Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Goodbye and thanks for all the fish

July 14, Bastille Day to those of you searching desperately for a reason to get sloshed on good wine, is D-Day for the Large Hadron Collider. That’s when the 50,000 tons of magnets in the collider are expected to be chilled to -456.3 degrees Fahrenheit, colder than deep space.

As Scientific American points out, the magnets have to be that cold in order to be “ready to whip opposing beams of protons to near light speed and collide them so researchers can pick over the debris.

The collider, in a 17-mile-long ring built underground near the Swiss-French border, is designed to recreate, however, briefly, conditions that existed near the time of the Big Bang. Or to put it in Scientific American’s more understandable terms:

The LHC was built first and foremost to seek out a subatomic particle called the Higgs boson, which solves the conundrum of why the photon (the particle that conveys the force of electromagnetism) has no mass, whereas its counterparts, the W and Z bosons (the operative particles in the weak nuclear force that causes radioactive decay), do.

Physicists believe that the Higgs breaks a symmetry between these forces, similar to the way Earth's gravity makes it appear that space has an up and a down. It does so by acting like molasses that other particles have to plow through. The end result is mass as we know it.


Scientists also are looking for the particles responsible for dark matter and an answer to why there is so much more matter than anti-matter in the universe.
Just to make things interesting, a group of folks, including some scientists, is suing in Hawaii (don’t ask) to stop the flipping of the collider’s switch. They claim that it could actually create a black hole that would swallow earth. I personally think it would be kinda cool to die in a massive black hole. I’m guessing you just get squished, but what I know about physics could fit inside a Higgs boson.

Anyway, the scientists working on the LHC were remarkably calm as they uttered their comforting words regarding that possibility: “We don’t think that will happen.”
If we’re talking end of the world kinda stuff, I’d sure like something more definitive than that.

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