A Cause for ConCERN?
Hello! Today’s graphic has a dual meaning. First off, Brant is off on vacation in the Carolinas. He has asked me to keep some pseudo-relevant and current information on his blog. He claims that he doesn’t think anyone would be interested in his corona-induced reflections on the beauty of Cape Hatteras, but I suspect he is concerned that if he doesn’t keep something –anything- on this board, that you will wander off to remote corners of the intertubes and forget your way back after a week or so. So, I am a breadcrumb of sorts. I don’t work for the paper. I have a couple of mighty fine occupations at the moment that have very little to do with composing personal insights on news stories. So, the content will be thinner than you are used to, but hopefully enough to keep you around. I will try to put out some intriguing material, but for the sake of not pissing off people that I don’t really know, I will leave most of the envelope pushing to Brant when he returns. So, don’t panic! It will all be over soon. As for the alternate reasoning for today’s graphic, why not talk about sciency space stuff? So, down scrolls your screen, and up goes the curtain on my geekdom. In August, a super-cooled magnetic tube 17 miles in diameter will begin hurling sub-atomic particles around at nearly the speed of light for the purpose of having them smash into each other and hopefully reveal secrets about what it is that sub-atomic particles are made of. A number of !Great Mysteries of the Universe! are thought to be on the brink of resolution as the CERN project goes into its final test phases (CERN is the French acronym for the European Organization for Nuclear Research). Among them is how atoms get their mass. You see, atoms are comprised of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Electrons are thought to be little more than a negative charge and have negligible mass. It’s the protons (positive) and the Neutrons (neutral) that give mass to the smallest bits of an element. So… what are protons and neutrons made of? The popular theory is that the particles are comprised of vibrating strings of energy called quarks. Scientists hope that, among other things, they will see evidence of quarks when they start smashing the little bits together. The Large Hadron Collider, which resides 330 feet below the earth on the Swiss/French border, has thus far produced more controversy than quark splatter. A few people have voiced concern that the high energies produced when atoms collide could, potentially, produce a black hole and destroy the entire earth in a rather short period of time (fractions of a second). Or, of course, it could produce an outflow of energized particles that would irradiate the earth and essentially microwave it into a lifeless mass. Just as the laws of physics are said to break down in a black hole, so does the relative value of numbers when talking about the potential for instantaneously evaporating the earth. Physicist Martin Rees put the odds at 50 million to 1 for the collider to produce a “global catastrophe.” CERN puts the figure in the unsatisfying range of “no conceivable danger.” If we use Rees’ estimate of 50 million to 1, it would mean CERN is 3 times MORE likely to evaporate the earth than you would be to win the Powerball. Certainly, 50 million to 1 is essentially “no conceivable danger,” but at what point are the odds, ahem, at odds with the objective? Science, especially science of this scale, and dealing with this subject matter, is so intriguing. We could be on the verge of unlocking secrets of the most basic, and at the same time most complex machinations of the universe. Granted, for each question we answer, we ask 2 more. It is only a logical conclusion that if we discover that protons ARE made of quarks, then we will have to ask “what are quarks made of?” This reminds me of the 7 paradoxes of Xeno… well, not really, because I can’t remember 6 of them. The one I do recall, though, is one that supposedly could prove motion to be an illusion (this was before calculus came along and relegated Xeno to a figure to be reprised by L. Ron Hubbard). Homer wants to cross the room. Before he can go from one side to the other, he must go halfway. Before he can go halfway, he must go one quarter of the way. Before a quarter, an eighth, and a sixteenth, etc. There is always half the distance of the distance you desire to travel. It is never irreducible; therefore, you can never physically traverse the room. This works with the science of tiny bits, also. After quarks there will be leptons, and after leptons, there will be hadrons, and then mesons, and then baryons, etc. We may be transitioning from one nuclear age to another. The nuclear age of the 20th century threatened to end life in a super hot blast of ultra bright fissile light. Tomorrow’s threat may very well be all of existence disappearing down the eternal darkness of the rabbit hole. So, back to the original point: at what odds is the thirst for knowledge quenched by the possibility of destroying ourselves to find out? If CERN promised to uncover the secret to life, the universe, and everything (42), but the odds of total destruction were 10 to 1… Could you pull the trigger?