Spacegirls' Chit Chat Newsletter

Well, so far, we seem to have survived the Hadron Collider. It's called "large" because it is, well, large. But lets see how we fare when they switch it on, lol. My view, nothing significant will happen.

What is the Hadron Collider? It's nothing new. Basically, it is a particle accelerator. So much has been written in the newspapers and magazines about it recently that I feel no need to go into great detail, but those of you who watched the movie Terminator 3 - The Rise of the Machines will probably remember the end when Kristanna Loken, skin tight red leather suit and all, gets sucked into one. It is a way of using super-strength magnetic fields to speed up Hadrons (protons and neutrons) - just to see what happens.

Collisions at Cern will not begin until late October. The purpose? To attempt to duplicate the scenario just after the Big Bang. Of course, what would be far more useful would be to duplicate the scenario just BEFORE the Big Bang. But, there you go, we can't have everything.

I am being deliberately simplex here but I have lots of students who have asked about this.

Everything we see and feel is made up of atoms - the smallest thing we can really get to grips with. There are about a hundred different kinds (elements) of atoms and, by forming different combinations of these atoms, we form molecules which is the "stuff" that we actually see and feel. Obviously, even if you combine atoms on a one-on-one basis, this means that there are around ten thousand different permutations. Start combining multiple atoms and you very quickly run into zillions.

The simplest example of a molecule I can think of is water. It takes two molecules of the diatomic hydrogen gas, combined with one molecule of the diatomic oxygen gas to produce two molecules of water. In other words the ratio of hydrogen to oxygen is 2:1, the ratio of hydrogen to water is 1:1, and the ratio of oxygen to water is 1:2. A lake is simply made up of more molecules than a pond. But add a touch more oxygen and a whiff of sulphur and you get something you definitely would not want to drink.

There is nothing in our immediate experience which is NOT made up from combining these basic building blocks. This is what is known as Baryonic Matter - the stuff we know about. All Baryonic Matter has gravity and it is gravity which prevents everything flying off in different directions.

It has been long known, however, that there is just not enough of this Baryonic Matter to do the job - about 3% of what is needed is here - the other 97% cannot be found.

Now, there are as many theories about this "missing" matter as there are molecules of the stuff. But bring it all down to simplicity level and we have two choices. Either this other "stuff" is there (maybe in the form of "dark" matter - "dark" because we cannot see it), or it is not there (in other words - what you see is what you get) and something entirely different is holding the universe together.

This is why I first stated that looking at the position BEFORE the Big Bang is more relevant. Baryonic matter has existed since the Big Bang. It has been more or less proved that matter all seems to have emanated from the same PLACE in space. There is still serious disagreement about whether it emanated from the same TIME in space.

So here we are, Big Bang just finished, Hadrons flying off in all directions, forming 100 atomic elements, combining into molecules of rock, dust, gases a-various, and so on. This is why the Hadron Accelerator is measuring Hadrons (the bits making up atoms).

The construction of Hadrons is, in one sense, far easier to understand because there are only 3 kinds to get to grips with. Instead of 100 different Atomic Elements, there are simply positive elements (protons), negative elements (electrons) and neutral elements (neutrons). Protons and Neutrons for the nucleus and electrons fly around them in 3 layers up to the speed of light.

Think of it like a binary code. Every keystroke on your computer is made up of various combinations of "0"s and "1"s (ons and offs - positives and negatives) but there are thousands of combinations of keystrokes in a "bit" (eight times more in a byte). Each atom has a selection of protons and a selection of neutrons, and a selection of electrons going hell for leather around that nucleus. The speed of these electrons tries desperately to split the atom into its constituent parts, but the gravity of the nucleus holds it all together.

Most atoms have an equal number of pos and neg particles but some (conductors) have an additional proton and, when excited by an outside force (usually a magnetic field) the atom finds itself with 2 spare particles and it has to "pass one on" to the next atom which, in turn, does the same. Copper is one of the best conductors of "spare" protons. Increase the magnetic field and you increase the flow of "spare" protons, which determines the Electro Motive Force (voltage). The current (in amperes) is determined by how fast you use them up during the resultant Potential Drop. If you have one more neutron to protons, you have an insulator. The "spare" proton is absorbed and everything comes to a dead stop.

We are only recently coming to grips with is the make-up of these particles, and this is where it gets intriguing and why I said at the beginning that we are looking in the wrong place (but I guess we have to start somewhere).

Protons and Neutrons (and possibly Electrons although this has yet to be proved) are made up of Quarks. We know that Hadrons have existed since the Big Bang, but quarks may well have existed previously in their purest form - solid energy. Quarks come in several flavours. Protons are made from two "up" quarks and one "down" quark, but neutrons consist of one "up" quark and two "down" quarks.

The exact kind of particle behaviour is determined by other factors such as the spin, the parity and the mass of its nucleus. I am not, at this stage, going to diverge into a discussion about Mesons, Pions, and Tetra-quarks.

But enough has been said that it is not the Hadrons but the Quarks which hold the key to understanding the complex matter of energy. If, for example, quarks exist in a "pure" energy form, without the hindrances of nucleon mass, then only a very small amount of Quark energy would be needed to control the size and shape of the universe, rather than the massive 97% that some scientists are still vainly looking for.

Perhaps before the Big Bang, there only existed Quark Energy (some are now calling this Dark Energy because it cannot be seen or measured), and Baryonic Matter (Hadrons) is merely a bi-product, an offshoot, of the really condensed stuff. Perhaps at the centre of our universe, there is still a bundle of Quark Energy, exerting a gravity totally beyond our comprehension. Black Holes, if they do indeed exist, could simply be the matter-conversion machines, keeping just the right ratio of Baryonic Matter to Quark Energy by "sweeping up" the debris of the universe. Then, Nebulae could just as easily be the reverse process - conversion of Quark Energy back into Baryonic Matter.

Thus it is no longer necessary for the Big Bang to have been in one TIME in space. There may well be a fixed place but an ongoing chronical process of matter revitalisation.

Of course, this implies some form of Supreme Being (in the form of either a God or an ET) in overall control, which some bigoted people find impossible to accept.

Perhaps it's a good thing we cannot, at least at this point in time, mess about with Quark Energy. We already have the capability to wipe out the entire population of the Earth by splitting the atom into its constituent parts, so we might just destroy the entire universe by becoming too nosy about Quarks.

Bear in mind that Quarks are not only determined by being "up" or "down". Like us Quantum Physicists, they also identified by their "charm" and their "strangeness".

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