Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Did We Blow Up This Morning?

The CERN collaboration's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) sent beams of protons flying around its 27 km length in each direction over the weekend, and Monday saw them run two beams simultaneously and slam them into one another, producing the collider's first ever particle collisions. It would appear that any time-traveling quantum bird sent by the Higgs boson was unable to disrupt yesterday's run.

Last fall, the LHC team came close to reaching this same milestone, but fell short when a massive quench failure damaged a number of the superconducting magnets that are used to help guide, accelerate, and squeeze the beams of particles as they move around the tunnel. This failure occurred only nine days after the first particles were circulated, but was only one in a series of setbacks that the collider would experience. Broken support structures, helium leaks,  and frayed wiring all required that the equipment be warmed up from the frosty operating conditions of 1.8 Kelvin. The most recent mishap involved a bird dropping bread into an electrical transformer. All of this has caused some to speculate that the Higgs boson—the elusive particle that is the basis of mass—is actually causing these failures to occur from the future. Presumably from its fortress of doom and solitude.

OK, there's some "inside baseball" that needs to be explained here.  The Higgs boson is a theoretical particle...OK, it's a particle that's predicted to exist but has never been seen (and this is the easy stuff to explain!)... and is a key particle to many cosmologic theories. Indeed, the Higgs boson has been linked to the origin of mass in the universe, it's that fundamental a piece of the subatomic picture.
Without it, in other words, Jonah Goldberg wouldn't be fat. Under the theory, the Higgs works like molasses through which one might drag, say, a pearl necklace, to which the molasses now sticks adding weight and mass.
The Higgs is also called the God Particle, because of this mechanism, distorted by the media, of course. No one has seen a Higgs, just as no one has seen God.
Naturally, in a semi-serious paper, a couple of scientists postulated that to create a Higgs would so endanger the planet that the Higgs itself would reach back and destroy the attempt.
Hmmmmmmmmmmmm. Of course, the beauty of this prediction is that it can only be disproven if in fact a Higgs is produced, and of course, the world ends or Cthulhu shows up.
But I digress...
The implications of the appearance of a Higgs are so wide ranging, it would be next to impossible to even begin to list them here. Suffice it to say that, indeed, it would account for nearly every aspect of why (not just how) you are sitting there, reading this blog.