“A poet once said “The whole universe is in a glass of wine.” We will probably never know in what sense he meant that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imaginations adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the Earth’s rocks, and in its composition we see the secret of the universe’s age, and the evolution of the stars. What strange array of chemicals are there in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts — physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on — remember that Nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!”
The New Quantum Universe (2003) by Tony Hey and Patrick Walters; Epilogue. (Originally, from “The Feynman Lectures on Physics,” by Feynman, Leighton and Sands.)
Estimated to be no more than three times Jupiter’s mass, the planet, called Fomalhaut b, orbits the bright southern star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Austrinus (the Southern Fish).
Fomalhaut has been a candidate for planet hunting ever since an excess of dust was discovered around the star in the early 1980s by the US- UK-Dutch Infrared Astronomy Satellite (IRAS).
A truly amazing discovery. 25 light years! Wow. For once I am uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
I wasn’t going to write or post anything else on this subject as, frankly, all the doomsayers, conspiracy theorists and end of world prophets are beginning to get up my nose somewhat. I appreciate the hits they’re giving me, but I’d rather they were reading my novel samples instead! LOL
However, I today read this piece on BBC News’ LHC introduction and felt I had to quote at least part of it. The piece in question is an interview with Professor Brian Cox — the physicist, I believe, responsible for the Atlas experiment, a significant part of the work that will be done at the LHC. He pretty much says, with far more knowledge and authority than I, what I’ve been repeatedly trying to say over the past week or so.
“Q: Safety Concerns
Cern have been confident in the prediction that there are no major risks associated with the LHC’s operation. How robust is this prediction? In particular, how reliant is it upon unsupported theoretical assumptions? (Chris)
Okay, so how do we know this thing won’t make planet Earth implode then? (Stephen)
A: Let me answer all of these at once.
The LHC has absolutely no chance of destroying anything bigger than a few protons, let alone the Earth. This is not based on theoretical assumptions.
It is, of course, essential that all scientific research at the frontiers of knowledge, from genetics to particle physics, is subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny to ensure that our voyages into the unknown do not result in unforeseen, perhaps dangerous outcomes.
Cern, and indeed all research establishments, do this routinely and to the satisfaction of their host governments. In the case of the LHC, a report in plain English is available here:
For the record, the LHC collides particles together at energies far below those naturally occurring in many places in the Universe, including the upper atmosphere of our planet every second of every day.
If the LHC can produce micro black holes, for example, then nature is doing it right now by smashing ultra-high energy cosmic ray particles into the Earth directly above our heads with no discernable consequences.
The overwhelmingly most likely explanation for our continued existence in the face of this potentially prolific production of black holes is that they aren’t produced at all because there are either no extra dimensions in the Universe, or they aren’t set up right for us to see them.
If black holes are being produced, then next on the list of explanations for our continued existence is the broad theoretical consensus that sub-atomic black holes should fizzle back into the Universe very quickly, billionths of a second after they are created in a little flash of particles via a process known as Hawking radiation.
In other words, they evaporate away very quickly indeed. This process, which is perhaps Steven Hawking’s greatest contribution to theoretical physics, is on significantly firmer theoretical ground than the extra dimensions theories required to create the little black holes in the first place.
Even if Hawking is wrong, and therefore much of our understanding of modern physics is also wrong, the little black holes would be so tiny that they would rarely come close enough to a particle of matter in the Earth to eat it and grow.
And even if you don’t buy any of this, then you can still relax in the knowledge that we have no evidence anywhere in the Universe of a little black hole eating anything – not just Earth but the Sun and planets and every star we can see in the sky, including the immensely dense neutron stars and white dwarfs, remnants of ancient Suns that populate the sky in their millions and which because of their density would make great black hole food.
So – the only theoretical bit is in the proposition that you can make little black holes in the first place. From then on, observation tells us that these things either (a) don’t exist – the most likely explanation; or (b) exist, but do not eat neutron stars and are therefore harmless, probably because they evaporate away very quickly indeed!
I am in fact immensely irritated by the conspiracy theorists who spread this nonsense around and try to scare people. This non-story is symptomatic of a larger mistrust in science, particularly in the US, which includes intelligent design amongst other things.
The only serious issue is why so many people who don’t have the time or inclination to discover for themselves why this stuff is total crap have to be exposed to the opinions of these half-wits. (BC) “
I especially like that final paragraph! Well said, Brian.
The full interview can be seen here, with an interactive introduction to the LHC here.
Well, it seems that my post from last month, Tenth of September 2008 — The End of the World?, is currently the Hawt post on WordPress (well, it was… briefly!) I think this means it’s the top post, or one of them, something like that. 🙂 I’m sitting here watching my stats with my mouth open. The hysteria that seems to have prompted the number of hits that this post is getting is, frankly… well, words actually fail me. I’ve been discussing this for days, watching the cyber-panic grow and grow, and it’s starting to get rather exhausting LOL. Consequently, I’ve closed comments on the post in question and will only be letting a limited few through on related posts. I don’t like doing this, but I haven’t time to moderate it as much as I like to and I think most points have been covered adequately.
Now, can someone please tell me something to take my mind off the subject! I’ve got colliding particles coming out of my ears (not literally, of course… that really would be something!)
Given some of the discussions I’ve been having recently relating to this and this, I thought I’d share this story with you that I found here. I don’t know the name of the guy who originally told the story, but he goes by the nickname of The Human Neutrino. It perfectly sums up current attitudes to science (among some people), in my opinion, and is well worth thinking about.
About 6-7 years ago, I was in a philosophy class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (good science/engineering school) and the teaching assistant was explaining Descartes. He was trying to show how things don’t always happen the way we think they will and explained that, while a pen always falls when you drop it on Earth, it would just float away if you let go of it on the Moon.
My jaw dropped a little. I blurted “What?!” Looking around the room, I saw that only my friend Mark and one other student looked confused by the TA’s statement. The other 17 people just looked at me like “What’s your problem?”
“But a pen would fall if you dropped it on the Moon, just more slowly.” I protested. “No it wouldn’t.” the TA explained calmly, “because you’re too far away from the Earth’s gravity.”
Think. Think. Aha! “You saw the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon, didn’t you?” I countered, “why didn’t they float away?” “Because they were wearing heavy boots.” he responded, as if this made perfect sense (remember, this is a Philosophy TA who’s had plenty of logic classes).
By then I realized that we were each living in totally different worlds, and did not speak each others language, so I gave up. As we left the room, my friend Mark was raging. “My God! How can all those people be so stupid?”
I tried to be understanding. “Mark, they knew this stuff at one time, but it’s not part of their basic view of the world, so they’ve forgotten it. Most people could probably make the same mistake.” To prove my point, we went back to our dorm room and began randomly selecting names from the campus phone book. We called about 30 people and asked each this question:
1. If you’re standing on the Moon holding a pen, and you let go, will it a) float away, b) float where it is, or c) fall to the ground? About 47 percent got this question correct. Of the ones who got it wrong, we asked the obvious follow-up question:
2. You’ve seen films of the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon, why didn’t they fall off?
About 20 percent of the people changed their answer to the first question when they heard this one! But the most amazing part was that about half of them confidently answered, “Because they were wearing heavy boots.”
“Hurray for the European Court of Human Rights. It has rejected an emergency injunction to block the Large Hadron Collider from turning on on 10 September. It’s the latest legal case brought against the LHC by scientists who fear that the world’s largest particle accelerator will produce fearsome entities that could destroy the Earth.”
Now there is definitely money to be made here. A little mercenary of me, perhaps, but if my recent hits are anything to go by there seems to be a genuine fear/concern that the Large Hadron Collider really could mark the beginning of the end for us all.
In the past twenty-four hours or so alone, my last post on LHC has had in the region of 200 hits — nearly 500 since it was written on August 17.
Therefore, in the spirit of one who would wish to soothe and reassure these worried souls, I’m wondering if there are any T-shirt designers out there looking to make a quick profit with me. I’m envisaging nice, gaudy colours — “LHC” on the front and on the back, in blood-red letters, “We’re All Going to Die!”
Hell, we could even go for a full range of merchandise! Action dolls of the leading scientists involved? That say, “Jesus Christ! Run like hell, everyone, it’s just sucked up my clipboard!” when you pull a little cord at the backs of their necks? A scale model of the LHC — the MLHC (Mini Large Hadron Collider) — which produces mini-mini-black-holes? The possibilities are endless!
Christ, I didn’t realise this whole end of the world thing could be so dammed exciting!
Anyone fancy an end of the world mouse mat?
Better still, read your free sample of The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts here. And then pre-order/buy The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts before we all become ghosts ourselves !
Finally it’s here. Well, just about.
On the tenth of September next month, the Large Hadron Collider will finally (possibly!) get kickstarted, booted up — or whatever the hell it is they have to do to get a collider doing what it’s supposed to do.
“This major milestone in the LHC project will be covered live by international broadcasters. UK media organisations will be at CERN and at a simultaneous media event in London.
Now that has to be worth watching. Why? Well, if some people are to be believed, the work of the Large Hadron Collider could in effect cause the end of the world/universe. Mini black holes may be created (fact) and they will grow and grow and grow, just like Alice, until we are all gobbled up (not fact.)
What LHC will largely be doing, in fact, is smashing together tiny particles called protons. When these particles collide, new particles are created. The scientists working at LHC are hoping to find a new particle called the Higgs. In short, the LHC will be asking some of the big questions about the universe, such as:
“How did our universe come to be the way it is?
“The Universe started with a Big Bang – but we don’t fully understand how or why it developed the way it did. The LHC will let us see how matter behaved a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang. Researchers have some ideas of what to expect – but also expect the unexpected!
“What kind of Universe do we live in?
“Many physicists think the Universe has more dimensions than the four (space and time) we are aware of. Will the LHC bring us evidence of new dimensions?
“Gravity does not fit comfortably into the current descriptions of forces used by physicists. It is also very much weaker than the other forces. One explanation for this may be that our Universe is part of a larger multi dimensional reality and that gravity can leak into other dimensions, making it appear weaker. The LHC may allow us to see evidence of these extra dimensions – for example, the production of mini-black holes which blink into and out of existence in a tiny fraction of a second.” — for more see here.
So make a date to be here at 8: 30 a.m. UK time on the 10th of September 2008. It should make for interesting viewing. I can’t wait to see the black hole gobbling up downtown Geneva!
(EDIT: Important update here. READ THIS, PLEASE!!!)
(EDIT: Possibly of further interest.)
Read your free sample of Children of the Resolution, please click here.
I haven’t done a science related post in a while, if memory serves me well, so today I thought I’d share this great YouTube series on the history of the universe with you. There is much in it that many of you will already be familiar with, but it is nonetheless an excellent, simple explanation of many complex ideas. A valuable refresher and an excellent introduction for the beginner.
WE NEED YOU! — I am looking for people who can “seed” the Made Easy series, either hosting it on their websites, mailing DVDs to schools or to other ‘seeds’, or spreading through BitTorrents. If you can help spread a bit of science and counter the rolling tide of creationist ignorance, please get in touch. Message me with a description of what you can do. Thanks!
The ‘Made Easy’ series is designed to explain the evidence that shows how we got here, from the Big bang to human migration out of Africa. A better quality version will soon be available for free download from a website — details to be announced. I will be happy to send DVDs free of charge to schools after the series is finished.
The ‘Made Easy’ series of videos can be freely copied and distributed for educational purposes, but cannot be used for commercial gain in whole or in part. They cannot be altered, transformed or added to. If you use repost these videos you must attribute them to ‘Potholer54 on YouTube.”
I’ve been a journalist for 20 years, 14 years as a science correspondent. My degree is in geology, but while working for a science magazine and several science programs I had to tackle a number of different fields, from quantum physics to microbiology. My particular talent was my ignorance. By not understanding half of what I was assigned to cover, I had to reduce scientific discoveries from the complex to the simple. If I wrote it in a way that I could understand it, then my readers could understand it.
“Every time you break an egg, you are doing observational cosmology.”
From Does Time Run Backward in Other Universes? by Sean M. Carroll.