An email from Sky Harbor:
I read today of the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) exceeding previous energy levels at a 1.18 TeV (Trillion electron Volts)… suffice it to say that you wouldn’t want to be standing nearby when protons and anti-protons accelerated to such energies actually collide:
While this is a significant milestone, exceeding previously energy levels achieved by the U.S. Fermi Lab’s Tevatron, the LHC is just getting warmed up. The massive new collider is designed to reach energies in excess of 6 TeV over the next few years. By accelerating protons (and negatively charged anti-protons in the opposite direction) to very near light speed, physicists hope to reproduce tiny equivalents of the nearly unimaginable energies present in the microseconds following the ‘Big Bang’… currently believed to have occurred about 13.7 Billion years ago.
Why on Earth would anyone want to do this? What’s the big deal?
Well, the full answer would likely bore most people to tears, but very briefly, the eggheads are attempting to prove (or disprove) theoretic ideas about the ‘unification’ of forces. Previous atom smashers have shown that 3 of the 4 fundamental forces observed today (electro-magnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces) were ‘unified’ as a single ‘force’ shortly after the Big Bang, and only split as ‘symmetry was broken’ in the cooling aftermath of creation. But the force of ‘gravity’ has proven to be a stubborn ‘hold out’, requiring previously unattainable energies to force its unification with the other 3 forces. The main idea is that ALL forces were once ONE force and only ‘split off’ from each other as things began to expand and cool.
So the ‘big deal’ with CERN’s Large Hadron* Collider is that physicists hope to produce for a very brief moment the very massive particle that transmits the force of gravity. This theorised particle is called the ‘Higgs Boson’, and it is thought to impart ‘mass’ to matter. Obviously, without mass, things just wouldn’t work the way that they do… in fact, things probably wouldn’t work at all. So it really is important to show that we really do understand what we think we do by proving the existence of this elusive ‘Higgs Boson’. Conversely, if the Higgs doesn’t exist, our physics has a serious problem!
Unfortunately, some wag scientist made the mistake in an interview of calling the postulated Higgs Boson the ‘God Particle’. In a well-meant but misguided effort to ‘jazz up’ the admittedly dry vocabulary of particle physics for the popular press, he or she imparted unintended religious implications to a purely scientific concept. Yes, Higgs is fundamental to our understanding of the Universe (multiverse?), but will tell us NOTHING about the existence or lack thereof of God! So while ‘God Particle’ makes for good ink, as a description it is misleading in the extreme. Oops.
Also, much has been made of the possibility of producing ‘black holes’ with the LHC. Unfortunately this has led to uninformed speculation that CERN might ‘destroy the world’, causing the Earth to be sucked into some manufactured black hole! SCARY, no? Well, NO. Not a chance. It IS just possible that ‘micro black holes’ could be produced, but they would ‘evaporate’ nearly instantly. So while such results would be of interest and prove unequivocally the existence of ‘black holes’, they couldn’t cause any damage. So don’t stay up worrying about it. There are lots of all too real things to concern ourselves with!
Per aspera ad astra…