Will ‘Big Bang’ bring us mass or mess?
Sep 2 2008 by Steve Dube, Western Mail
WATCH out next week for the Big Bang. Hopefully this will not take place in the vicinity of Georgia, where Big Bunkum is currently being performed with heaps of hypocrisy and phoney baloney.
Over there it’s people as pawns in the kind of game politicians everywhere love – claiming moral superiority while thumping a big drum. More of the same in other words.
In contrast, next week’s Big Bang is almost – but not quite – a one-off. It’s an attempt to duplicate conditions that existed one-billionth of a second after the Big Bang that scientists believe – to the chagrin of fundamental Christians – created the universe. It’s all going to happen on September 10 at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research and the largest centre of particle physics research in the world.
Scientists there will switch on something they call the Large Hadron Collider, which will smash particles together at speeds 99.99% of the speed of light. This is their way of trying to answer some of the greatest mysteries in particle physics.
It’s taken 20 years of preparation, 10 billion dollars and more than 10,000 scientists from 70 countries and been described as the greatest scientific endeavour since the Apollo moon landings – and something that will herald a new era in our understanding of the universe.
In a world that sometimes seems to totter uncertainly between delight and destruction, this is good news. Every morning as we wake we wonder whether the day will bring us answers to the questions that nag away at the back of our minds. What is mass? What is dark matter, that invisible but apparently massive substance that fills the universe? Why is there no antimatter? What is an antimacassar? Are extra dimensions and parallel universes fact or science fiction?
Next week we may find out the answers to all of those questions, except the one that can already be found in a dictionary, when the Large Hadron Collider is switched on and two hadrons– beams of sub-atomic particles made up of either protons or lead ions – start to whizz around in opposite directions inside a giant ring-shaped tunnel 27 kilometres in circumference that runs 100 metres below the Swiss/French countryside. The particles will be smashed together 600 million times per second, and the results recorded and observed by four huge detectors placed in chambers the size of cathedrals deep underground.
The experiment will generate 40,000 gigabytes of data each day, which will be analysed by a virtual supercomputer made up of 100,000 processors around the world linked by the internet.
Like what’s happening in Georgia at the moment, we ordinary folk can only stand by and watch – and hope they know what they’re doing.