Courtesy HillarieSo, I’m sure y’all have heard the news by now. The Large Hadron Collider, the largest and most elaborate scientific device ever built, has broken again. And it never even got the chance to end the world.
See, many people believe that the LHC’s attempts to catch a glimpse at the forbidden knowledge of the universe could, like a nerd’s efforts to peek into a locker room of large and aggressively athletic members of the opposite sex, go terribly wrong. Earth-endingly wrong. Sure, pretty much everyone who knows anything about it says that the LHC really isn’t dangerous in that way, and the odds that it would cause a chain reaction that would destroy the world are about the same as its chances of creating an army of teenage mutant ninja turtles. (There simply aren’t enough karate-practicing teenage turtles out there to mutate!) But that doesn’t seem to matter, because every time they try to turn that sucker on, something goes wrong, and we keep getting robbed of our first row seats at the end of the world (or, alternately, our seeding in the ninja reptile tournaments).
Do you know what killed the project most recently? I think you do, if you read this post’s headline. A bird. A little bird dropped its delicious toast on a piece of outdoor equipment (most of the LHC is deep underground). Presumably it was a bird, anyway. Whatever the case, a mystery slice of baguette found its way to some important equipment that was not baguette-proof, causing the machine to rise a few important degrees in temperature.
The damage caused to the machine wasn’t catastrophic. It shut down as the temperature in the circuit increased, which is a good thing, because if the LHC had been fully operational at the time, such an increase in temperature could have caused the superconducting magnets in the particle accelerator to become less-superconducting, and then all that energy from the near-light speed particles would… crash. Boom. But that didn’t happen, and the LHC should be up and running this winter.
A month ago, the internets were alive with discussion over the theory that the Large Hadron Collider was being sabotaged… by the future!
Naturally I ignored this news, because Science Buzz doesn’t credit nonsense like this with attention, and, what’s more, I’m familiar with the concept of someone at one point in time sabotaging his self at another point in time, and I know that it only goes the other way. Trying drinking something named after a cartoon at the end of an evening, and you’ll see what I mean.
I don’t totally get the idea behind this time travel sabotage theory, but the basic premise is that the universe, or “God,” or the fundamental forces of physics, or whathaveyou, aren’t into the possibility that the LHC could create a Higgs Boson. The Higgs is an important theoretical particle that sort of… ties the room together, if we’re calling the whole universe a room. Experiments at the LHC are trying to create conditions in which a Higgs might be observed. However, say a couple of respected scientist dudes, it could be that the Higgs is so “abhorrent to nature” that its creation would send ripples back in time to prevent it from being created.
Leaving aside the exact mechanics of time ripples, let’s consider what’s happening here. As we all know, while killing your own grandfather is often temptingly within reach, going back in time to kill your own grandfather is impossible. It could just be that no one is owning up to doing it, but the situation also describes a paradox: if you were to travel back in time to kill your grandfather, he couldn’t have created your mom or dad, who, in turn, couldn’t have created you, so you couldn’t go back in time to kill him, so… you get the idea. One might think that the universe attempting to undo the creation of a Higgs boson presents a similar paradox—if the creation of the boson is what causes it to destroy the equipment before it can be created, it would never be created, and therefore couldn’t destroy the equipment that creates it. Bleh. On the other hand, the scientists say, while you can’t kill your grandpa in the past (darn!) you can, say, push him out of the way of a speeding bus. Yay! (Unless the event of your grandpa’s bus-related death was the sole inspiration for your time traveling adventures.) The setbacks in the LHC’s operations, say the theorists, could be the universe trying to push us out of the way of a speeding bus, as it were. But what about the Higgs is so abominable? They aren’t sure about that.
It seems to me that there are still some brain-twisting complications in that theory. Cause and Effect, I think, are going to have difficult time sorting out whose clothes are whose in the morning. But… come on! A bird dropped some bread on the LHC! Since when do birds drop things on things? It has to be time-traveling mischief.
It turns out that this isn’t the future at all. It’s only, like, the present. Or maybe even the past. God, I feel so trashy. It’s like when I spent all that time walking around in my cool sweat pants, and then it turned out that sweat pants were, you know, never cool.
How do I know it’s not the future now? Because pretty soon a huge new piece of science may make time travel possible. Not from now to the past, but from the future to now…making us the past. It’s too much! It’s like we’re stuck at the lame table in the lunchroom!
Deep breaths… I’ll back up here.
This summer will see the completion of the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, “the most powerful atom smasher ever built.” Now, as usual, this atom smasher is all about studying the weirdest, most dizzyingly small pieces of existence, but the most relevant upshot of this (as far as JGordon is concerned) has to do with time travel.
Some scientists think that when the energies of the LHC are concentrated into a subatomic particle, the fabric of space and time—“spacetime,” to save a valuable wordbreak—may do something embarrassing, like rip its pants. (Check out a link or two on spacetime if you feel like getting punched in the lobe.) This rip in the pants of spacetime can be characterized, rather unfortunately, as a wormhole.
Courtesy Benji64According to one school of thought over time travel, a wormhole might be used to travel through time. Or, really, as a shortcut through time, since we’re all kind of traveling through time anyway. The idea, as best I can manage it, is that one end of the wormhole exists when it was created, the present (I like to think of this as “inside the pants”), and the other end is accelerated to some point in the future (“Outside the pants,” if you will).
No, I take it back. As much as I like to think of the future as outside my pants, maybe it’s better to think of it like this: We, in this god-awful, no flying cars present, somewhere in the left leg of the pants. The future, in all its pill-meal, robot-pet glory exists in the right pant leg. Now, to reach this corduroy promise land, we could just walk up the left leg and down the right leg like a bunch of saps (or wait for it to come to us, seeing as how we’re dealing with time) or we could build a Large Hadron Collider, something that could punch a hole right through the fabric of the pant leg, so we could just hop from one leg to the other, without screwing around on all that inseam.
What this means, if we’re talking about time again, and not pants, is that we haven’t so much created a time machine as a tunnel through time. This theory also explains why we haven’t had any travelers from the future yet: because while they might have the technology to keep their end of the wormhole open and traversable (which would require a sort of energy we mostly only theorize about at the moment), they can only go as far back as the original creation of the wormhole, which is now (or possibly this summer). My own theory as to why no tourists from the future have shown up here is a little more simple—why would anyone from the future want to come here? It’d be like someone who lives in Disneyworld (Mickey Mouse?) going to Fargo for vacation.
But who knows? Maybe this summer we can all get our pictures taken by people from the future.
Physicist John Cramer at the University of Washington has an idea. He believes that certain sub-atomic phenomena can best be explained if information can travel backwards in time. And his idea has created enough of a buzz on the Internet that private citizens are funding his work after normal, government funding sources turned him down.
It’s all about something called the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox. If certain sub-atomic particles are split, the two halves still react to one another instantaneously, even if they are separated by immense distances. Since the two particles are not connected in space, Cramer figures they must be connected in time. He has an idea for a small-scale experiment to see if his concept is even feasible, but none of the big agencies would bite.
But when word got out, various individuals who thought the idea was cool started sending in money. Cramer now hopes to get his first experiment up and running in July. If it works, he will then approach the big agencies again – this time, with a track record of success.