Antimatter? No matter!

It seems CERN slipped a fast one right under my nose the last week or two. For those of you who don’t know CERN, they’re the guys behind the creation of the Large Hadron Collider, a giant particle accelerator aimed at trying to find out more about the nature of certain particles such as quarks and the elusive Higgs Boson, otherwise known as the God Particle. In addition they hope to learn more about the nature of Dark Matter, the stuff that makes up more than 75% of the universe. Ordinary matter, that’d be you and me, only make up about 20%.

The Large Hadron Collider Outline near Geneva, Switzerland

So, what news is so important to merit a single post? Well, it seems the good men at CERN have had two major breakthroughs recently. The first occurring a little over a week ago where I did a slight blurb about it in the Star Stuff post seen here. To add a little more detail, they managed to recreate conditions that occurred billionths of a second after our own Big Bang, where temperatures far exceeded those of our own Sun, nearing 10 trillion degrees Celsius! (Sol if you’re reading this, sorry, you’re just not that hot anymore 😦 ).

Scientist at CERN accomplished this by sending Lead Ions hurdling toward each other at speeds that would make a Nissan Skyline look like sloth walking across a length of road. Their main goal in all of this? The search for a type of matter known as quark-gluon plasma, predicted by quantum chromodynamics. This plasma is said to evolve into the matter that we’re used to today, you know the stuff, carbon, oxygen, and whatnot.

How to create Quark-gluon Plasma by Johnny Little, Miss Crabtree’s 3rd Grade Physical Science Course

As if this wasn’t enough of a big deal for CERN to tackle, they decided to take it a step further into the unknown and the completely bonkers category by not only creating, but holding in existence antimatter! Most of us by now are probably familiar with Dan Brown’s piece of shit movie Angel’s and Demons where Illuminati scientists attempt to create an antimatter bomb to blow up the Vatican. Did I forget to mention spoiler alert? Anyway, unlike Dan Brown’s crazy conspiracy filled epic, the real scientists working behind CERN managed to capture about 38 antimatter hydrogen (called antihydrogen-1) for about a fraction of a second.

Even still, Dan Brown wasn’t too far off when he wrote Angels and Demons. For one, antimatter when it collides with ordinary matter releases such a great amount of energy that it not only rivals thermonuclear weapons, it blows it completely out of contest. The amount of energy released by antimatter colliding with ordinary matter is at least 99% stronger than that of a thermonuclear weapon. Fat Man has a scary little brother.

However, we don’t have to be worried about this anytime soon. It’s hard enough just trying to keep the little buggers from annihilating each other as is, making a bomb out of them would far surpass anything our current technology could do. It is funny to look at the 1950’s though when the U.S. Government actually funded research for such a weapon – it’d be no surprise to me if they has a major hand in the funding of this project as well, but that’s just speculation and probably nonsense. By the way, the process of antimatter colliding with ordinary matter is known to physicists as… annihilation! How cute.

Antimatter and Matter meet in this Hollywood Blockbuster!

Aside from the all too common implement of science being used for weaponry, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When the day comes, and it will come, when scientists are able to add antimatter energy to real world applications all our energy problems might be moot. Consider the most powerful source of energy is nuclear energy, antimatter energy would make nuclear look like a joke.

Michio Kaku, a rather famous physicist and author of Physics of the Impossible, was recently quoted about the LHC antimatter accomplishment, saying that with the right applications this energy could be used to propel a craft at speeds bordering the speed of light. This of course means that mankind’s dream of someday venturing to the stars (which is starting to look more like a necessity with the exponential growth of populations) may someday become a reality.

Although they may have succeeded in trapping a small amount of these antihydrogen atoms, they’re still quite a long way from getting the results they need, and an even longer way from applying such endeavors to real world applications. For me however, it’s the thought of venturing far out into the galaxy, or hell even to the nearest star Alpha Centauri, that makes such research worthwhile.

I just hope that when the day comes they do get it right we’re not stuck wishing they had it. We learned a lot from our mistakes in the past with thermonuclear weapons, but we’re still a long way from putting that past behind us. We’re haunted by it day after day, and the human condition will always be with us.

Still, who can’t say they would want to see a future where this

…becomes a reality


We Are Star Stuff

As a celebratory “I just moved my blog to a better format base than” post, I’m bring with it a double whammy of awesome in the Scientific Field…

It was 76 years ago today that the late Carl Sagan was born. For those that don’t know who Carl Sagan is, it might be better for you to do the following:

  1. Get a large rectangular piece of paper.
  2. Fold said paper into a conic shape.
  3. Place conic shaped paper upon head.
  4. Sit in corner and ignore the rest of the educated world.

Anyway, Carl Sagan is one of the most influential astronomers, astrophysicists, authors, and cosmologists in the last century. He has written numerous books, hosted a well-earning and popular science program called Cosmos, and was one of the key figures in the creation of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrail Intelligence). The list of greats he was involved in doesn’t stop there of course. He was THE pioneer of exobiology (also called astrobiology), advocate of skeptical inquiry and the scientific method, and his 1985 book Contact was later adapted on film.

Carl Sagan was a wonderful figure of his time. He successfully captured audiences and renewed faith in science to the general public. His voice was captivating and inspiring, as the following video shows.

He not only showed us the frailty of human life, but the minuteness of it. He showed us that everything we have accomplished is still so tiny in the vast expanse of time and space. He brought our attention to the world of nuclear war, and our possible extinction by it, and inspired us to find ways in which we might realize that this is our only planet, our only home, and to destroy it through nuclear arms would be the single greatest tragedy of our time. His words on nuclear arms still today rings a bell, though the threat may have lessened, it is echoed in nation’s vying for nuclear arms, and through environmental changes through human action. The following, is his words on Nuclear War.

Carl Sagan unfortunately died too soon for our time at the age of 62 on December 20, 1996 after a long fight with myelodysplasia, though the cause of death was actually due to pneumonia. His legacy still lives on in several ways. Symphony of Science, by John Boswell, a musical production featuring scientists auto-tuned to amazing songs, includes Sagan as the only scientist in everyone of the videos. There are at least three awards dedicated to his honor, including the Carl Sagan Award for Public Understanding of Science.  More recently, in 2009, the first annual Carl Sagan Day was made in his honor; it will most likely be a yearly endeavor as they again held it in 2010.

So, Sagan, I wish you a happy birthday, and many more, perhaps billions and billions.

In a slightly related event and part two of the Double Whammy happening today (related in the idea that it has to do with the Cosmos), scientists at CERN, the organization responsible for the Large Hadron Collider, have successfully created a miniature big bang.

That’s right. Scientists at CERN have actually managed to reproduce the very thing that they believe started our own universe. This raises certain eyebrows from me; Did they in the process create a universe as well that was so tiny and minute that it popped into and out of existence too quickly to notice?

Probably not, but it does seem that whatever their findings are as of this moment they’re being very hush hush about it. All they’re willing to say is that they created the same starting conditions as our own universe at 0.00000000001 seconds after the Big Bang, an interval when “protons and neutrons can’t even stay whole.”

An anti-LHC organization called the Heavy Ion Alert also protested the experiment, stating it would cause a chain reaction that would destroy the planet. They were discounted, and as always nothing happen.

I’ll leave you with Symphony of Science – We Are All Connected.

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