Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When Worlds Collide

The attempt to either unravel the mystery of life, the universe and everything, or the final nail in humanity's coffin, is underway in Switzerland:
September 9, 2008 (Computerworld) With the world's biggest physics experiment ready to fire up tomorrow, scientists from around the world are hoping to find answers to a question that has haunted mankind for centuries: How was the universe created?

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which has been under construction for 20 years, will shoot its first beam of protons around a 17-mile, vacuum-sealed loop at a facility that sits astride the Franco-Swiss border. The test run of what is the largest, most powerful particle accelerator in the world, is a forebear to the coming time when scientists will accelerate two particle beams toward each other at 99.9% of the speed of light.

Smashing the beams together will create showers of new particles that should re-create conditions in the universe just moments after its conception.
First off, just let that soak in for a moment: attaining speeds of 99.9% of the speed of light. That's a pretty astounding achievement, considering the relativistic properties of high speeds: mass increases in direct proportion to the percentage of light speed an object attains. Theoretically, a particle should become infinitely massive at the speed of light. That means, based on simple physics, it needs an irresistible force to move it.

Just imagine, then, when the particles collide, the amount of energy they will shed. What scientists are hoping will happen is the release of what is commonly referred to as dark matter and dark energy, which we have not been able to observe as yet, but which fill in some serious holes (no pun intended) in our theoretical constructs of the universe.

Dark matter and dark energy would be enough to offset the continued expansion of the universe until distances become so great that, in effect, the universe dies of extreme cold. With dark matter and energy factored in, the universe's expansion reverses gravitationally and collapses back into a new singul-- OK, this is getting too technical even for me.

Suffice it to say that it would be possible for a new universe to rise out of the ashes of this one if it collapses, and it might be possible to send information to the new universe that would allow us to pick up where we left off, so to speak. With a inifinitely expanding universe, there would likely not be continuing life after a time.

Too, the experiment hopes to prove the existence of the Higgs boson, the so-called God Particle, which is an elementary particle predicted by...well, let's just say that it disappeared just after the Big Bang, and may be responsible for things like gravity and electromagnetism, to keep it simple.

Naturally, an experiment of this scale does not come without criticism and guess what? Some of it is insane!
As the time for tomorrow's experiment has neared, rumors have increasingly circulated around the Internet that the experiments might destroy the universe by accidentally creating a black hole that would suck everything and everyone into it.

CERN released a report late last week saying that safety fears about the LHC are "unfounded." CERN Director General Robert Aymar was quoted as saying that any suggestion that there's a risk is "pure fiction."
I asked Professor Lawrence Lerner of UC-Long Beach about what the size of a hypothetical black hole created in a hadron collider might be and how long it would take to eat the Earth.

Dr. Lerner ran some quick calculations and assumed a black hole equal to the mass of the colliding beams of protons, and deduced that it would take upwards of a billion years for a black hole of that mass to eat enough of the planet to have a noticeable effect.

A billion years.

Surprisingly, the people who are most vested in this experiment, apart from physicists, have been strangely silent: evangelicals and other religious types.

As a Christian and a fan of science, I am all for expanding our knowledge of science, and solving the mysteries before us. I believe that God charged us with this when he said to take dominion over the land and seas and animals around us, not to conquer and subdue (altho Genesis uses terms similar) but to understand them, to appreciate them and to find His hand in them.

Ultimately, I believe that science and religion can reconcile themselves. Ultimately, there will come a point when the fundamental laws that govern the universe break down and the resulting chaos is indistinguishable from random chance, except it becomes clear that there is indeed no random chance involved, but some form of structure and organization.

It is there we will find God, finally. I think he'll be quite happy to see us!