How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 833

What happens when matter and anti-matter collide? Do they just destroy each other? I thought that matter couldn't be created or destroyed? - S
As Einstein's famous formula points out, mass and energy are equivalent in many respects. In most situations, mass is conserved and so is energy. But at the deepest level, it's actually the sum of those two quantities that's conserved. When matter and anti-matter collide, they often annihilate one another and their mass/energy is converted into other forms. For example, when an electron and an anti-electron (a positron) collide, they can annihilate to produce two or more photons of light. There is no fundamental law that prevents matter from being created or destroyed but there is a fundamental law that mass/energy must be conserved. In this case, the masses of the electron and positron become energy in the massless photons. Overall, mass/energy has been conserved but what was originally mass has become energy. The fact that when matter and anti-matter annihilate, the product is usually energy, makes this mixture attractive as a possible super-rocket fuel. But don't hold your breath; anti-matter is incredibly difficult to make or store.

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