Why does matter exist? That may sound like a silly question, but as we study nuclear reactions, it becomes crucial. Nuclear reactions produce two kinds of matter—matter and antimatter. The strange thing about these two forms of matter is that when they collide, they destroy each other, producing nothing but energy.
In the past 50 years, scientists have found that every kind of matter seems to have an antimatter equivalent. Science has discovered that electrons, which are well understood, have antimatter particles called anti-electrons or positrons. We now have ways of producing beams of positrons that physicists use in all kinds of experiments. Einstein’s famous equation, e = mc^2 can be verified when we collide positrons and electrons.
Research has led to the discovery of antiprotons, antineutrons, antineutrinos, antimuons, etc. If nuclear processes were involved in the creation of the universe, the cosmos should be full of the same amount of antimatter as there is matter. Could there be antiplanets, antistars, antigalaxies, etc.? One can even postulate antipeople. You could create the ultimate soap opera where a matter boy falls in love with an antimatter girl. The problem is that he can’t touch her, because if he does, their physical particles will all destroy each other in a huge thermonuclear explosion that would wipe out the planet.
That fictitious fable can’t happen, but it raises an important point. If all nuclear reactions produce equal amounts of matter and antimatter, shouldn’t all the matter and antimatter eventually collide and produce nothing but energy. Why does matter exist?
Science News (December 21, 2019, / January 4, 2020) reported on proof that antineutrinos and neutrinos violate parity. The oscillation of the two kinds of neutrinos is not the same. Neutrinos vibrate more rapidly than the mathematical predictions of what their frequency should be, and antineutrinos vibrate more slowly. Scientists don’t understand why these oscillations are different since they violate parity. The design of the building blocks of matter involves differences in oscillation frequencies, and that allows matter to exist.
Why does matter exist? We could state that with the old philosophical question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” Those questions seem to be answered at least in part by our new understanding of matter and antimatter. A major point we need to make is that matter and antimatter start with an energy source. That energy source must be external to our dimension. When we consider the intricate design features, that source would seem to be God.
Gravity controls the universe — at least on a large scale. Obviously, gravity keeps you and your possessions from floating away into space. Gravity also holds planets and stars together. It holds the Moon in orbit around the Earth and all of the planets in orbit around the Sun. Gravity holds the galaxies together. But other forces are stronger than gravity.
Four interactions make the universe work: the weak and strong nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravity. Gravity is by far the weakest of those forces. The weak and strong nuclear forces are limited to a very short range within the atom. Only the electromagnetic force and gravity reach out to the vast universe. Since the electromagnetic force is so much stronger than gravity, why does gravity control the universe?
Everything is made of atoms and atoms contain electrons and protons. Electrons have a negative charge, and protons have an equal and opposite positive charge. Electromagnetism causes opposite charges to attract and like charges to repel each other. Gravity, of course, pulls anything with mass together.
The reason electromagnetism does not overpower the much weaker force of gravity is a delicate balance between electrons and protons. For each electron in the universe, there is a proton, so the plus and minus electrical forces cancel each other, creating electrical neutrality. Without that balance, we could not exist.
The balance between electrons and protons is so delicate that if you were building a universe and accidentally put in one extra electron for each trillion trillion trillion electron/proton pairs (that’s one followed by 36 zeroes), it would be catastrophic. The electrical repulsion between those negatively-charged electrons would overpower the gravitational force. The result would be that gravity could not pull any mass together. If gravity could not pull masses together, there would be no planets, no stars, no galaxies. Electromagnetic repulsion would create a universe of dispersed particles and nothing else.
We are amazed to realize that everything in the world around us is made up of fewer than 100 different chemical elements. Those elements are combined to form vast numbers of different compounds, and those compounds come together to make up everything including air, soil, plants, and our bodies.
Even more amazing is that those chemical elements are all made up of the same three particles called protons, electrons, and neutrons. The only difference between the elements is the quantity of each of the particles in their atoms. The periodic table gives an organized way to look at the elements based on the number of protons in the nucleus of each atom. It shows all of the natural elements plus more than 20 others that have been created in laboratories with particle accelerators–machines that smash atoms together.
The natural chemical elements range from hydrogen with only one proton to uranium which has 92. The periodic table, first conceived in the nineteenth century, shows which elements react similarly with other elements to form chemical compounds. The ability of the various elements to combine with other element makes possible every compound which makes up every substance on Earth.
Each atom of each element has protons in the center called a nucleus and electrons surrounding the nucleus in “shells.” The atoms of some elements also have neutrons in the nucleus. The strong interaction in the nucleus binds the protons and neutrons together. At the same time, the electrical or Coulomb force causes the protons to repel each other. As the number of protons approaches 100 or more, the repelling force overcomes the attracting force, and the atom becomes unstable. For that reason, the larger atoms only exist in the laboratory and only for very short times.
If you could add the mass of all of the protons, neutrons, and electrons in an atom, you would find that the total mass is more than the mass of the atom itself. That extra mass is found in the energy that binds the nucleus together. Einstein’s famous equation E=mc^2 indicates that matter and energy are different forms of the same thing. In other words, the extra mass has become the energy that binds the nucleus together.