Balloon-Borne Instrument Collects Antimatter

Larry Klaes (
Tue, 17 Aug 1999 17:19:32 -0400

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>Date: Sun, 15 Aug 1999 07:15:25 -0700
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>Subject: Balloon-Borne Instrument Collects Antimatter
>Subject: Balloon-Borne Instrument Collects Antimatter
>Date: 16 Aug 1999 18:48 UT
>From: (Ron Baalke)
>Organization: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
>Donald Savage
>Headquarters, Washington, DC Aug. 16, 1999
>(Phone: 202/358-1547)
>Bill Steigerwald
>Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
>(Phone: 301/286-5017)
>RELEASE: 99-93
> It almost sounds like a science-fiction movie: NASA
>launched a 60-story-high balloon to the upper fringes of Earth's
>atmosphere to collect precious particles of some of the rarest
>stuff in the Universe -- antimatter -- and, just possibly,
>evidence that entire anti-galaxies exist.
> It wasn't science fiction, but cutting-edge science.
>Carrying a Japanese-built instrument, NASA's largest balloon -- 39
>million cubic feet in volume -- lifted off from Lynn Lake,
>Manitoba, Canada, at 9:22 a.m. EDT Aug. 11 for a 38-hour flight
>more than 20 miles above Earth. The 5,000-pound instrument was
>recovered Aug. 12 and will be prepared for another flight next
>year. The BESS project (Balloon-borne Experiment with a
>Superconducting Solenoidal magnet), led by Prof. Shuji Orito of
>the University of Tokyo, is sponsored in the U.S. by NASA and by
>Monbusho in Japan.
> Antiparticles are rare forms of matter that have electrical
>charges exactly the opposite of their ordinary "sister" particles.
>For example, a proton has a positive charge and an electron has a
>negative charge. An antiproton, though, has a negative charge and
>an antielectron has a positive charge. Scientists study antimatter
>to understand structure and energy processes in the Universe.
> "We have collected excellent data, which should contain
>several hundred antiprotons among a hundred million cosmic-ray
>particles that passed through our detector," said Dr. Orito, who
>was at Lynn Lake for the launch with researchers from Japan and
>the United States.
> Although many theorists believe that the entire Universe is
>made of "ordinary" matter, some speculate that antimatter galaxies
>exist. However, no evidence of these galaxies has been found.
>Previous balloon flights have detected numerous anti-protons, but
>these can be produced by collisions of "ordinary" particles in
>interstellar space.
> If BESS were to find a more sophisticated form of antimatter,
>such as molecules of anti-helium, it would provide evidence that
>antimatter galaxies exist. Unlike antiprotons, anti-helium is
>virtually impossible to create by collision and would have to come
>from some other source.
> "The discovery of anti-helium would be stunning," said Dr.
>Orito. "That is why we search for such exotic objects, although
>there exist no compelling reasons to believe that anti-galaxies do
>exist. We have actually found no anti-helium in data taken during
>the five flights from 1993 to 1998, while we have detected three
>million helium nuclei. This fact provides the most direct
>evidence that the Galaxy and the nearby part of the Universe are
>made solely of matter, not antimatter."
> The detection of anti-helium would rewrite the books on
>cosmology, according to Dr. Jonathan Ormes, head of the Laboratory
>of High Energy Astrophysics at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
>in Greenbelt, MD. "The idea that large regions or domains of the
>Universe might be built of antimatter has been discussed for many
>years," said Dr. Ormes, one of many scientists involved in data
>analysis. "We are very excited every year when we check the
>latest data hoping to find the first 'Ambassador from the Anti-
> "BESS illustrates the beauty of scientific ballooning,"
>said Dr. W. Vernon Jones, Senior Science Program Executive at NASA
>Headquarters. "The instrument's capacity has improved
>dramatically since it was first flown in 1993, when it made the
>first unambiguous detection of cosmic antiprotons. After each
>flight the BESS team improves the instrument for the next flight,
>resulting in a steadily increasing number of detections. This
>capability coupled with low costs demonstrates an advantage of
>balloon flights over satellites for this type of research."
> The BESS collaboration comprises University of Tokyo, High
>Energy Accelerator Research Organization, Kobe University and
>Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, all in Tokyo; NASA
>Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD; and the University of
>Maryland. The magnet and the detectors on BESS were designed and
>constructed in Japan. NASA provides the balloon flights. Aside
>from antiprotons, BESS also measures precise energy spectra of
>various cosmic rays, such as protons, helium and light isotopes,
>thus providing important basic data for cosmic-ray physics. Dr.
>Eun-Suk Seo of the University of Maryland leads this effort.
> -end-
> * * *