Matter– an all-encompassing term used to describe a substance whose properties include mass and volume. The formal particle physics definition is explained through the Paul-Exclusion Principle: at the fundamental level, the matter is any field such as an electron, quark, neutrino in which particles and antiparticles are accessible, but there is a limit to how much of a field can be at one point. This is why nothing is infinitely dense. While the concept of matter is often understood and taught at an elementary level, two types of matter that are often confused but have different properties have a large makeup of the universe as we know it: anti-matter and dark matter. Although these two terms are often used interchangeably, they have distinct definitions that are important to the universe in their own way.
The three (sometimes four) states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, plasma
What is Antimatter?
The anti-particles that exist with the ever-permeating quantum fields when bonded are called anti-matter. Anti-matter constitutes the same things as matter except possessing an opposite charge. For example, the electron is a particle that is very small and exudes a negative charge, the anti-electron, also known as the positron, has the same mass, the same spin, except it has a positive charge instead of a negative one (per the name positron). Better yet, when these anti-particles bind together they make antimatter. Anti-matter can make anti-oxygen, anti-mountain, anti-iPhone, or even an anti-planet. Some theoretical physicists that study anti-matter even theorize that there are entire galaxies made up of anti-matter, meaning that there could be beings that are us, but opposite. After being exposed to all of this new information your most pressing question is probably, “So, why haven’t we seen any anti-mountains?” One reason is that the natural generation of anti-matter is sparse. Its natural sightings are from cosmic ray collisions, gamma rays from thunderstorms, or the radioactive decay of potassium-40 (yes, when you eat a banana you are ingesting small amounts of antimatter). Oh, and also when an anti-particle meets its counterpart it annihilates into nothing and releases energy equal to the energy of the antiparticle and itself. This phenomenon is similar to the sum of 2 and -2. They cancel each other out which results in annihilation. This is why there is such little existing anti-matter in the universe. This inequality is called baryon asymmetry which is one of the unsolved mysteries in physics. Nevertheless, the conservation of energy still applies to this reaction, and a large amount of light that is the sum of the energy in the matter and antimatter is released. Anti-matter is important for scientists to study because although it shares many similarities to observational matter, its atomic composition is slightly different from the matter we perceive, and they want to understand why.
Cloud chamber photograph of the first positron identified.
The Darks: Dark Matter and Dark Energy
If antimatter is our counterpart then dark matter is the force that helps govern the universe. Dark matter is a relatively newly discovered form of matter that was dubbed by Swiss American astronomer Fritz Zwicky as the “missing matter.” This was first observed when Zwicky calculated the mass of all the stars in the Coma clusters of galaxies and found that it only amounted to 1% of the mass needed to escape the Coma clusters’ gravitational pull. Astronomers Vera Rubin and W. Kent made a similar observation when they observed that the spiral of our galaxy is proportionate to 10 times more matter than we can see, thus the revelation of dark matter. The reason we can’t see the dark matter is because it doesn’t react electromagnetically, therefore it can not be seen using light. However, we do know it exists because it reacts gravitationally as huge splotches of dark matter bend the light around it. Dark energy, on the other hand, is something we can’t detect, measure, or see. But we can characterize it as the phenomenon that causes the universe’s accelerating expansion. It is the intrinsic energy of the emptiness in space. The reason for the universe’s expansion is that the empty space creates even more empty space. This empty space has more energy than all that we know combined and it’s still ever-expanding. The study of dark energy and dark matter is pivotal in understanding our universe and our existence.
An image of dark matter bending light due to its high mass
Differences between Dark Matter, Anti Matter, and Dark Energy
Where the properties of dark matter and antimatter diverges is that dark matter is an entirely new, different, form of matter. Antimatter is the same as observational matter except it has an opposite charge and thus can not productively interact with matter. Dark matter interacts with matter through gravitational forces which can be characterized as a binding force for the matter. Dark energy pulls matter apart, being the characterization of the ever-expanding universe.
What we know about the universe is very little. And what we know about what we don’t know is even smaller. Understanding dark matter and dark energy are important to have a fundamental understanding of the shape, structure, and properties of our world, our galaxy, and our universe. The continued theorization of these types of matter will eventually produce an answer that radically changes how we view space. But, that is all these are: theories. We’ve assigned a name to these properties that we’ve observed but it is so ambiguous we aren’t even sure about anything. Even the fundamental principles of dark matter are so new that there isn’t possibly a way to manipulate dark matter because the only thing we know it reacts to is gravity, and the gravitational force is very weak. Just remember, if you ever meet your anti-self, don’t touch them, or you will die.
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