Sunday, September 07, 2008

looking up, yeast, particles

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Chimney and finials.

At Sainsbury's bread counter, the assistant says in reply to my request for 50 grams of yeast, "I'll have to go round the back". He returns with a large parcel, which he opens. Inside is another smaller parcel. He opens this one and slices off my 50 grams of fresh, brewers yeast, rather like grey, crumbly Plasticine. What a lot of yeast!

On September 10 they are going to open and switch on the Hadron Collider on (or more specifically beneath) the borders of France and Switzerland and initiate what has been described as the biggest scientific experiment ever. Essentially, a tube 27 km long, the collider aims to recreate conditions a trillionth of a second after the big bang which kicked off the universe - galaxies, dark matter, black holes, suns, planets, you and me - 13.7 billion years ago, apparently from virtually nothing.
To ask the question what precisely went bang, is to ask a silly question, unless of course the collider experiment will tell us. Maybe it will reveal that 13.7 billion years ago, some over curious civilisation built a hadron collider on an obscure planet in an obscure galaxy to see what would happen ....
The idea is to accelerate particles called hadrons towards each other at speeds close to the speed of light, and see what happens when they collide. People in the know say that there is only a minuscule chance that the resulting impact will create another big bang of the same dimensions as the first, and replace the old universe, ourselves included, with new one, ourselves excluded. Nothing is too far fetched. we know so little.
There is something fascinating as well as chilling about the thought. Bang. Goodbye Shakespeare, Confucius, Socrates, Goethe, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Manchester United, in no particular order. Goodbye elephants, fruit flies, gorillas, whales, butterflies, nasty two-legged primates with over sized brains. Bang. A minuscule chance is a minuscule chance. So, on a purely personal basis, I am relieved to read that although the collider will be switched on this week, the hadrons will all be moving in the same direction. Not until next month, it seems, will the collisions start. By which time we ( some of us) will have our holiday behind us.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

Lovely meditation on the universe! Perhaps it will start the universe afresh but we won't notice, just carry on in a different one that feels the same...