Stories tagged super colliders

Jul
01
2008

But what a way to go!: Look! I can see my house! Right on the center left, being sucked into an ultra dense, inescapable mass!
But what a way to go!: Look! I can see my house! Right on the center left, being sucked into an ultra dense, inescapable mass!Courtesy NASA
So, what? You wanted to live forever?

Oh, you did? Er…even at the expense of scientific enterprise? Whatever. Deal with it, crybaby, because me and my little Strangelet are going to wring this planet dry.

Do you remember the Large Hadron Collider? No? We posted about it this spring on Science Buzz. It’s a recently completed supercollider in France and Switzerland—the largest supercollider in the world, with a 17-mile circumference. Protons will be blasted through the device so fast that they’ll make the entire circuit 11,000 times per second (which is about the speed of light, I believe). When two streams of protons meet, some of them will collide, and smash apart. At that point two huge detectors will attempt to gather data on just what comes out of the destroyed protons. The hope is that when the machine is switched on in August, we’ll make some fantastic discoveries about the most basic (and yet mysterious) elements of matter.

Oh, and the world might be instantly destroyed. I didn’t mention that last time? Huh. I suppose it just slipped my mind because, you know, who wants to live forever, right?

Some people (read: crybabies) are very concerned that the colliding particles could form a micro-black hole, which could either evaporate instantly, or gobble up the earth. Whoops! There’s some thought that the collider might also produce a spicy little devil we call the “strangelet.”

Stranglets are, it should be said, hypothetical—they’ve never actually been observed. A strangelet is basically a tiny piece of “strange matter,” stuff made up of the same components of regular vanilla matter, but in a unique configuration (equal amounts of up, down, and strange quarks, for those of you in to…quarks, I guess). The fear is that, where a strangelet to come into contact with regular matter on Earth, it could convert that matter into another strangelet, which would convert other matter into strangelets, until the whole of Earth would be turned into a big ball of hot strange matter. Which would just be the pits.

A particular group of people was so worried about the repercussions of turning on the LHC that they actually filed an injunction against its operators. The lawsuit was dismissed, on account of the defenders of humanity just “needing to chill out.”

The plaintiffs claimed that the odds of the LHC creating a global catastrophe are about one in fifty-million—about the same as winning the lottery, but that happens from time to time. Not to me, though.

The scientists behind the LHC, however, argue that the odds are much lower than that even, if not zero. Collisions like those planned for the LHC occur naturally every second, as cosmic rays smack into the earth, and so far everything is all right. Furthermore, should something like a micro-black hole be formed, mega-eggheads like Stephen Hawking predict that it would instantly turn to nothing.

And that’s kind of the thing—some of the world’s biggest smarty-pants are working on this project, and they aren’t concerned. That has to mean something, right? Then again, according to The Incredible Hulk, many scientists aren’t all that concerned about their own certain, imminent death, so long as they get to do some crazy experiments. And I trust comic books implicitly, so who knows.

Apr
09
2008

This is embarrassing: Come on people! Let's get it together! They could show up any day now!
This is embarrassing: Come on people! Let's get it together! They could show up any day now!Courtesy Bifford The Youngest
All this time I’ve been saying that we’re living in the future, and now I’ve been made to look like a damn fool.

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.

A wormhole: English majors fall into it and die.
A wormhole: English majors fall into it and die.Courtesy Benji64
According 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.

Another school of though on time travel.