A strangelet in your garden

You might not be aware of it, but in two months (May 2008) the world’s largest particle accelerator will be operational close to your home. To be precise, at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland.

This blog article gives a detailed overview of what is called ‘the most complicated thing that humans have ever built’. The purpose of the LHC is to observe the Higgs boson, also known as the ‘God particle’, which has not yet been observed but is expected to move the science towards the Grand Unified Theory, or the Theory of Everything.

The LHC, once operational, will recreate the conditions of the Big Bang (on a smaller, 27 km diameter scale). The temperatures generated in the tunnels will be more than 1000,000 times hotter than the sun’s core and the superconducting magnets will be cooled to a temperature colder than in deep space.

I did not know we could do that. SAFELY. I think we don’t really know if we can.

The idea is to put as much energy as possible into the smallest possible space and see what comes out. A black hole, for instance. A tiny one. Somewhere under a Swiss farmer’s garden, just outside of Geneva. Which will safely evaporate, say the scientists, because of Hawking evaporation. Which has never been tested, they admit, and actually might not work, but trust us. Everything is under control.

Or a strangelet. Also known as ‘strange nugget’ but best described as ‘a fragment of strange matter’. Something the Swiss farmer might find in his back yard on a peaceful May morning. ‘What’s that you found there, dear?’ his wife will ask. ‘Not another strangelet, I hope?’ From Wiki: ‘If the strange matter hypothesis is correct, and a strangelet comes in contact with a lump of ordinary matter such as Earth, it could convert the ordinary matter to strange matter. This « ice-nine » disaster scenario is as follows: one strangelet hits a nucleus, catalyzing its immediate conversion to strange matter. This liberates energy, producing a larger, more stable strangelet, which in turn hits another nucleus, catalyzing its conversion to strange matter. In the end, all the nuclei of all the atoms of Earth are converted, and Earth is reduced to a hot, large lump of strange matter.’

‘We don’t even know what to expect’, says French physicist Yves Schutz. ‘We’re now in a domain of energy that nobody has ever explored.’

When a strangelet comes out, we will not be able to blog about it.

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