Scientists celebrated at the world's biggest atom smasher at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva on Tuesday as they started colliding particles at record energy levels mimicking conditions close to the Big Bang, opening a new era in the quest for the secrets of the universe.
The universe’s smallest known binary, with by far the shortest known orbital period, has been confirmed by an international team of astronomers, and they likely hold the key to directly detecting space-time distortion for the first time ever. The two stars in the binary HM Cancri revolve around each other in a mere 5.4 minutes. (This means the entire system is no larger than a quarter of the distance from the Earth to the Moon.) HM Cancri was first noticed over a decade ago, but the orbital period seemed so ridiculously short that astronomers were reluctant to accept the possibility without solid proof. Turns out that our Universe is home to some pretty extreme systems.
Protons and neutrons melted to produce ‘quark-gluon plasma’ at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a 2.4-mile-circumference “atom smasher” at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. This event establishes that collisions of gold ions traveling at nearly the speed of light have created matter at a temperature of about 4 trillion degrees Celsius — the hottest temperature ever reached in a laboratory, about 250,000 times hotter than the center of the Sun. This temperature is higher than the temperature needed to melt protons and neutrons into a plasma of quarks and gluons -a truly remarkable new form of matter.
The Large Hadron Collider is working its way up to full power, the most eagerly anticipated activation of anything Times Square's balloon drop on December 31st 1999. Many are eagerly anticipating the Higgs boson, while a few lunatics scream that spacetime will rip (so you should send them money), but a made-up sounding particle could steal the show. Will 2010 be the year of the Neutralino?
It might read like proof that particle physicists just mash their keyboard and call the result real, but the neutralino could be proof positive of supersymmetry, a theory which makes the Standard Model - core of subatomic science - look like the blurb on the back of the real book. The supersymmetric theory explains all sorts of problems with current theory by doubling the number of subatomic particles. Then claiming that most of them ran away.
Study of the stars has always driven mankind forward. From the earliest urge to look above ourselves, when Orion's Belt truly belonged to an immense being above us, through navigation of the seas in exploration of our own planet, to untangling spacetime itself, the sky has always showered us with information. Now some say space could show us the legendary Higgs boson -for free.
CalTech's Sean Carroll at Google shows that the kind of matter with which we are familiar -- atoms and molecules, and indeed every particle we have ever created in a laboratory -- only makes up about 5% of the universe. Another 25% is dark matter, a kind of particle that is massive and weakly interacting. The remaining 70% is dark energy, which is not even a particle -- it's a smoothly-distributed energy field that remains persistent in density even as the universe expands. The quest to understand dark matter and dark energy is the most important task of twenty-first century cosmology.
The Large Hadron Collider is spooling back up to science-speeds, circulating particle beams last week and looking at ramping up the power to productive levels even now, and you know what that means? No, not particle physics, or an increases in human knowledge, or even pieces of a new understanding of how the universe operates - it's time for the more vapid scaremongering! Which is why we're lucky we've got Gizmodo to give such a perfect example!
Some scientists are already looking beyond the Large Hadron Collider and onto the next generation of ultimega-atom-smasher. That's because scientists actually plan things and can concentrate for longer than four seconds, unlike the mass media which reports on them. One potential particle pulverising system is a muon collider: the latest concept in the cutting edge that parts particles.
It might seems spoiled to be calling for another multimillion dollar megacollider when the latest one hasn't even started, but the LHC is no Deep Thought: they aren't going to turn it on and have the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything (eventually) tumble out. Whatever the results of the proton-pounding experiments underneath the Franco-Swiss border there are whole swathes of the high-energy particle spectrum still out of reach - and which we want to look at next will be determined by the LHC.
Scientists are eagerly anticipating the ROSETTA probe's next pass of Earth, because they know that something they don't know about might happen. Probes passing by Earth to pick up a gravitational slingshot have been experiencing unexplained extra accelerations, and the reasons could reveal fundamental facts of existence - if we ever work them out.