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Sun Becomes Lab For Scientists Looking to Solve the Mysteries of Matter

Jul 08, 2013 04:32 PM EDT

Antimatter has been detected in solar flares via microwave and magnetic-field data, according to a presentation by researchers at the 44th meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Solar Physics Division.

That such particles are created in solar flares is not a surprise; however, the study marks the first time their immediate effects have been detected.

Led by Gregory Fleishman, a physics professor at New Jersey's Institute of Technology, the study helps to explain the strong asymmetry between matter and antimatter by gathering data on a massive scale using the Sun as a laboratory.

While it's possible to create and then detect antiparticles through costly and complex particle-accelerator experiments, such particles are otherwise very difficult to study.

However, Fleishman and his team have reported the first remote detection of relativistic antiparticles, or positrons, produced in nuclear interactions of accelerated ions in solar flares - a discovery they made through the analysis of readily available microwave and magnetic-field data obtained from solar-dedicated facilities and spacecraft.

Electrons and their antiparticles, positrons, boast opposite charges, causing positrons to emit the opposite sense of circularly polarized radio emission, which Fleishman and his colleagues used to distinguish them.

To do so required knowledge of the magnetic field direction in the solar flare, which was provided by NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), and radio images at two frequencies from Japan's Nobeyama Radioheliograph.

In examining the solar flares, Fleishman and his colleagues found the radio emission from the flare was polarized in the normal sense (due to more numerous electrons) at the lower frequency where the effect of positrons is expected to be small, but reversed to the opposite sense at the same location, although at the higher frequency where positrons can dominate.

According to the researchers, the results of the study have far-reaching implications for gaining valuable knowledge through remote detection of relativistic antiparticles located at the Sun and possibly other astrophysical objects by means of radio-telescope observations.

Furthermore, the ability to detect these antiparticles in an astrophysical source will not only help enhance the understanding of the basic structure of matter and high-energy processes such as solar flares, but offer a natural laboratory to address many of the universe's most fundamental mysteries.

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