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Apologies for being so inactive. Work really kills a lot of your motivation to do other things.
I’ve only felt like doing short posts of late and as some of you may have noticed, the posts I tend to do here are long. Anyway, I still engage in scientific discussion when the chance arises and typed this one out recently – thought I would share it. I typed this on my phone by the way, so forgive any grammar/syntax/punctuation errors.
Damn this is getting frustrating. Time to drop some knowledge bombs.
Antimatter is NOT dark matter. Dark matter is matter that we have not discovered and have literally no idea about – hence dark. We know it exists because it affects light and other properties in the universe in a way that currently known matter cannot describe (i.e more light curvature than one would expect given how much known matter there is – hence that means there’s more “stuff” out there than we know). Dark energy is used to describe the accelerated expansion of the universe. Remember, what’s dark mean? It meabs we don’t know. So we expect expansion to be slowing down but it’s actually increasing so there must be some energy we don’t know about. Those of you that actually UNDERSTAND Einstein’s equation E=mc^2 will know energy and mass are the interchangeable, so dark energy and dark matter are essentially the same thing.
Now ANTImatter is not dark. What does that mean? We KNOW about it. What is matter made up of? Particles. So antimatter is a broad term for a whole bunch of particles called antiparticles. Every particle theoretically has an antiparticle with the same mass but opposite charge, therefore when they come into contact with each other they annihilate each other and cause decay (into other forms of energy/particles). Carl Anderson discovered the POSITRON. It is the antiparticle of the ELECTRON. Both are known to exist and scientists can create them at will. No, it’s not the end of the world. Positrons ONLY annihilate electrons. All elementary particles have a known antiparticle.
Further reading for you if you’re interested is CP Violation which explains why there’s more matter than antimatter in the universe.
Boom. Science bitches.
On a side note, I think I will begin every scientific explanation I give with “Time to drop some knowledge bombs” and end it with “Boom. Science bitches.” from now on. Sound good?
Regarding my passion for writing, I’ve been a bit lacklustre lately. Full time work coupled with a dimming inspiration has made it difficult for me to “pick up the pen” so to speak.
Luckily science is absolutely awe inspiring (though I usually write fantasy over sci-fi). I was reminded of time dilation whilst reading about the universe and it made me want to write something. Something that is poetic in a way only science can be, and yet still informative and intellectual.
I have to admit, I may have bitten off more than I could chew. It was very difficult to make scientific references, whilst keeping character and maintain a rough scientific accuracy. A fuller explanation of this story can be found in this post, but I recommend you read the story first.
See if you can name all the scientific references I made! Otherwise, just enjoy.
The Loneliest Particle in the Universe
I am born into a frozen plane.
Behind me is a surging mass of super heated elements. I know this, but to my eyes it is dim and grey. And unmoving. Everything around me is unmoving.
There are more stars like the one behind me but they are few and far between. They provide a speckle of grey on an overwhelmingly black canvas.
There is no direction or goal, but my nature compels me to move forward. I leave my place of origin and venture alone into the black void.
I begin to pass rocks, planets and stars. Soon, I am crossing galaxies, but still, nothing around me moves. The worlds around me are desolate and empty.
I pass clusters of galaxies with innumerable stars but I am still alone. Nothing moves. The universe around me is frozen. It is not dead, but neither is it truly alive. Kind of like me. I am not dead, because I exist, but am I really alive? More stars pass as I ponder this. Perhaps I am both dead and alive. I may never know which. I need somebody to verify my existence – somebody who is not me.
As I pass through the empty universe, I search frantically for somebody, anybody who can tell me that I am real. That I am alive. Time stands still for everything around me, but I cannot stop. I am compelled to move only forward, straight and true. It is in my nature.
I grow tired. Not physically, for I have not aged, but emotionally I am drained. I see the vast universe around me but I am completely alone. I see others that look like me, some travelling and some just born, but the moment I lay eyes on them, a part of them is frozen to the spot and a part I cannot see is gone. Perhaps they are just like me – stuck in their own frozen planes.
Finally, I see a planet. Like everything around it, it is dim and grey, but somehow it feels … blue. What excites me most is what I see on the planet’s surface. Sentient life, capable of communication and thus capable of telling me if I am real.
A moment of surprise hits me as I pass through the atmosphere. Large clusters of molecules hang liquid in the air. As I pass through them, I feel my body pulled and stretched to breaking point. All manner of colour bursts forth from me but I struggle forward. It feels as if parts of me cannot keep up, but I continue straight ahead. It is in my nature.
My excitement mounts as I pass overhead, but soon I realise my happiness is premature. These creatures are frozen too, and I am moving too fast. Even if they spot a part of me, I realise I will be gone. Just like the others, I cannot truly be seen or measured. I can never know if I am alive.
It happens too quickly but I am gone. The blackness before me is soul crushing. The star here is dark – far darker than anything I’ve seen so far – and I feel as though all hope is lost. I know there is more sentience out there, but I also know now that I am a paradox. Nobody can truly see me. I will travel over 93 billion light years and not a second will go by. But for the entire journey I will be alone.
From my birth I was destined to be frozen in that one single moment for all eternity. I am Photon, the loneliest particle in the universe.
So, recently scientists reported the discovery of a particle with observable effects likening it to the Higgs Boson. That’s a very complex way of saying “they think they found the Higgs Boson”. Some of you may not think this is a big deal. To those people, I say “I don’t believe you understand the gravity of this matter”. That’s the first of some of the Higgs jokes popping up.
Anyway, this is a huge scientific breakthrough and it pretty much shoots the whole neutrino affair out of the water. Why is that? Well, there was a lot more hype over the neutrino potentially surpassing light speed because geeks and opportunists started an avalanche of ill-informed statements. The most prominent of these was the whole “faster than light” travel fiasco. I wrote an article on the neutrino for a course at uni but I can’t be bothered finding it so I’ll sum up quickly why this is a stupid idea: the neutrino is also known as the “ghost particle” because it can travel through matter with minimal to no interaction. If something with that kind of amazing ability can’t surpass light speed (or was in doubt of surpassing light speed at the time that these faster than light dreams started multiplying) then what hope do humans have? Let’s put this in perspective. Suppose the neutrino did manage to break the light speed barrier. Well, you might say humans will use that technology to develop super-light speed travel. Errrrrrr. Wrong. What are you going to do, make a spaceship out of neutrinos? Let me remind you that neutrinos do not interact with matter. You’ll have a better chance at resolving the atheist-theist war than ever making even a seat out of neutrinos. There’s a lot more to the neutrino than that, and maybe I’ll put the information up here some time, but for now, rest easy knowing that we’ll always be stuck at sub-light speeds.
I sort of went off at a tangent here. The point was that the neutrino buzz was a fad; there was never really any substance to it. This Higgs boson ordeal, however, is mind boggling. I mean that literally. Even with my reasonable grasp of science, it’s a bit hard to wrap my head around. I asked my mom and stepfather (both PhD physicists who were top of their field in Australia before retirement) for a bit of clarification and arrived at the understanding I have now. I’m going to give a brief explanation of the Higgs Boson and Higgs field in the following paragraphs; if these do not interest you, you may skip, but that leaves you with a bigger question – what are you doing reading this if you’re not interested in science?
Ok, so let’s start with the Higgs field. Why? Because the Higgs Boson is a particle associated with the Higgs field in the same way a photon is associated with an electromagnetic field. The difference here is that the Higgs field permeates the universe. This is a bit hard to understand without an analogy. Let’s say that the universe is submerged within a tank of water – that is, all the planets and stars and galaxies are objects within this tank. The water would be the fabric of time and space – as well as the Higgs field. It is everywhere, in more ways than one. For example, you can bend the fabric of space time (with our analogy, that would be a ripple in the water). Whilst this may shorten the “distance” between two points, the ripple does not eliminate the space time in between – it merely distorts it.
So now that we’ve determined that the Higgs field pretty much encompasses the entirety of the universe (Einstein theorised a similar space time fabric, though I forget the exact name), what you need to know is that particles travelling through the Higgs field, and thus interacting with it, are affected by the Higgs Boson. The Higgs Boson is a class of particle whose category is known as a Boson. It’s special because it transfers mass to certain elementary particles and thus explains why some particles have mass and others do not. Without mass, there would be no gravity and thus no universe – which is why you’ll hear that the Higgs Boson “holds the universe together”. You’ll also hear it called the “god particle” but Higgs dislikes that name – originally he wanted it called the “goddamn particle” but his editor thought it would be more attention grabbing if it was named the “god particle”.
Anyway, if we delve a little deeper (and further outside my comfort zone), we can attempt to explain how this mass is transferred. Most particles have a positive or negative, non-integer spin. This means that at each energy level of the particle, only one type of spin can exist for the orbiting electron. This is known as the Pauli exclusion principle. The difference with the Higgs Boson is that it can have zero spin or integer spins, thus allowing it to exist alongside another spinning electron at any given energy level. This essentially means that it can exist in multiple states (you may have heard of this quantum mechanics term before, especially since the popularisation of Schrodinger’s Cat). Because the Higgs Boson can exist where no other normal particle should, it has the potential to transfer mass (this is actually my own speculation, don’t quote me in any academic papers).
Anyway, that’s about as far into it as I’ll get. The crux of the matter is, the simple model has been completed. Scientists used this model for 50 years with no proof that the Higgs Boson existed, and now, finally, we have that proof. In short, we’ve discovered something that was fundamental to not only our creation, but everything we see around us in the universe.
The title of this post also mentions world powers, but I’ve rambled on a bit now. I’ll just leave with a quick paraphrasing of the well known Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. “On the day that we Americans like to tell ourselves that we’re the best (July 4), Europe reminds us how far behind we’ve fallen in science (Higgs Boson)”. Dr. Tyson has a deep concern that scientific power will shift away from the US, and wishes to reignite his country’s passion for science. I agree with his forecast; due to the nature of brilliant minds, the next generations of scientists will go to Europe instead of the US for their scientific goals, due to the infrastructure Europe can offer (Large Hadron Collider vs. the now closed Enrico Fermi reactor in the US). A large part of the US’s success is due to the infrastructure and opportunity available within the country, which attracted immigrants and geniuses together. As Dr. Tyson also points out, the greatest scientific achievements made by the US were made by immigrants (a German scientist started the US space program, for instance), and if their infrastructure falls behind, inevitably, their science will too. This will have a widespread effect that will eventually see the US removed as the world superpower (among other factors).
Well, those are my thoughts for the day. Forgive me for any errors in my scientific talk – as I said, the details of quantum physics elude me and I haven’t had the time to research the Higgs Boson as much as I did for the neutrino. Let’s just leave with a picture of the second (and perhaps more prominent) reason why Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is so famous now.