Tom Hanks and the Higgins Bosun

By Phil Plait | May 13, 2009 4:00 pm

I like Tom Hanks. I have, ever since "Bosom Buddies" and, let’s face it, "Bachelor Party", the movie that it’s embarrassing to admit is really really funny. And of course he’s a huge space exploration fan.

I’m almost positive I won’t see "Angels and Demons", since I read The DaVinci Code and was pretty meh about it (and never saw that movie either). Still, here’s Hanks on The Daily Show talking about the movie, which features antimatter; near the end he talks about CERN and the Large Hadron Collider with enthusiasm if not 100% pronunciational accuracy:

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ObScience: the amount of antimatter created in a collider is extremely minute, enough so that it doesn’t do any real damage when it smacks into things. We’re talking billions of antiparticles, sure, but it takes billions of billions to make any significant bang.

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Comments (90)

  1. Davidlpf

    You mean the antimatter does not make a blackhole that swallows the earth whole.

  2. @Davidlpf:
    That’s ‘punny’!!

  3. Brian

    @Davidlpf:
    No, it’s ‘red matter’ that does that.

  4. alfaniner

    I saw an episode of Really Big Things, hosted by an engaging, but sometimes clueless, big football-type guy. In the voiceover, he first called it the Large “Hardon” Collider (not jokingly), then the Large “Haldron” Collider. The rest of the segment he referred to it as the “LHC”. He finally got it right at the end.

    It was kind of funny to watch his eyes glaze over as the physicists were trying to describe what they actually did there.

  5. I’m STILL waiting for the Daily Show to feature a certain ginger astronomer we all know and love. I hear he even wrote a book (or two).

  6. BJN

    Hanks is an *actor* and I give him points for even trying to use scientific terms he picked up on a tour of the Large Hardon (love that one alfaniner). He may have bobbled a boson, but he’s a heck of a storyteller. I’m sure I’ll see the new movie, probably not in a theater, but I’m bound to see it eventually on a sat channel.

  7. I thought the clip was absolutely hilarious, pronunciation included :)

  8. My favorite Actor on my 2nd Favorite Fake News Show, and right after, my favorite Director (Ron Howard) on my favorite Fake News Show! (Colbert Report)

  9. David Va.

    I thought the Angels and Demons book was actually pretty accurate scientifically, until the end. (They took liberties about creating and containing anti-matter, but they were true to the science about both, as much as possible.) Angels and Demons is nothing at all like the DaVinci Code, in terms of science, forensics, etc.

    Our esteemed Bad Astronomer may actually like the Angels and Demons movie, if the science in the book shows up comparably in the movie. It’s certainly worth having the Bad Astronomer review the movie, again, if the movie is anything like the book. I’m talking this movie up in my astronomy classes because the book was mostly accurate and because LHC is on people’s minds.

    Just one astronomy teacher’s opinion… But I’d love to see a review!

  10. Erin F.

    I don’t know much about the science aspect of the book, but Angels and Demons was MUCH better than Da Vinci Code, just as a novel. You might enjoy it more, BA. As for the movie, I didn’t like Da Vinci Code that much, but I’ll give Angels and Demons a chance. If anything, all the ambigrams are fun.

  11. Davidlpf

    I do not like these movies because of the Templar/Freemasons/Illuminati crude. Yes I read the book and watched the first movie.

  12. Phil, having read both books (with the understanding that they were fiction and enjoying them thus) I can tell you that Angels and Demons was the better book. WAY better. I remember reading A&D and looking forward to DVC, only to be immensely disappointed. Also A&D has some cool science content. I agree with David Va, it might be worth watching just to review the science content.

    My only real problem with A&D was the villain, a two dimensional character that falls into the whole stereotypical Orientalist “he comes from the East with strange ways and means at his disposal” archetype. I had a friend who couldn’t get past it. I had no problem with it because it’s mass-market fiction- I almost expected it.

  13. OmegaBaby

    @Davidlpf: “I do not like these movies because of the Templar/Freemasons/Illuminati crude. Yes I read the book and watched the first movie.”

    Hrm….sounds like someone doth protest too much about the existence of the Templar/Freemasons/Illuminati. Wonder what that could possibly mean?

  14. Yes, A&D is much better than anything else he’s ever written (though it has its pitfalls. I remember thinking it would make a much better movie, too, if only because Brown’s clunky writing won’t get in the way of his really can’t-stop-reading runaway plot.

  15. Davidlpf

    @Omegababy, if only I could say.

  16. Sean

    Hmmm… I’m starting from a point of total ignorance about the book, but it seems to me that if what you want is a scary MacGuffin, a killer microbe would be more plausible than a few grams of antimatter.

    Unless, of course, you’re trying to power a certain star ship.

    Just curious, what would be involved in actually containing a few grams of antimatter? I’m guessing you’d need equipment similar to that used in magnetic-confinement fusion? That is, really big and really expensive, right?

    -Sean

  17. T.E.L.

    Sean,

    At this time tiny amounts of anti-matter can be stored in a device called a “Penning Trap”, which is essentially a magnetic container. But the amount contained is extremely small, nothing in terms of using it for anything but research. A Penning Trap is about the size of a large trash can, and must be wheeled about.

    Interestingly, the Trap allows anti-matter to be shipped from CERN to other labs around the world. Anti-matter is for sale.

  18. JB of Brisbane

    Annihilation, Jim. Complete… total… utter… annihilation.

  19. dhtroy

    Actually, we were sucked into a Black Hole and the Earth was destroy. This is the back-up Earth … didn’t ANY of you see Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!?!?!

    It explains EVERYTHING …

    I’m just glad I had my towel when it all went down.

  20. @Davidlpf:
    Shhhhhhh!!!!!! We’re Canadians! They can’t know….

  21. Well… a gram of antimatter would cost about $60 trillion to produce with current technology according to NASA and take decades and decades of around the clock effort. So that would be a really expensive bomb. Even if it vaporizes everything within a half-mile radius as it does in the book, it’s still, way too little bang for your buck… Maybe around $60 billion for the energy equivalent of one ton of TNT.

  22. Blashy

    Angels & Demons is about 100 times better than Da Vinci Code…

    But I know why Da Vinci sold better, it is more about imaginary stuff while Angels & Demons has allot of more “real” stuff. Unfortunately the majority of people do not wish to be intellectually stimulated, hence they like crap.

  23. Actually, Michael L, I wrote about her a few days ago.

  24. NewEnglandBob

    and here I thought it was the HITCHENS bosun

  25. Would have thought that sustaining antimatter per unit time, would use more energy than creating it, no matter(scuse pun) what amount. Like fusion problem.

    My guezz work tho.
    Claire

  26. Joe

    LOL As soon as he said “Higgins Bosun” I thought to myself “that will be on Bad Astronomy” and sure enough! Goodstuff. Two laughs at the same thing is hard to find! Thanks Phil.

    (Hanks you were great in Apollo 13!)

  27. Cairnos

    Sean says “… what would be involved in actually containing a few grams of antimatter? ”

    Many, many tons of magnet for a start. A perhaps less technical but even more important requirement would be a way of convincing all the other nations on the planet that you were producing non-trivial amounts of antimatter for entirely peaceful purposes and that your containment facility could not ever possibly fail under any circumstances.

    Side question – radioactive materials can be detected (to a degree) on account of the fact that they’re, basically, radioactive. Would I be right in supposing that, if contained, there would be no such ‘giveaway’ for antimatter? Well apart from the vast containment gear itself that is.

  28. I thought the Angels and Demons book was actually pretty accurate scientifically, until the end.

    Like the bit where Langdon is pushed or jumps from an aircraft hundreds of metres up and uses his jacket to slow his descent and direct his fall into the rapids of Tiber River because he would be less likely to be hurt than if he splashed down into calm part of the river and then he walked away type of accuracy?

    Brown’s books are way too full of deus ex machina and really convenient coincidences to be convincing. Worst books I ever read that I couldn’t put down. Although the incident above almost made me throw the book away.

  29. He also sang the words “Star Trek” to the tune of the Star Wars theme.

  30. George

    I didn’t think A&D was any better that the also not good da vinci code. Brown’s biggest writing fault is that for every 3 or 4 chapters you only need to read 1. His attempts at foreshadowing really just blatently lay out too much upcoming story.

  31. His attempts at foreshadowing really just blatently lay out too much upcoming story.
    Yep, for the example I gave above there was this really laboured scene in the first chapter or so where you get something like:
    “Did you know a piece of fabric x metres square can slow an object by x metres per second?”
    “No I did not know that.”

  32. Bill Nettles

    Is the antiparticle of the Higgins boson the Eliza hadron? When they annihilate do we have enought energy to dance all night in the rain in Spain?

  33. Oops! Sorry Phil! I’ll look it up! :)

  34. John

    Phil, We can’t view the videos from The Daily Show in Canada, they are restricting it to US only. Do you have the YouTube version ?

  35. MadScientist

    Bosun Higgins, I want all hands on deck in 5 minutes; we’re greasing the decks again.

    I never read the DaVinci Code and never saw the movie nor do I have any intention of ever doing either. Since I associate Dan Brown with that book, I can’t imagine I’ll ever read ‘Angels and Demons’ either.

  36. MadScientist

    Uh … just to check that I’m not going senile, we’re talking of the Higgs Boson, aren’t we? The ‘god particle’ and all that?

  37. Hey, Tom Hanks should do a new TV comedy about 2 physicists working at the LHC: “Boson Buddies”.

    They leave the machine (LHC) on after a night of drinking… things start glowing… the usual hilarity ensues.

    I’ll write it. Phil can be Science Advisor. JJ Abrams can direct it.

  38. Chris from Australia

    I just saw it, first session and it was an incredible movie. Way better than the first. The science is pretty spot on.

  39. Wow, I never knew how completely hilarious Tom Hanks is. omg. I now love him.

    He has ignited my trekkie AND physics passions!

  40. dhtroy – I love you, also!

    *HG2G fangirl squeel*

    I need to google this Higgins Bosun thing.

  41. Jason

    @John:

    This appears to be a Canadian mirror for the episode in question; I can’t view them here, so you have to find the clip itself on your own :-)

    http://watch.thecomedynetwork.ca/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart/full-episodes/may-12-2009/

  42. tdhowe

    I was just appreciative of the fact that what he said was mostly correct. I’ve known plenty of people with Ph.D.’s that can’t pronounce words that directly relate to their fields (a certain math professor from my undergrad who couldn’t pronounce differentiate or integrate at all comes to mind), so Tom Hanks mispronouncing a few things isn’t really that bad.

  43. Armillary Sphere

    That was pretty funny – the Daily Show is great. And Hanks too. (FYI, I could watch it just fine here in Sweden)

    Seems like they are confusing antimatter, the Higgs boson and who knows what else. Not too surprising (the book uses one, and the current hoopla is about the other), but it was a little sad.

    From the comments here, I’ll give A&D a chance. I wasn’t too impressed with DVC-the-movie, but it had a lot of nice scenery. And Rome is just beautiful.

  44. nomuse

    Oddly enough, there is a “Bosun Higgins” played by Edgar Kennedy in the 1944 Universal serial “The Great Alaskan Mystery” — which apparently has something to do with death rays!

  45. Thomas Siefert

    @Steve: No he didn’t.

  46. I have to admire Dan Brown in a way. He’ll never write “photocell” when “electric eye” will do. This is, though, half the reason I find his books very hard to read, as I feel I’m being patronised. I daren’t put his books on my shelves, as inadvertent contact with a Charles Stross or Neal Stephenson novel might cause mutual annhilation, leading to a nasty sunburn or something.

    And yes, props to Tom Hanks for his curiosity and attention. I’d’ve paid good money for him to say “Pay attention, here comes the science part!” or whatever that line from shampoo commercials is.

  47. Darrin

    Higgins Bosun, huh? Guess I better don my combat gear and prepare to hit the beaches.

    THIRTY SECOOONDS! God be with you!

  48. Charles Boyer

    Question:

    A youngster asked me yesterday if anti-matter would follow the same laws as matter in a gravitational field. I answered yes, thinking that the particles would obey the traditional four basic forces. I’ve never seen anything that said otherwise, but my expertise is other things, not particle physics.

    This was a correct answer, right?

  49. EEEK. Tom Hanks is OK, but his convoluted explanations about what goes on at CERN were downright embarrassing.

  50. Charles Boyer

    I find his books very hard to read, as I feel I’m being patronised.

    Keep in mind that he is writing for the general public and uses phrases that are essentially metaphors, for example, your “electric eye” stuff.

    I am not a fan of his stories in that they take on too much of a “this is really real, you should believe this” feel. Unlike, say, Jack McDevitt, one of my favorite sci-fi writers who generally gets science right except when he uses fantastical technologies like FTL powered spaceships. Even then, McDevitt describes the inter-dimension that his FTL ships operate within as being in a fog of sorts. That’s a lot easier for me to get my head around and as a writer he doesn’t play with crazy, stupid stuff.

  51. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    But if that’s the bosun of particles, who’s the captain then?

    Langdon is pushed or jumps from an aircraft hundreds of metres up and uses his jacket to slow his descent and direct his fall into the rapids of Tiber River

    I think you resurrected the ghost of a memory of that. I suppose I was reading at a fast clip at the time, trying to finish the damn thing off before it did the same to me. My own measure of books is against memorability – if I can’t remember them, good or bad, they are fails.

    Brown isn’t out to make up believable stories. He is out to sell.

    Would have thought that sustaining antimatter per unit time, would use more energy than creating it,

    Um, why?

    I don’t know of Penning traps for storing antiprotons, but these devices should be basically a magnet, a quadrupole electrode, LC circuits to drive them, and vacuum pumps. Give or take a few kW, but a decent 10 kW or so power supply should cover that I imagine.

    Creating AM can be hugely expensive in energy “per unit time”, especially if accelerators are as slow and inefficient at that as I assume. I google that the LHC for example requires 125 MW at steady-state operation.

  52. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    [Notes to the previous comment:

    1. By measure I mean long time measure – when reading it I want the immediate satisfaction too of course. And I can’t remember Brown did great for me there either.

    2. I’m not sure that it is meaningful to compare creating and storing of AM, except besides the discussed practical requirements. Apples and pears. But one could always compare efficiencies of course (and again I think current storage technology outshines production).]

  53. Charles Boyer

    Hanks could have done worse, considering he is an actor and probably only knows about what the LHC does through the general (or as I say, generally inaccurate) press.

  54. Stan9FOS

    That was “Star Trek” to the tune of Bill Murray’s lounge-singer-from-H-E-double-hockey-sticks version. There, did I make it through the filters?

  55. Tobias Holbrook

    Can permanent magnets actually be used? I thought they needed a negative charge to trap the antiprotons.

    Hmmm…. could antimatter magnets be made?

  56. Stan9FOS

    … version of Star Wars, of course!

  57. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    [Redirect from “Ten Things You Don’t Know About Hubble”, on account of comments closed:]

    Lot’s of awesomes in this.

    But let me get this one out of the way first, as I write this as the Planck/Herschel mission launch clock is ticking down with less than 10 minutes to spare:

    it’s the biggest mirror for astronomy ever lofted into space,

    Conspiracy theorists will discuss for decades the opportune timing of posting this within 24 hours of 3.5 m Herschel launch. :-O

    ESA for the win! [ <- That's me, keeping my eyes crossed. … what, am I supposed to keep my fingers crossed? While typing?!]

  58. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Oops! Darnfangled spam/HTML filter. And no preview. Web life sux at times:

    (x x ) <- That's me, keeping my eyes crossed.

  59. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Launch ok! 3 minutes in, on trajectory, waiting for next burn. [Arianespace, live webcast from Guiana.]

  60. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Upper stage separated, and burning.

  61. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Ballistic phase. Herschel separated; Planck last.

  62. Robert Carnegie

    [The Daily Show] feature on the LHC by John Oliver was odd… the guy sueing it in the court in Hawaii was last year sometime I think (did they make the piece then? was it a repeat?), covered here no doubt, and also the use of TV news logos implied that they had British video from “BBC Channel 4” which is actually two different broadcaster names. One in fact appeared to be
    “More4” news studio, which is the “Channel 4” channel that plays [The Daily Show] in the UK.

    Incidentally, a recent attempt to see a previous day’s show this week in instalments on its own site did work, but only after handing me an auto commercial instead with each piece. I’m in the UK so I don’t know why it wouldn’t work in Canada. But I didn’t realise at first that I was getting a commercial AND the show, not INSTEAD OF.

    “Is this place safe?”
    “Yes, it’s perfectly safe.”
    “Then why are we wearing hard hats?”

  63. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Planck cover separated; Planck separated; cheers all around.

    Suxxess!! :-) [3 months until final L2 orbits. :-( ]

  64. Robert Carnegie

    …the “actual” lyrics to the original Star Trek theme are, um, http://www.snopes.com/radiotv/tv/trek.asp

  65. !AstralProjectile

    Why the Vatican couldn’t find it, even with a wireless vidcam aimed at it has 0.00% plausibility. Why anyone would make a trap with battery that lasts exactly 24 hours, and can only be charged (basically) at CERN has 10-10 plausiblilty. He could have offered some explanation for the latter, but not the former. Still it is his best.

  66. Greg

    @Liz D: You must be pretty young. Before around 1993 with Philadelphia, Hanks was predominantly a comedic actor, with some real classics through the 80’s, too. I remember when Philadelphia came out, people were really shocked he was doing such a serious role. He’s got the talent and timing to be quite funny.

  67. Nigel Depledge

    AstralProjectile said:

    Why the Vatican couldn’t find it, even with a wireless vidcam aimed at it has 0.00% plausibility.

    Agreed.

    All they need to do is get a broad-spectrum scanner to determine what frequency the wireless camera transmits on (assuming they don’#t already know – I can’t recall much detail from the book), then get a simple DF antenna-plus-receiver setup that is sensitive to the appropriate frequency.

    However, wrt Brown’s novels, it was his next one that put me off completely (I can’t even recall the title).

    There’s this thing encased in ice that was only detected because of its unusually high density. When they are lifting it out, he specifically assigns numbers to its size and weight, but these numbers struck me as odd. I did the sums*, and it turns out that the thing is less dense than the ice in which it was encased.

    For the best ever critique of Dan Brown’s novels, please Google what Stephen Fry has to say about him (NSFW!).

    * NB I had to assume it was spherical. But if it were not, it would be even less dense than I calculated it to be.

  68. T.E.L.

    Tobias Holbrook Said:

    “Can permanent magnets actually be used? I thought they needed a negative charge to trap the antiprotons. Hmmm…. could antimatter magnets be made?”

    Permanent magnets can be used, if they’re strong enough. But it doesn’t have to be an anti-matter magnet. A magnetic field is the same for either matter or anti-matter. When accelerator labs create anti-matter, they use powerful electromagnets made of just plain matter to contain the particles.

  69. Don Firesmith

    One interesting scientific mistake involves the calculation of the explosive yield of the 1/4 gram of antimatter, being roughly 5 kilotons of TNT. Actually, the 1/4 gram of antimatter takes out 1/4 gram of matter, thereby transitioning 1/2 gram of mass into energy, of roughly 10 kilotons.

  70. Quiet Desperation

    Ha ha ha! The non-scientist mispronounced something!

    I am not a fan of his stories in that they take on too much of a “this is really real, you should believe this” feel.

    It’s just marketing and writing style. And it bugs the Catholics, so how bad can it be? :-)

    please Google what Stephen Fry has to say about him

    Why do I care? I’m going to guess blindly that it involves some sort of bodily fluid or function?

  71. Georges said, “1. His attempts at foreshadowing really just blatently lay out too much upcoming story.”

    Y’know, I completely forgot about that! That’s right!

    It’s hard to design a “twist” that isn’t somehow gimmicky. Just look at Shyamalan- ugh! (The Robot Chicken paradoy of him is spot on, though.)

  72. Grump

    Just look at Shyamalan

    Do I have to? Ego bigger than Arcturus, talent smaller than something very small.

    I really don’t like the lame Catholic-bashing movies like TDC. When there are so many things wrong with religion in general and the Catholic church in particular, why invent corny conspiracies and dark, shadowy cabals?

    Oh, right. ‘Cos the public loves the “conspiracy and cabals” theme, and you can’t make as much money on the “child-rape and Africans dieing of AIDS” reality.

  73. Tim G

    I hope my arithmetic is correct.

    A person’s body has about one gram of potassium per pound of body weight, therefore my body should have 175g, about 21 milligrams of which (3.2 x 10^20 atoms) is the K-40 isotope.

    The half life of K-40 is 1.28 billion years, which means a median lifetime of 1.85 billion years or 5.8 x 10^16 seconds.

    So about 5500 K-40 atoms decay per second in my body. Roughly 0.001% of these decays are by the emission of a positron (that’s the antiparticle equivalent of the electron). So my body should produce (roughly) 200 antimatter particles per hour on average from potassium alone. If I eat a lot of bananas, I may be able to raise this rate.

  74. Tim G

    Oops, I meant “mean lifetime” which would be half-life/ln(2).

  75. markogts

    Come on, some of you guys is taking Dan Brown too seriously. I agree with the opinions exposed here:

    1) It’s just a novel for a summer night
    2) It’s better than da Vinci code
    3) it bugs the Catholics, so how bad can it be?

    I read it, enjoyed it and still I don’t plan to jump off an aircraft without parachute. However, did you know it happened for real? Look here for example: http://www.greenharbor.com/fffolder/ffallers.html

  76. Don Firesmith Says: “1/4 gram of antimatter takes out 1/4 gram of matter, thereby transitioning 1/2 gram of mass into energy, of roughly 10 kilotons.”

    Or almost exactly the amount of uranium and plutoium converted in the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    I have always been a fan of Tom Hanks’ acting, but he became my hero after producing “From the Earth to the Moon” and later “John Adams.” Someone who shares my passion for both spaceflight and early US history…and with the money/influence to do something about it!

    – Jack

  77. Tim G Says: [derivation snipped] “So my body should produce (roughly) 200 antimatter particles per hour on average from potassium alone.”

    As Spock would say, “Faaaacinating.”

    “If I eat a lot of bananas, I may be able to raise this rate.”

    :-)

    – Jack

  78. Blogg

    This is acting from a to z.

  79. Gary Ansorge

    Tim G:
    SO, to obtain one gram (molecular weight) of anti hydrogen you’d need about 6.022 x 10^23 atoms of anti H (dang, it’s been a Looooong time since I took chemistry). Anyway, that’s a lot of atoms of anti H and unless it was a plasma it couldn’t be contained at all. Bummer! There goes the story,,,

    I really like Tom Hanks. For that reason(and Ron Howard) I will go see the flick, regardless of the quality of the writer.

    GAry 7

  80. Torbjörn Larsson,
    Totally agree with what you said.

    Claire

  81. Glen

    The science in A&D is just plain awful. It was full of inaccuracies that nagged and nagged at me until I could hardly read the book any more. I understand that you need to simplify for your audience, but treating antimatter as something new and mystical? And no one in the last several hundred years could come up with those ambigrams? Really? Bah! He had to push too hard to make the connection between science and religion.

    (Also, I could have found the missing camera with an FM radio–or whatever frequency it was broadcasting at–inside 20 minutes. When I was 15, my friends and I played hide and seek with broadcasting radios and did this all the time. All those world-class physicists at their disposal, and no one could manage that?)

    Da Vinci Code was way better. Better art descriptions, better villain, and at least I was ignorant of the inaccuracies which were presumably there. (And the movie had Audrey Tautou! Yowza!)

  82. Markle

    # Bill Nettles Says:
    May 13th, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Is the antiparticle of the Higgins boson the Eliza hadron? When they annihilate do we have enought energy to dance all night in the rain in Spain?

    No. That’s the Magnum PIon. The Higgins Field gives rise to a pair of Dobieons (colored Zeus and Apollo, IIRC) that chase it down and rip it to shreds.

    Enjoy the veal.

  83. Angels and Demons was exponentially better than the Da Vinci Code… I would suggest you read it ASAPPPP!

  84. Tim G

    I also enjoyed reading Angels and Demons more than The DaVinci Code.

  85. Richard Wicks

    Just a thought on anti matter containment.

    I would think it would be possible to contain it in nothing more than a glass bottle that is fully evacuated of air as long as the antimatter was magnetic using a control system in the same way you levitate those neat globes.

    It would only work in a perfect vacuum and any matter in the container would be annihilated when it hit the anti-matter. You wouldn’t want give the container a quick shove either.

    But it would be small and transportable, as long as you were careful transporting it.

  86. Richard Wicks Says: “I would think it would be possible to contain it in nothing more than a glass bottle that is fully evacuated of air as long as the antimatter was magnetic using a control system in the same way you levitate those neat globes.”

    The whole trick, though, is the “fully evacuated” part. A couple of years ago I posted a little treatise here on the nature of industrial vacuum (it’s one of my areas of expertise). I showed that even with a high-grade industrial vacuum of 10^-7 Torr (a pressure that would only support a column of mercury 1/10 of a micron high) you still have approximately 10^14 molecules in a 1 Liter container. Even to achieve that level of vacuum takes pumps and sealing equipment that costs tens of thousands of dollars. If you put your antimatter into something like that it would would be sending off hundreds of little sparkles per second as the two annihilated each other. It probably wouldn’t be too healthy to stand around either considering that some of the photons and particles could be pretty energetic.

    – Jack

  87. dave

    An interesting side note about Tom Hanks’ interest in astronomy- Years ago he optioned Dennis Overbye’s Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos- a history of Allan Sandage, Mount Palomar, and some of the pioneering work of discovery in modern cosmology- for a film. Nothing seems to have come of it yet, and I’m not sure if the rights have lapsed, but I keep hoping for the project to come out.

  88. Clive

    How did this guy ever become an astronaut? He’s Forrest Gump without the stutter.

    Maybe this is just what drunk Tom Hanks is like.

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