10 November 2010

Two Collisions, Different Speeds, Both Big Bangs

The Large Hedron Collider

I’ve written about the Large Hedron Collider (LHC) a couple of times in the past. If you recall, this was the 17 mile ring, 300 feet under the French/Swiss border where scientists were going to smash ions together at unbelievably high speeds and try and reproduce the moments after the ‘big bang’.

Of course, quite a few people, including some eminent scientists, were fearful of the possible results. After all, if the ‘big bang’ caused planets to be formed from debris floating about space  and then for them to be smashed together, what would happen down in that 17 mile ring? It was a doomsday scenario.

After a shaky start where some of the magnets which hurl the ions around the ring failed, the scientists have been gradually performing the experiment at higher and higher speeds until last week when the collisions, officially started by firing lead ions – atoms stripped of their electrons – at almost the speed of light - 670 million miles per hour - in opposite directions around the LHC's underground tunnel at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, near Geneva.

Flying in opposite directions, the particles were focused into a narrow beam and forced to collide inside the massive ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) detector.

The impacts threw off thousands of particles and generated temperatures of 10 trillion degrees centigrade, as close as we have ever been to reproducing conditions not seen since the Big Bang 13.75 billion years ago.

And then, with I’m sure unintentional irony, right beside the story in the newspaper I was reading, was the following:

Two freight trains carrying oil and petrol have collided in the Polish city of Bialystok causing a huge explosion. Although the trains were only travelling at around 20 miles per hour in opposite directions around the city, the collision speed reached double that, causing the explosion.

OH - and PS - don't you think it's sweet that the vehicle used to cause the collisions to happen is called after a female - Alice ! How appropriate. They could have saved themselves the 12 billion dollars the experiment cost and simply have come down to Tourrettes and watched J and her pals drive around the town - after all, the Honda looks as if it's been through a few 'big bangs'!

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