Thursday, July 24, 2008

The End of Time: Coming Soon!

Does this look like something that could destroy the Universe to you?

Well, it should, because there's a chance that it could. Or at least that's what most science geeks on the internet will giddily type at you. Ask an actual scientist and you'll likely get a different response akin to, "something, or nothing. But hopefully something."

The image above is of the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator spanning 17 miles that is buried 300 feet below Switzerland and France. It's taken thousands of people 13 years at a cost of $8 billion to build, and at midnight NDT on August 6th, it's getting switched on.

They're looking for something often reffered to as the "God particle," which scientists call the Higgs boson. In a nutshell, they're trying to understand what makes the universe the way it is, and they think this particle, currently just theorized to exist (or to have existed - they think it had it's hayday roughly 14 billion years ago when the universe was less than a trillionth of a second old. Yes, you read that correctly.) will give them the information that they're after - an anticipated 120,000 terrabytes of information a year. To get that information, they're going to take 13 trillion electron voltz of energy and use it to smash protons together 30 million times per second and study the results.

All sounds perfectly safe to me! And just to reassure you, I'll leave you with this quote from Dr. Jim Virdee, one of the LHC's project leaders: "Our judge is not God or governments, but nature. If we make a mistake, nature will not hesitate to punish us." Sweet.

(You can watch for yourself as the doomsday clock counts down and read lots more about the Large Hadron Collider here.)

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