This story is kind of old but since we stumbled upon it only now, we will like to repeat the story. Some of you may have heard about it but those of you who haven’t, we suggest you one thing – NEVER EVER PLAN A TRIP TO THE CENTER OF MILKY WAY! Why? Because there is a Doom Fountain or Antimatter Fountain out there – invisible and waiting to annihilate anything and everything that comes in its contact. Sounds stuff out of science fiction? Unfortunately it is true. Trip canceled! You are grounded!
What’s the fuss about this Antimatter Fountain?
Let us tell you a story…
It was 1997. A handful of scientists from different places including Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Washington, DC, Northwest University, Evanston, IL and other place were fiddling with OSSE of NASA’s CGRO.
OSSE is the abbreviation of Oriented Scintillation Spectometer Experiment and CGRO is the abbreviation for Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. So, OSSE is basically an instrument located at CGRO.
While working with the instrument and its data, these scientists made a baffling discovery. They found a hot gas fountain filled with antimatter electrons (usually referred to as positrons) shooting right up from the region surrounding Milky Way’s center.
That was a scary thing and the scientists were quick enough to name it antimatter annihilation radiation. It is a catchy name but we like to simplify it as Antimatter Fountain.
Why is the Antimatter Fountain scary?
We thought you’d never ask but we are glad you did! Don’t you get it? Look at the name pals! Antimatter Annihilation Radiation. Focus on the word ‘annihilation’. Does that ring some warning bells? No? Fine! How about this…
Antimatter is just opposite version of good old matter that we know of. And, it is just as equal as matter. Now, matter makes up everything around us. It even makes up humans like you and us. The problem with antimatter is that it is undetectable in space and is oppositely charged to that of matter.
How about this for some fun –
Bring the matter and the antimatter together in contact and they will immediately annihilate each other (focus on annihilate) and this happens really violently and the end result is the production of gamma rays.
Good news, we have technology to detect gamma rays!
How big is the Antimatter Fountain?
In astronomical terms, pretty small but if we try to compare it in terms of measurements on Earth, the fountain spewed out from the central region rises all the way up to 3,500 light years above the disk of our galaxy! Now that’s quite big! The cloud of hot gas fountain filled with antimatter electrons is 10,000 light years across and it shines with the energy equivalent to 10,000 suns put together.
It was one of the most baffling discoveries of that time and guess what? The gamma ray maps from CGRO revealed a second antimatter cloud well off the plane of Milky Way.
What formed the Antimatter Fountain or Antimatter Annihilation Radiation?
There were quite some conjectures about this. At the time of discovery no one knew what caused the Antimatter Annihilation Radiation. There could have been several sources such as:
- Massive star formation activities close to the massive black hole that sits at the center of Milky Way.
- Winds caused by giant stars.
- Black hole antimatter factories.
Some even said that this antimatter fountain was evidence of the ever-elusive dark matter!
Eventually in 2009, the answer came from ‘Integral’ – a European satellite that studied the fountain for 4 years. The satellite found that the cloud of the annihilation found is not really centered. It is more extended towards the western side of the galactic center compared to its eastern side. Integral also found that there are many X-ray binary star systems with same distribution pattern.
A binary star system is a system of two stars one of which is a normal star while the other is a remnant (a dead star) created by an exploding star. This remnant is what eventually ends up as a black hole or a neutron star. In X-ray binary systems, the remnant star suck in gas from the companion. As the gas falls onto the dead remnant, it gets heated up and eventually releases X-rays.
Integral’s data showed that the positron fountain or the antimatter fountain came from the X-ray binaries. The paper of this study was published in January 10 issue of Nature (a journal).