What’s Next for the Large Hadron Collider?

The world’s most powerful particle collider is waking up from a well-earned rest. After roughly two years of heavy maintenance, scientists have nearly doubled the power of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in preparation for its next run. Now, it’s being cooled to just 1.9 degrees above absolute zero.

“We have unfinished business with understanding the universe,” said Tara Shears from the University of Liverpool in a news release. Shears and other LHC physicists will work to better understand the Higgs Boson and hopefully unravel some of the secrets of supersymmetry and dark matter.

On February 11, 2013 the LHC shut down for roughly two years. The break, known as LS1 for “long stop one,” was needed to correct several flaws in the original design of the collider.

The LHC’s first run got off to a rough start in 2008. Shortly after it was fired up, a single electrical connection triggered an explosion, damaging an entire sector (one-eighth) of the accelerator. To protect the accelerator from further disaster, scientists decided to run it at half power until all 10,000 copper connections could be repaired.

So over the last two years, scientists have worked around the clock to rework every single connection in the accelerator.

Now that the step (along with many others) is complete, the collider will operate at almost double its previous power. This was tested early last week, when scientists powered up the magnets of one sector to the level needed to reach the high energy expected in its second run.

“The machine that’s now being started up is almost a new LHC,” said John Womersley, the Chief Executive Officer of the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

With such a powerful new tool, scientists will look for deviations from their initial detection of the Higgs boson, potentially revealing a deeper level of physics that goes well beyond the Standard Model of particle physics.

Many theorists have turned to supersymmetry — the idea that for every known fundamental particle there exists a “supersymmetric” partner particle. If true, the enhanced LHC could be powerful enough to create supersymmetric particles themselves or prove their existence in subtler ways.

“The higher energy and more frequent proton collisions in Run 2 will allow us to investigate the Higgs particle in much more detail,” said Victoria Martin from Edinburgh University. “Higher energy may also allow the mysterious “dark matter” observed in galaxies to be made and studied in the lab for the first time.”

It’s possible that the Higgs could interact with — or even decay into — dark matter particles. If the latter occurs, then the dark matter particles would fly out of the LHC without ever being detected. But their absence would be evident.

So stay turned because these issues might be resolved in the spring of 2015 when the particle accelerator roars back to life.

BICEP2 All Over Again? Researchers Place Higgs Boson Discovery in Doubt

At the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe, faster is better. Faster means more powerful particle collisions and looking deeper into the makeup of matter. However, other researchers are proclaiming not so fast. LHC may not have discovered the Higgs Boson, the boson that imparts mass to everything, the god particle as some have called it. While the Higgs Boson discovery in 2012 culminated with the awarding in December 2013 of the Nobel Prize to Peter Higgs and François Englert, a team of researchers has raised these doubts about the Higgs Boson in their paper published in the journal Physical Review D.

The discourse is similar to what unfolded in the last year with the detection of light from the beginning of time that signified the Inflation epoch of the Universe. Researchers looking into the depths of the Universe and the inner depths of subatomic particles are searching for signals at the edge of detectability, just above the noise level and in proximity to the signals from other sources. For the BICEP2 telescope observations (previous U.T. articles), its pretty much back to the drawing board but the Higgs Boson (previous U.T. articles) doubts are definitely challenging but needing more solid evidence. In human affairs, if the Higgs Boson was not detected by the LHC, what does one do with an awarded Nobel Prize?

Cross-section of the Large Hadron Collider where its detectors are placed and collisions occur. LHC is as much as 175 meters (574 ft) below ground on the Frence-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. The accelerator ring is 27 km (17 miles) in circumference. (Photo Credit: CERN)
Cross-section of the Large Hadron Collider where its detectors are placed and collisions occur. LHC is as much as 175 meters (574 ft) below ground on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. The accelerator ring is 27 km (17 miles) in circumference. (Photo Credit: CERN)

The present challenge to the Higgs Boson is not new and is not just a problem of detectability and acuity of the sensors as is the case with BICEP2 data. The Planck space telescope revealed that light radiated from dust combined with the magnetic field in our Milky Way galaxy could explain the signal detected by BICEP2 that researchers proclaimed as the primordial signature of the Inflation period. The Higgs Boson particle is actually a prediction of the theory proposed by Peter Higgs and several others beginning in the early 1960s. It is a predicted particle from gauge theory developed by Higgs, Englert and others, at the heart of the Standard Model.

This recent paper is from a team of researchers from Denmark, Belgium and the United Kingdom led by Dr. Mads Toudal Frandsen. Their study entitled, “Technicolor Higgs boson in the light of LHC data” discusses how their supported theory predicts Technicolor quarks through a range of energies detectable at LHC and that one in particular is within the uncertainty level of the data point declared to be the Higgs Boson. There are variants of Technicolor Theory (TC) and the research paper compares in detail the field theory behind the Standard Model Higgs and the TC Higgs (their version of the Higgs boson). Their conclusion is that a TC Higgs is predicted by Technicolor Theory that is consistent with expected physical properties, is low mass and has an energy level – 125 GeV – indistinguishable from the resonance now considered to be the Standard Model Higgs. Theirs is a composite particle and it does not impart mass upon everything.

So you say – hold on! What is a Technicolor in jargon of particle physics? To answer this you would want to talk to a plumber from South Bronx, New York – Dr. Leonard Susskind. Though no longer a plumber, Susskind first proposed Technicolor to describe the breaking of symmetry in gauge theories that are part of the Standard Model. Susskind and other physicists from the 1970s considered it unsatisfactory that many arbitrary parameters were needed to complete the Gauge theory used in the Standard Model (involving the Higgs Scalar and Higgs Field). The parameters consequently defined the mass of elementary particles and other properties. These parameters were being assigned and not calculated and that was not acceptable to Susskind, ‘t Hooft, Veltmann and others. The solution involved the concept of Technicolor which provided a “natural” means of describing the breakdown of symmetry in the gauge theories that makeup the Standard Model.

Technicolor in particle physics shares one simple thing in common with Technicolor that dominated the early color film industry – the term composite in creating color or particles.

Dr. Leonard Susskind, a leading developer of the Theory of Technicolor (left) and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Peter Higgs who proposed the existence of a particle that imparts mass to all matter - the Higgs Boson (right). (Photo Credit: University of Stanford, CERN)
Dr. Leonard Susskind, a leading developer of the Theory of Technicolor (left) and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Peter Higgs who proposed the existence of a particle that imparts mass to all matter – the Higgs Boson (right). (Photo Credit: University of Stanford, CERN)

If the theory surrounding Technicolor is correct, then there should be many techni-quark and techni-Higgs particles to be found with the LHC or a more powerful next generation accelerator; a veritable zoo of particles besides just the Higgs Boson. The theory also means that these ‘elementary’ particles are composites of smaller particles and that another force of nature would be needed to bind them. And this new paper by Belyaev, Brown, Froadi and Frandsen claims that one specific techni-quark particle has a resonance (detection point) that is within the uncertainty of measurements for the Higgs Boson. In other words, the Higgs Boson might not be “the god particle” but rather a Technicolor Quark particle comprised of smaller more fundamental particles and another force binding them.

This paper by Belyaev, Brown, Froadi and Frandsen is a clear reminder that the Standard Model is unsettled and that even the discovery of the Higgs Boson is not 100% certain. In the last year, more sensitive sensors have been integrated into CERN’s LHC which will help refute this challenge to Higgs theory – Higgs Scalar and Field, the Higgs Boson or may reveal the signatures of Technicolor particles. Better detectors may resolve the difference between the energy level of the Technicolor quark and the Higgs Boson. LHC researchers were quick to state that their work moves on beyond discovery of the Higgs Boson. Also, their work could actually disprove that they found the Higgs Boson.

Contacting the co-investigator Dr. Alexander Belyaev, the question was raised – will the recent upgrades to CERN accelerator provide the precision needed to differentiate a technie-Quark from the Higg’s particle?

“There is no guarantee of course” Dr. Belyaev responded to Universe Today, “but upgrade of LHC will definitely provide much better potential to discover other particles associated with theory of Technicolor, such as heavy Techni-mesons or Techni-baryons.”

Resolving the doubts and choosing the right additions to the Standard Model does depend on better detectors, more observations and collisions at higher energies. Presently, the LHC is down to increase collision energies from 8 TeV to 13 TeV. Among the observations at the LHC, Super-symmetry has not fared well and the observations including the Higgs Boson discovery has supported the Standard Model. The weakness of the Standard Model of particle physics is that it does not explain the gravitational force of nature whereas Super-symmetry can. The theory of Technicolor maintains strong supporters as this latest paper shows and it leaves some doubt that the Higgs Boson was actually detected. Ultimately another more powerful next-generation particle accelerator may be needed.

In a previous Universe Today story, the question was raised - is the Standard Model a Rube Goldberg Device? Most theorists would say 'no' but it is unlikely to reach the status of the 'theory of everything' (Illustration Credit: R.Goldberg- the toothpaste dispenser, variant T.Reyes)
In a previous Universe Today story, the question was raised – is the Standard Model a Rube Goldberg Device? Most theorists would say ‘no’ but it is unlikely to reach the status of the ‘theory of everything’ (Illustration Credit: R.Goldberg- the toothpaste dispenser, variant T.Reyes)

For Higgs and Englert, the reversal of the discovery is by no means the ruination of a life’s work or would be the dismissal of a Nobel Prize. The theoretical work of the physicists have long been recognized by previous awards. The Standard Model as, at least, a partial solution of the theory of everything is like a jig-saw puzzle. Piece by piece is how it is being developed but not without missteps. Furthermore, the pieces added to the Standard Model can be like a house of cards and require replacing a larger solution with a wholly other one. This could be the case of Higgs and Technicolor.

At times like children somewhat determined, physicists thrust a solution into the unfolding puzzle that seems to fit but ultimately has to be retracted. The present discourse does not yet warrant a retraction. Elegance and simplicity is the ultimate characteristics sought in theoretical solutions. Particle physicists also use the term Naturalness when describing the concerns with gauge theory parameters. The solutions – the pieces – of the puzzle created by Peter Higgs and François Englert have spearheaded and encouraged further work which will achieve a sounder Standard Model but few if any claim that it will emerge as the theory of everything.

References:

Pre-print of Technicolor Higgs boson in the light of LHC data

An Introduction to Technicolor, P. Sikivie, CERN, October 1980

Technicolour, Farhi & Susskind, March 1981

Where’s All The Antimatter?

One of the biggest mysteries in the Universe is the fact there there’s matter, and not antimatter. Where did it all go?

When we look around, everything we can see is made of matter. For every type of matter from electrons, protons and quarks there is a similar type of matter known as antimatter. So why aren’t there piles of antimatter rocks, cars and chocolate bars just lying around? Why does Scotty always have a little extra kicking around in his liquor cabinet? And where do I get mine?

The primary difference between matter and antimatter is that they have opposite electric charge. Which seems pretty mundane. The negatively charged electron has an antiparticle known as the positron, which has a positive electric charge.

Anti-protons have a negative charge, and are just flat out grumpy. We’ve been able to create these particles in the lab, and have even been able to create small amounts of anti-hydrogen consisting of a positron bound to an antiproton, when examined closely there’s were shown to have a goatee and a little colorful sash or dagger.

When we create particles in accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider, we seem to get equal amounts of matter and antimatter. This suggests that when particles were formed soon after the big bang, there should have been equal amounts of matter and antimatter.

Particle Collider
Large Hadron Collider (CERN/LHC/GridPP)

But the universe we observe is only made of matter, and… here’s the best part… we have no idea why. Why didn’t the matter and antimatter completely annihilate each other? How come we ended up with a little more matter? This delightful mystery is known as baryon asymmetry.

We do have a few ideas, and by we, I mean some giant brained crackerjacks have come up with a few plausible options. The most popular is that somehow antimatter behaves a little differently than matter. This could cause an imbalance between matter and antimatter. After particles collided in the early universe, there would still be matter left over, hence the matter we observe.

Another idea is that the observable universe just happens to be in a region dominated by matter. Other parts of the multiverse could have observable universes dominated by antimatter. Baryon asymmetry is one of the big mysteries of modern cosmology.

Zero Gravity Flight
Stephen Hawking, weightless (courtesy Zero Gravity Corporation)

There is an even crazier idea. Antimatter might have anti-gravity. In other words, an atom of anti-hydrogen would fall up instead of down. If that is the case, then matter and antimatter would repel each other, and you might have matter universes and antimatter universes that are forever separate.There have been some initial experiments to test this idea, but so far there have been no conclusive results.

What do you think? Where’s all our antimatter and how do we track it down? I’d sure love to bring some home and show my friends…

And if you like what you see, come check out our Patreon page and find out how you can get these videos early while helping us bring you more great content!

Macro View Makes Dark Matter Look Even Stranger

We know dark matter exists. We know this because without it and dark energy, our Universe would be missing 95.4% of its mass. What’s more, scientists would be hard pressed to explain what accounts for the gravitational effects they routinely see at work in the cosmos.

For decades, scientists have sought to prove its existence by smashing protons together in the Large Hadron Collider. Unfortunately, these efforts have not provided any concrete evidence.

Hence, it might be time to rethink dark matter. And physicists David M. Jacobs, Glenn D. Starkman, and Bryan Lynn of Case Western Reserve University have a theory that does just that, even if it does sound a bit strange.

In their new study, they argue that instead of dark matter consisting of elementary particles that are invisible and do not emit or absorb light and electromagnetic radiation, it takes the form of chunks of matter that vary widely in terms of mass and size.

As it stands, there are many leading candidates for what dark matter could be, which range from Weakly-Interacting Massive Particles (aka WIMPs) to axions. These candidates are attractive, particularly WIMPs, because the existence of such particles might help confirm supersymmetry theory – which in turn could help lead to a working Theory of Everything (ToE).

According to supersymmetry, dark-matter particles known as neutralinos (which are often called WIMPs) annihilate each other, creating a cascade of particles and radiation that includes medium-energy gamma rays. If neutralinos exist, the LAT might see the gamma rays associated with their demise. Credit: Sky & Telescope / Gregg Dinderman.
According to supersymmetry, dark-matter particles known as neutralinos (aka WIMPs) annihilate each other, creating a cascade of particles and radiation. Credit: Sky & Telescope / Gregg Dinderman.

But so far, no evidence has been obtained that definitively proves the existence of either. Beyond being necessary in order for General Relativity to work, this invisible mass seems content to remain invisible to detection.

According to Jacobs, Starkman, and Lynn, this could indicate that dark matter exists within the realm of normal matter. In particular, they consider the possibility that dark matter consists of macroscopic objects – which they dub “Macros” – that can be characterized in units of grams and square centimeters respectively.

Macros are not only significantly larger than WIMPS and axions, but could potentially be assembled out of particles in the Standard Model of particle physics – such as quarks and leptons from the early universe – instead of requiring new physics to explain their existence. WIMPS and axions remain possible candidates for dark matter, but Jacobs and Starkman argue that there’s a reason to search elsewhere.

“The possibility that dark matter could be macroscopic and even emerge from the Standard Model is an old but exciting one,” Starkman told Universe Today, via email. “It is the most economical possibility, and in the face of our failure so far to find dark matter candidates in our dark matter detectors, or to make them in our accelerators, it is one that deserves our renewed attention.”

After eliminating most ordinary matter – including failed Jupiters, white dwarfs, neutron stars, stellar black holes, the black holes in centers of galaxies, and neutrinos with a lot of mass – as possible candidates, physicists turned their focus on the exotics.

Particle Collider
Ongoing experiments at the Large Hadron Collider have so far failed to produce evidence of WIMPs. Credit: CERN/LHC/GridPP

Nevertheless, matter that was somewhere in between ordinary and exotic – relatives of neutron stars or large nuclei – was left on the table, Starkman said. “We say relatives because they probably have a considerable admixture of strange quarks, which are made in accelerators and ordinarily have extremely short lives,” he said.

Although strange quarks are highly unstable, Starkman points out that neutrons are also highly unstable. But in helium, bound with stable protons, neutrons remain stable.

“That opens the possibility that stable strange nuclear matter was made in the early Universe and dark matter is nothing more than chunks of strange nuclear matter or other bound states of quarks, or of baryons, which are themselves made of quarks,” said Starkman.

Such dark matter would fit the Standard Model.

This is perhaps the most appealing aspect of the Macros theory: the notion that dark matter, which our cosmological model of the Universe depends upon, can be proven without the need for additional particles.

Still, the idea that the universe is filled with a chunky, invisible mass rather than countless invisible particles does make the universe seem a bit stranger, doesn’t it?

Further Reading: Case Western

First Precise Measurement of Antihydrogen

The best science — the questions that capture and compel any human being — is enshrouded in mystery. Here’s an example: scientists expect that matter and antimatter were created in equal quantities shortly after the Big Bang. If this had been the case, the two types of particles would have annihilated each other, leaving a Universe permeated by energy.

As our existence attests, that did not happen. In fact, nature seems to have a one-part in 10 billion preference for matter over antimatter. It’s one of the greatest mysteries in modern physics.

But the Large Hadron Collider is working hard, literally pushing matter to the limit, to solve this captivating mystery. This week, CERN created a beam of antihydrogen atoms, allowing scientists to take precise measurements of this elusive antimatter for the first time.

Antiparticles are identical to matter particles except for the sign of their electric charge. So while hydrogen consists of a positively charged proton orbited by a negatively charged electron, antihydrogen consists of a negatively charged antiproton orbited by a positively charged anti-electron, or a positron

While primordial antimatter has never been observed in the Universe, it’s possible to create antihydrogen in a particle accelerator by mixing positrons and low energy antiprotons.

In 2010, the ALPHA team captured and held atoms of antihydrogen for the first time. Now the team has successfully created a beam of antihydrogen particles. In a paper published this week in Nature Communications, the ALPHA team reports the detection of 80 antihydrogen atoms 2.7 meters downstream from their production.

“This is the first time we have been able to study antihydrogen with some precision,” said ALPHA spokesperson Jeffrey Hangst in a press release. “We are optimistic that ALPHA’s trapping technique will yield many such insights in the future.”

One of the key challenges is keeping antihydrogen away from ordinary matter, so that the two don’t annihilate each other. To do so, most experiments use magnetic fields to trap antihydrogen atoms long enough to study them.

However, the strong magnetic fields degrade the spectroscopic properties of the antihydrogen atoms, so the ALPHA team had to develop an innovative set-up to transfer antihydrogen atoms to a region where they could be studied, far from the strong magnetic field.

To measure the charge of antihydrogen, the ALPHA team studied the trajectories of antihydrogen atoms released from the trap in the presence of an electric field. If the antihydrogen atoms had an electric charge, the field would deflect them, whereas neutral atoms would be undeflected.

The result, based on 386 recorded events, gives a value of the antihydrogen electric charge at -1.3 x 10-8. In other words, its charge is compatible with zero to eight decimal places. Although this result comes as no surprise, since hydrogen atoms are electrically neutral, it is the first time that the charge of an antiatom has been measured to such high precision.

In the future, any detectable difference between matter and antimatter could help solve one of the greatest mysteries in modern physics, opening up a window into a new realm of science.

The paper has been published in Nature Communications.

Journal Club – This new Chi b (3P) thingy

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According to Wikipedia, a Journal Club is a group of individuals who meet regularly to critically evaluate recent articles in the scientific literature. Since this is Universe Today if we occasionally stray into critically evaluating each other’s critical evaluations, that’s OK too.

And of course, the first rule of Journal Club is… don’t talk about Journal Club. So, without further ado – today’s journal article is about a new addition to the Standard Model of fundamental particles.

The good folk at the CERN Large Hadron Collider finished off 2011 with some vague murmurings about the Higgs Boson – which might have been kind-of sort-of discovered in the data already, but due to the degree of statistical noise around it, no-one’s willing to call it really found yet.

Since there is probably a Nobel prize in it – this seems like a good decision. It is likely that a one-way-or-the-other conclusion will be possible around this time next year – either because collisions to be run over 2012 reveal some critical new data, or because someone sifting through the mountain of data already produced will finally nail it.

But in the meantime, they did find something in 2011. There is a confirmed Observation of a new chi_b state in radiative transitions to Upsilon(1S) and Upsilon(2S) at the ATLAS experiment – or, in a nutshell… we hit Bottomonium.

In the lexicon of sub-atomic particle physics, the term Quarkonium is used to describe a particle whose constituents comprise a quark and its own anti-quark. So for example you can have Charmonium (a charm quark and a charm anti-quark) and you can have Bottomonium (a bottom quark and a bottom anti-quark).

The new Chi b (3P) particle has been reported as a boson – which is technically correct, since it has integer spin, while fermions (hadrons and leptons) have half spins. But it’s not an elementary boson like photons, gluons or the (theoretical) Higgs – it’s a composite boson composed of quarks. So, it is perhaps less confusing to consider it a meson (which is a bosonic hadron). Like other mesons, Chi b (3P) is a hadron that would not be commonly found in nature. It just appears briefly in particle accelerator collisions before it decays.

So comments? Has the significance of this new finding been muted because the discoverers thought it would just prompt a lot of bottom jokes? Is Chi_b (3P) the ‘Claytons Higgs’ (the boson you have when you’re not having a Higgs?). Want to suggest an article for the next edition of Journal Club?

Otherwise, have a great 2012.

Today’s article:
The ATLAS collaboration Observation of a new chi_b state in radiative transitions to Upsilon(1S) and Upsilon(2S) at the ATLAS experiment.

Large Hadron Collider Finishes 2011 Proton Run

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The world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator has been busy. At 5:15 p.m. on October 30, 2011, the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland reached the end of its current proton run. It came after 180 consecutive days of operation and four hundred trillion proton collisions. For the second year, the LHC team has gone beyond its operational objectives – sending more experimental data at a higher rate. But just what has it done?

When this year’s project started, its goal was to produce a surplus of data known to physicists as one inverse femtobarn. While that might seem like a science fiction term, it’s a science fact. An inverse femtobarn is a measurement of particle collision events per femtobarn – which is equal to about 70 million million collisions. The first inverse femtobarn came on June 17th, and just in time to prepare the stage for major physics conferences requiring the data be moved up to five inverse femtobarns. The incredible number of collisions was reached on October 18, 2011 and then surpassed as almost six inverse femtobarns were delivered to each of the two general-purpose experiments – ATLAS and CMS.

“At the end of this year’s proton running, the LHC is reaching cruising speed,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers. “To put things in context, the present data production rate is a factor of 4 million higher than in the first run in 2010 and a factor of 30 higher than at the beginning of 2011.”

But that’s not all the LHC delivered this year. This year’s proton run also shut out the accessible hiding space for the highly prized Higgs boson and supersymmetric particles. This certainly put the Standard Model of particle physics and our understanding of the primordial Universe to the test!

“It has been a remarkable and exciting year for the whole LHC scientific community, in particular for our students and post-docs from all over the world. We have made a huge number of measurements of the Standard Model and accessed unexplored territory in searches for new physics. In particular, we have constrained the Higgs particle to the light end of its possible mass range, if it exists at all,” said ATLAS Spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti. “This is where both theory and experimental data expected it would be, but it’s the hardest mass range to study.”

“Looking back at this fantastic year I have the impression of living in a sort of a dream,” said CMS Spokesperson Guido Tonelli. “We have produced tens of new measurements and constrained significantly the space available for models of new physics and the best is still to come. As we speak hundreds of young scientists are still analysing the huge amount of data accumulated so far; we’ll soon have new results and, maybe, something important to say on the Standard Model Higgs Boson.”

“We’ve got from the LHC the amount of data we dreamt of at the beginning of the year and our results are putting the Standard Model of particle physics through a very tough test ” said LHCb Spokesperson Pierluigi Campana. “So far, it has come through with flying colours, but thanks to the great performance of the LHC, we are reaching levels of sensitivity where we can see beyond the Standard Model. The researchers, especially the young ones, are experiencing great excitement, looking forward to new physics.”

Over the next few weeks, the LHC will be further refining the 2011 data set with an eye to improving our understanding of physics. And, while it’s possible we’ll learn more from current findings, look for a leap to a full 10 inverse femtobarns which may yet be possible in 2011 and projected for 2012. Right now the LHC is being prepared for four weeks of lead-ion running… an “attempt to demonstrate that large can also be agile by colliding protons with lead ions in two dedicated periods of machine development.” If this new strand of LHC operation happens, science will soon be using protons to check out the internal machinations of much heftier structures – like lead ions. This directly relates to quark-gluon plasma, the surmised primordial conglomeration of ordinary matter particles from which the Universe evolved.

“Smashing lead ions together allows us to produce and study tiny pieces of primordial soup,” said ALICE Spokesperson Paolo Giubellino, “but as any good cook will tell you, to understand a recipe fully, it’s vital to understand the ingredients, and in the case of quark-gluon plasma, this is what proton-lead ion collisions could bring.”

Original Story Source: CERN Press Release.

Astronomy Without A Telescope – Why The LHC Won’t Destroy The Earth

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Surprisingly, rumors still persist in some corners of the Internet that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is going to destroy the Earth – even though nearly three years have passed since it was first turned on. This may be because it is yet to be ramped up to full power in 2014 – although it seems more likely that this is just a case of moving the goal posts, since the same doomsayers were initially adamant that the Earth would be destroyed the moment the LHC was switched on, in September 2008.

The story goes that the very high energy collisions engineered by the LHC could jam colliding particles together with such force that their mass would be compressed into a volume less than the Schwarzschild radius required for that mass. In other words, a microscopic black hole would form and then grow in size as it sucked in more matter, until it eventually consumed the Earth.

Here’s a brief run-through of why this can’t happen.

1. Microscopic black holes are implausible.
While a teaspoon of neutron star material might weigh several million tons, if you extract a teaspoon of neutron star material from a neutron star it will immediately blow out into the volume you might expect several million tons of mass to usually occupy.

Notwithstanding you can’t physically extract a teaspoon of black hole material from a black hole – if you could, it is reasonable to expect that it would also instantly expand. You can’t maintain these extreme matter densities outside of a region of extreme gravitational compression that is created by the proper mass of a stellar-scale object.

The hypothetical physics that might allow for the creation of microscopic black holes (large extra dimensions) proposes that gravity gains more force in near-Planck scale dimensions. There is no hard evidence to support this theory – indeed there is a growing level of disconfirming evidence arising from various sources, including the LHC.

High energy particle collisions involve converting momentum energy into heat energy, as well as overcoming the electromagnetic repulsion that normally prevents charged particles from colliding. But the heat energy produced quickly dissipates and the collided particles fragment into sub-atomic shrapnel, rather than fusing together. Particle colliders attempt to mimic conditions similar to the Big Bang, not the insides of massive stars.

2. A hypothetical microscopic black hole couldn’t devour the Earth anyway.
Although whatever goes on inside the event horizon of a black hole is a bit mysterious and unknowable – physics still operates in a conventional fashion outside. The gravitational influence exerted by the mass of a black hole falls away by the inverse square of the distance from it, just like it does for any other celestial body.

The gravitational influence exerted by a microscopic black hole composed of, let’s say 1000 hyper-compressed protons, would be laughably small from a distance of more than its Schwarzschild radius (maybe 10-18 metres). And it would be unable to consume more matter unless it could overcome the forces that hold other matter together – remembering that in quantum physics, gravity is the weakest force.

It’s been calculated that if the Earth had the density of solid iron, a hypothetical microscopic black hole in linear motion would be unlikely to encounter an atomic nucleus more than once every 200 kilometres – and if it did, it would encounter a nucleus that would be at least 1,000 times larger in diameter.

So the black hole couldn’t hope to swallow the whole nucleus in one go and, at best, it might chomp a bit off the nucleus in passing – somehow overcoming the strong nuclear force in so doing. The microscopic black hole might have 100 such encounters before its momentum carried it all the way through the Earth and out the other side, at which point it would probably still be a good order of magnitude smaller in size than an uncompressed proton.

And that still leaves the key issue of charge out of the picture. If you could jam multiple positively-charged protons together into such a tiny volume, the resultant object should explode, since the electromagnetic force far outweighs the gravitational force at this scale. You might get around this if an exactly equivalent number of electrons were also added in, but this requires appealing to an implausible level of fine-tuning.

You maniacs! You blew it up! We may not be walking on the Moon again any time soon - but we won't be destroying the Earth with an ill-conceived physics experiment any time soon either. Credit: Dean Reeves.

3. What the doomsayers say
When challenged with the standard argument that higher-than-LHC energy collisions occur naturally and frequently as cosmic ray particles collide with Earth’s upper atmosphere, LHC conspiracy theorists refer to the high school physics lesson that two cars colliding head-on is a more energetic event than one car colliding with a brick wall. This is true, to the extent that the two car collision has twice the kinetic energy as the one car collision. However, cosmic ray collisions with the atmosphere have been measured as having 50 times the energy that will ever be generated by LHC collisions.

In response to the argument that a microscopic black hole would pass through the Earth before it could achieve any appreciable mass gain, LHC conspiracy theorists propose that an LHC collision would bring the combined particles to a dead stop and they would then fall passively towards the centre of the Earth with insufficient momentum to carry them out the other side.

This is also implausible. The slightest degree of transverse momentum imparted to LHC collision fragments after a head-on collision of two particles travelling at nearly 300,000 kilometres a second will easily give those fragments an escape velocity from the Earth (which is only 11.2 kilometres a second, at sea-level).

Further reading: CERN The safety of the LHC.

Hunt for Dark Matter Closes in at the LHC

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From an Imperial College London press release:

Physicists say they are closer than ever to finding the source of the Universe’s mysterious dark matter, following a better than expected year of research at the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) particle detector, part of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva.

The scientists have now carried out the first full run of experiments that smash protons together at almost the speed of light. When these sub-atomic particles collide at the heart of the CMS detector, the resultant energies and densities are similar to those that were present in the first instants of the Universe, immediately after the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago. The unique conditions created by these collisions can lead to the production of new particles that would have existed in those early instants and have since disappeared.

The researchers say they are well on their way to being able to either confirm or rule out one of the primary theories that could solve many of the outstanding questions of particle physics, known as Supersymmetry (SUSY). Many hope it could be a valid extension for the Standard Model of particle physics, which describes the interactions of known subatomic particles with astonishing precision but fails to incorporate general relativity, dark matter and dark energy.

In particle physics, supersymmetry is a symmetry that relates elementary particles of one spin to other particles that differ by half a unit of spin and are known assuperpartners. In a theory with unbroken supersymmetry, for every type of boson there exists a corresponding type of fermion with the same mass and internal quantum numbers, and vice-versa.

Dark matter is an invisible substance that we cannot detect directly but whose presence is inferred from the rotation of galaxies. Physicists believe that it makes up about a quarter of the mass of the Universe whilst the ordinary and visible matter only makes up about 5% of the mass of the Universe. Its composition is a mystery, leading to intriguing possibilities of hitherto undiscovered physics.

Professor Geoff Hall from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London, who works on the CMS experiment, said, “We have made an important step forward in the hunt for dark matter, although no discovery has yet been made. These results have come faster than we expected because the LHC and CMS ran better last year than we dared hope and we are now very optimistic about the prospects of pinning down Supersymmetry in the next few years.”

The energy released in proton-proton collisions in CMS manifests itself as particles that fly away in all directions. Most collisions produce known particles but, on rare occasions, new ones may be produced, including those predicted by SUSY – known as supersymmetric particles, or ‘sparticles’. The lightest sparticle is a natural candidate for dark matter as it is stable and CMS would only ‘see’ these objects through an absence of their signal in the detector, leading to an imbalance of energy and momentum.

In order to search for sparticles, CMS looks for collisions that produce two or more high-energy ‘jets’ (bunches of particles traveling in approximately the same direction) and significant missing energy.

Dr. Oliver Buchmueller, also from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London, but who is based at CERN, said, “We need a good understanding of the ordinary collisions so that we can recognise the unusual ones when they happen. Such collisions are rare but can be produced by known physics. We examined some 3 trillion proton-proton collisions and found 13 ‘SUSY-like’ ones, around the number that we expected. Although no evidence for sparticles was found, this measurement narrows down the area for the search for dark matter significantly.”

The physicists are now looking forward to the 2011 run of the LHC and CMS, which is expected to bring in data that could confirm Supersymmetry as an explanation for dark matter.

The CMS experiment is one of two general purpose experiments designed to collect data from the LHC, along with ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS). Imperial’s High Energy Physics Group has played a major role in the design and construction of CMS and now many of the members are working on the mission to find new particles, including the elusive Higgs boson particle (if it exists), and solve some of the mysteries of nature, such as where mass comes from, why there is no anti-matter in our Universe and whether there are more than three spatial dimensions.

New Discovery at the Large Hadron Collider?

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Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider reported today they apparently have discovered a previously unobserved phenomenon in proton-proton collisions. One of the detectors shows that the colliding particles appear to be intimately linked in a way not seen before in proton collisions. The correlations were observed between particles produced in 7 TeV collisions. “The new feature has appeared in our analysis around the middle of July,” physicist Guido Tonelli told fellow CERN scientists at a seminar to present the findings from the collider’s CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) detector.

The scientists said the effect is subtle and they have performed several detailed crosschecks and studies to ensure that it is real. It bears some similarity to effects seen in the collisions of nuclei at the RHIC facility located at the US Brookhaven National Laboratory, which have been interpreted as being possibly due to the creation of hot dense matter formed in the collisions.

CMS studies the collisions by measuring angular correlations between the particles as they fly away from the point of impact.

The scientists stressed that there are several potential explanations to be considered and the they presented their news to the physics community at CERN today in hopes of “fostering a broader discussion on the subject.”

“Now we need more data to analyze fully what’s going on, and to take our first steps into the vast landscape of new physics we hope the LHC will open up,” said Tonelli.

Proton running at the Large Hadron Collider is scheduled to continue until the end of October, during which time CMS will accumulate much more data to analyze. After that, and for the remainder of 2010, the LHC will collide lead nuclei.

Source: CERN