energy photons, the charged pions decay into a combination of neutrinos (carrying about 22% of the energy of the charged pions) and unstable charged muons (carrying about 78% of the charged pion energy), with the muons then decaying into a combination of electrons, positrons and neutrinos (cf. muon decay; the neutrinos from this decay carry about 2/3 of the energy of the muons, meaning that from the original charged pions, the total fraction of their energy converted to neutrinos by one route or another would be about 0.22 + (2/3)*0.78 = 0.74). Gamma radiation can be largely absorbed and converted into heat energy, though some is bound to be lost. Neutrinos very rarely interact with any form of matter, so for all intents and purposes, the energy converted into neutrinos can be considered lost.
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Famous quotes containing the word fuel:
“I had an old axe which nobody claimed, with which by spells in winter days, on the sunny side of the house, I played about the stumps which I had got out of my bean-field. As my driver prophesied when I was plowing, they warmed me twice,once while I was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that no fuel could give out more heat. As for the axe,... if it was dull, it was at least hung true.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)
“Beware the/easy griefs, that fool and fuel nothing./It is too easy to cry AFRIKA!/and shock thy street,/and purse thy mouth,/and go home to thy Gunsmoke, to/thy Gilligans Island and the NFL.”
—Gwendolyn Brooks (b. 1917)
“It is now many years that men have resorted to the forest for fuel and the materials of the arts: the New Englander and the New Hollander, the Parisian and the Celt, the farmer and Robin Hood, Goody Blake and Harry Gill; in most parts of the world, the prince and the peasant, the scholar and the savage, equally require still a few sticks from the forest to warm them and cook their food. Neither could I do without them.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)