"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Monday, October 04, 2004
The U.S. Air Force is quietly spending millions of dollars investigating ways to use a radical power source -- antimatter, the eerie "mirror" of ordinary matter -- in future weapons.
The most powerful potential energy source presently thought to be available to humanity, antimatter is a term normally heard in science-fiction films and TV shows, whose heroes fly "antimatter-powered spaceships" and do battle with "antimatter guns."
But antimatter itself isn't fiction; it actually exists and has been intensively studied by physicists since the 1930s. In a sense, matter and antimatter are the yin and yang of reality: Every type of subatomic particle has its antimatter counterpart. But when matter and antimatter collide, they annihilate each other in an immense burst of energy.
During the Cold War, the Air Force funded numerous scientific studies of the basic physics of antimatter. With the knowledge gained, some Air Force insiders are beginning to think seriously about potential military uses -- for example, antimatter bombs small enough to hold in one's hand, and antimatter engines for 24/7 surveillance aircraft.
More cataclysmic possible uses include a new generation of super weapons -- either pure antimatter bombs or antimatter-triggered nuclear weapons; the former wouldn't emit radioactive fallout. Another possibility is antimatter- powered "electromagnetic pulse" weapons that could fry an enemy's electric power grid and communications networks, leaving him literally in the dark and unable to operate his society and armed forces.
Following an initial inquiry from The Chronicle this summer, the Air Force forbade its employees from publicly discussing the antimatter research program. Still, details on the program appear in numerous Air Force documents distributed over the Internet prior to the ban.
I think the plan here, from a tactical perspective, is to use the antimatter weapons to strike the initial blow; then, cyborgs with individual jet packs can swoop in from their staging point in the 37th dimension to clean up any surviving pockets of resistance with their laser death rays. According to my sources, this is precisely how Doug Feith and Richard Perle have proposed we defeat the insurgents in Fallujah.
The article continues:
The energy from colliding positrons and antielectrons "is 10 billion times ... that of high explosive," Edwards explained in his March speech. Moreover, 1 gram of antimatter, about 1/25th of an ounce, would equal "23 space shuttle fuel tanks of energy." Thus "positron energy conversion," as he called it, would be a "revolutionary energy source" of interest to those who wage war.
It almost defies belief, the amount of explosive force available in a speck of antimatter -- even a speck that is too small to see. For example: One millionth of a gram of positrons contain as much energy as 37.8 kilograms (83 pounds) of TNT, according to Edwards' March speech. A simple calculation, then, shows that about 50-millionths of a gram could generate a blast equal to the explosion (roughly 4,000 pounds of TNT, according to the FBI) at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
Unlike regular nuclear bombs, positron bombs wouldn't eject plumes of radioactive debris. When large numbers of positrons and antielectrons collide, the primary product is an invisible but extremely dangerous burst of gamma radiation. Thus, in principle, a positron bomb could be a step toward one of the military's dreams from the early Cold War: a so-called "clean" superbomb that could kill large numbers of soldiers without ejecting radioactive contaminants over the countryside.
A copy of Edwards' speech on NIAC's Web site emphasizes this advantage of positron weapons in bright red letters: "No Nuclear Residue."
There is simply no way to overstate the benefits of creating huge craters of nothingness that are completely free of nuclear residue! Think of it as the strategic equivalent of the space between Condi Rice's ears.
But the best part of this story is that it allows me to give a shout-out to my Lovely Bride, who, like Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, Washington, is a proud graduate of Washington State University (official motto: "All dirt roads lead to Pullman!"):
In the meantime, the Air Force has been investigating the possibility of making use of a powerful positron-generating accelerator under development at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. One goal: to see if positrons generated by the accelerator can be stored for long periods inside a new type of "antimatter trap" proposed by scientists, including Washington State physicist Kelvin Lynn, head of the school's Center for Materials Research.
A new generation of military explosives is worth developing, and antimatter might fill the bill, Lynn told The Chronicle: "If we spend another $10 billion (using ordinary chemical techniques), we're going to get better high explosives, but the gains are incremental because we're getting near the theoretical limits of chemical energy."
Besides, Lynn is enthusiastic about antimatter because he believes it could propel futuristic space rockets.
"I think," he said, "we need to get off this planet, because I'm afraid we're going to destroy it."
Let me get this straight - Dr. Lynn is bullish on the idea of military weapons that annihilate matter, while at the same time believing that we need to get off the planet because we are destroying it. And that loud popping sound you hear? That's just Dr. Lynn's head blowing up, as thinking comes into contact with anti-thinking.