Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dark Matter, Energy and The God Particle

The CERN went online this morning deep in the ground at a site outside Geneva, Switzerland, "The first beam in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was successfully steered around the full 27 kilometres of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator at 10h28 this morning."

This project has seen a lot of controversy, or as one blog put it, "Theoretical physics has not been so sexy since Oppenheimer designed the atomic bomb..."

As I understand it, and I have only read about this project in a very casual manner, the worry here centers around the possibility of an untoward result out of the method being used for smashing sub-atomic particles together will create a black hole, and that said black hole will then devour the earth from the inside, out.

See, all we're capable of seeing (not that we CAN see, but that of which we're CAPABLE of seeing - big difference) is a mere 4% of the Universe, with the remaining 96% taken up by intergalactic gas, dark matter, and dark energy. Dark Matter is hypothetical matter that does not interact with the electromagnetic force, but whose presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter. Dark Energy is a force stretching space and expanding the Universe, inferred by its gravitational effects. Deep stuff, huh? Just think of it this way; the stars and planets you can see when you look at the night sky are part of the 4%, the blackness is the other 96%. Strikes me that the terms "dark matter" and "dark energy" are a lot like a miscellaneous file - due to ignorance, we simply haven't yet quantified the appropriate layers of granularity. I really liked this line from David B. Cline in Scientific American, "It has been noted that the names "dark matter" and "dark energy" serve mainly as expressions of human ignorance, much as the marking of early maps with "terra incognita."

A far better explanation than that I have provided, including a nicely articulate video and links for further study, can be found at The Independent.

But there's good news and bad about The End of the World as We Know It. The good news? CERN is up and running and you're reading this. I.e.; the world's still right here and I can still get a good cup of coffee. The bad news? If there IS a problem (a black hole or some other scary fallout), the world is slowly going away as you read this, so you might WANT to get a good cup of coffee while you still can.

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