Year of the Antiproton

Jul 15, 2020

A “Year of the [THING]!” is usually aspirational, advertising, and much cheaper than actually doing something about [THING]. The only exceptions were antiprotons and Luigi, which only exist as opposites of much more widespread originals. But Luigi is too cowardly to ever resolve the tension with mutual annihilation.

I’mm-a just happy for the a-tenntion!

Antiprotons demand more respect. Antiprotons are more expensive than albino tigers by kilo, but anyone who can measure it in kilos can have all the exotic animals they want. The Year of the Antiproton wasn’t fobbing someone off with a calendar, it’s one of the most incredibly complex things our species has ever achieved. The Year of the Antiproton should be sign on a Science Zodiac between Penicillin and the CanadArm2.

CanadArm2: You’re friendly, helpful, and more outgoing than anything (still) on Earth. 

Merely making antimatter is now a standard action for our species. We can just decide “Oh let’s conjure the opposite of everything any other species has ever encountered, a material not even theorized for most of history and so spectacular in implication it doesn’t just blow minds but ANYTHING into high energy gamma rays.” 

The BASE team at CERN worked with the ANTIPROTON DECELERATOR to slow and capture sixteen antiprotons and hold them for over a year. A number which makes angels dancing on the head of a pin look like counting your own head.

I capitalized BASE and CERN because they’re acronyms, Baryon Antibaryon Symmetry Experiment and Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire. I capitalize ANTIPROTON DECELERATOR because just LOOK AT IT, LOOK AT THOSE WORDS AND MARVAL AT WHAT WE HAVE WROUGHT. 

A year. A YEAR. Holding antimatter for a year crosses a second line between genius and insanity out the other side, a genuinely incredible achievement which sounds like a liar who doesn’t even understand why they’re obviously talking shit. Holding antimatter for a year is like your uncle who totally works at Nintendo letting you play the PlayStation-One-Jillion with the actual Master Chief . Which is still a less ridiculous number and less impossible entity to claim you keep in your room. 

A year turned up to 11, in fact. They held the antiprotons from 12th November 2015 for 405 days, 111% of a year. Sixteen specks which normally annihilate so instantly we usually notice they were there by detecting the blast. Usually measured in microseconds, and we made them chill for four seasons and more. 

Behold the glorious golden technology which makes the Dragonlance look like a toothpick because it controls even more impossible beings.

And because Mad Max reminded everyone computer graphics can’t compare to physical effects: 

Even more impressively, because the whole progress of science is starting with something miraculous and making it even better: they pulled off a capture more obviously impossible than the Ecto-containment unit as a side-effect. They weren’t going for the record. They were going about their daily business, which sometimes needed exactly one antiproton. But while CERN can create antimatter more casually than most galaxies it’s not quite a vending machine. Redirecting antimatter outputs isn’t as easy Buck Rogers makes it look when you don’t want to break things. 

So they saved a shot of antiprotons. The most dangerous drink in the world (and drinking exactly the right amount of antimatter would also make you dizzy through gamma-induced neurological damage). Then, since they happened to have antimatter hanging around longer than most tech startups, they did even more science on it!

Recording a year of data gave them the most accurate ever measure of the antiproton’s g-factor, a dimensionless measuer of its magnetic moment. Something specialists refer to so often it got a sharper name than most energy drinks, because our species is impressive when it remembers what energy really is and is for. 

Here’s their value:

g/2 = −2.7928473441(42) 

(where the number in parentheses represents the 68% confidence interval on the last digits of the value

I wrote that out so we could all bask in a random numpad smash that took more actual genius effort than every billionaire bank balance. One digit for every month we made antimatter wait at our whim.

Another benefit of being brilliant is that you don’t end up defined by titles or records. BASE didn’t tap out against the universal forces of annihilation after 405 days. They switched the system off themselves to maintain and upgrade it, because looking after yourself and your tools is more important than making mere numbers bigger than everyone else’s. That’s a life lesson for twitter right there. I’ve always known that the correct use of antimatter would solve most social media problems. But trust the geniuses who actually work with it to come up with a positive angle even when they’re working with antiprotons. 

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