Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not swallowed by a black hole yet!

Being an Astronomy teacher, I have been getting a lot of people asking about "this new thing in Europe that might end the world." I thought I would take a stab at addressing this concern.

What everyone is asking about is the LHC.
Taken from LHC 2008
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a gigantic scientific instrument near Geneva, where it spans the border between Switzerland and France about 100 m underground. It is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things. It will revolutionise our understanding, from the minuscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the Universe.

What the heck is that all about you may ask? If you wanted to study a grandfather clock but did not have the tools to take it apart, the next best thing would be to smash it to bits, then examine all the pieces. This is what a particle accelerator does. It smashes stuff.

We have been using particle accelerators for decades, what makes this different? It's all about horsepower. A particle accelerator is essentially a super smashing machine. They get two protons going around a race track in opposite directions at very high speeds and then smash them together. This smashing, breaks them into parts. The problem up until now has been that we were not smashing them fast enough or did not have enough power to smash bigger, heavier particles. Now we do. They plan to smash ions of lead. (heavy stuff)

What is all talk about danger? Since the LHC will be smashing particles and simulating energy levels = to the big bang, there is concern that a black hole may be created and thus the earth and surrounding space gobbled up. At first, some Physicists put the chances of that happening at 1/300,000,000,000. Now they have revised that number to "insignificant."

What do we hope to learn? With the ability to smash stuff better, we hope to identify a new particle that would explain why the standard model is not complete. The problem we have with physics is that big stuff and really small stuff do not follow the same rules. (As an example, electromagnetism is very strong but gravity is not. According to the standard model, they should be the same. On a small scale, gravity works fine. Gravity keeps our moon from flying away. On really big scales, it does not do what it should. For some unknown reason, distant galaxies are actually accelerating away from us. Kind of like a reverse gravity.) The scientists at CERN hope to discover a particle that would explain certain shortcomings of the standard model. Some physicists have been calling this particle "The God Particle." Other call it the "Higgs-Boson particle."

All this talk of death and destruction is once again... the media. Every night reporters need to fill 30 minutes... even if nothing else happened that day. (Same as my post on Bigfoot last month) Most people will tune in if they think the world might end but not if they might learn something new.Check out that sweet camera jib.

1 comment:

Acorn Caron said...

Jim! I did not know you were an astronomy teacher! I love astronomy, I took lots of classes in high school! Also: I met another teacher from Sunny Side who's running a club on campus (can't remember the name) but I know he's a Christian and that thirteen of his students are going on a missions trip to Africa with him. I asked him if he knew you and he said he did! This is the coolest thing happening at sunny side- don't you think? Also did you hear that The Well is going to be opening up a night service there on Sundays starting October 5th? It just seems as though God is exploding from the seams onto that campus! How exciting! I get so excited when I hear all these things about sunnyside and know that God has placed you there and countless other teachers on the capmus as well. How Cool!!!! tell your wifey and chillen I say hi!