Antimatter storms may actually be taking place on Earth, scientists said after NASA's Fermi telescope detected a thunderstorm shooting beams of antimatter into space.
Researchers noted that the phenomenon of a storm producing antimatter has never been spotted before.
Thunderstorms have been known to produce sparks of light called terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGF), usually associated with lightning. Gamma rays are high-energy electromagnetic radiation or light.
"These signals are the first direct evidence that thunderstorms make antimatter particle beams," stated Michael Briggs, a member of Fermi's Gamma-ray Burst Monitor team at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, in a press release. Briggs presented his findings on Monday at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.
Antimatter comprises particles known as positrons with the same mass as electrons (matter) but with opposite charges and magnetic properties. When matter meets antimatter, the particles annihilate each other, releasing gamma ray flashes.
The Fermi telescope, which orbits in space, monitors gamma rays. Fermi was above Egypt when it detected gamma ray flashes that originated from a thunderstorm almost 3,000 miles way in Zambia.
"Even though Fermi couldn't see the storm, the spacecraft nevertheless was magnetically connected to it," said Joseph Dwyer at the Florida Institute of Technology, according to the release. "The TGF produced high-speed electrons and positrons, which then rode up Earth's magnetic field to strike the spacecraft."
Since 2008, the Fermi telescope has spotted 130 TGFs. The press release noted that up to 500 of these incidents may take place daily around the world, but they mostly go undetected and scientists do not yet understand the role of lightning in the process.