Explain Yourself Hadron

Science wires reverberate with news of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) once again accelerating particles following a 2 year hiatus. Catching wind of LHC successfully out of the starting blocks this past Sunday, my initial reaction was “holy crap, that’s fantastic”. Officially LHC shut down in February 2013 for “upgrades” and maintenance in preparation for this week’s curtain – particle collisions at almost double the previous velocity.

In 2013, the Nobel prize in Physics went to Francois Englert and Peter W. Higgs for theories developed in 1964 on how particles acquire mass.

The awarded theory is a central part of the Standard Model of particle physics that describes how the world is constructed. According to the Standard Model, everything, from flowers and people to stars and planets, consists of just a few building blocks: matter particles. These particles are governed by forces mediated by force particles that make sure everything works as it should.

“The entire Standard Model also rests on the existence of a special kind of particle: the Higgs particle. This particle originates from an invisible field that fills up all space. Even when the universe seems empty this field is there. Without it, we would not exist, because it is from contact with the field that particles acquire mass. The theory proposed by Englert and Higgs describes this process.

On 4 July 2012, at the CERN laboratory for particle physics, the theory was confirmed by the discovery of a Higgs particle. CERN’s particle collider, LHC (Large Hadron Collider), is probably the largest and the most complex machine ever constructed by humans. Two research groups of some 3,000 scientists each, ATLAS and CMS, managed to extract the Higgs particle from billions of particle collisions in the LHC.

Even though it is a great achievement to have found the Higgs particle — the missing piece in the Standard Model puzzle — the Standard Model is not the final piece in the cosmic puzzle. One of the reasons for this is that the Standard Model treats certain particles, neutrinos, as being virtually massless, whereas recent studies show that they actually do have mass. Another reason is that the model only describes visible matter, which only accounts for one fifth of all matter in the cosmos. To find the mysterious dark matter is one of the objectives as scientists continue the chase of unknown particles at CERN.”


Back to my “holy crap, fantastic” – recognizing magnitude, does little to solidify that event in accessible terms. I can “holy crap” all week long, “fantastic” would be wrapping a middle aged head around theoretical physics. Toss me a crumb Hadron, you have my undivided attention. Out there somewhere is a merciful person or website  capable of patient baby steps from the Standard Model to ramifications of your greatness.

Do We Live In a Wormhole?

This week, an international team of astrophysicists published their hypothesis in the Annuals of Physics – our Milky Way galaxy might be a wormhole. In a nutshell, a tunnel of space and time able to transport us to unimaginable corners of the cosmos. By factoring “dark matter” into the “bulk” of our cosmic backyard, the Milky Way appears dense enough to support a wormhole at its heart.

By combining theories of relativity with a complex “map” of dark matter in the galaxy, (admittedly their own map) – they determined we all need to smarten up and consider dark matter possibilities.

“Dark matter may be ‘another dimension,’ perhaps even a major galactic transport system. In any case, we really need to start asking ourselves what it is.”

Paolo Salucci, astrophysicist of the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste and a dark matter expert, explained:

If we combine the map of the dark matter in the Milky Way with the most recent Big Bang model to explain the universe and we hypothesize the existence of space-time tunnels, what we get is that our galaxy could really contain one of these tunnels, and that the tunnel could even be the size of the galaxy itself.

But there’s more. We could even travel through this tunnel, since, based on our calculations, it could be navigable. Just like the one we’ve all seen in the recent film ‘Interstellar.’

Although space-time tunnels (or wormholes or Einstein-Rosen bridges) have only recently gained great popularity among the public thanks to Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi film, they have been the focus of astrophysicists’ attention for many years. Salucci joked:

What we tried to do in our study was to solve the very equation that the astrophysicist ‘Murph’ was working on. Clearly we did it long before the film came out.

It is, in fact, an extremely interesting problem for dark matter studies.

Obviously we’re not claiming that our galaxy is definitely a wormhole, but simply that, according to theoretical models, this hypothesis is a possibility.


Dark Matter Ting

On April 3 the scientific community stood up and took notice of a rather astounding bit of news released by MIT Nobel Laureate Samuel Ting. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has detected over 400,000 positrons since 2011.

Far from being a scientist, I`ll try my best to explain why Ting is starching his shirt.

A positron is to antimatter what electrons are to matter. The AMS is designed to analyse `cosmic ray events`; a task it has completed 25 billion times in the last 18 months. Cosmic rays consist of sub-atomic particles, blasted into hyper speed by super novas and other violent cosmic happenings. Science has known for a few years that these rays contain the odd splattering of antimatter. Since the universe has very little antimatter, the question became – where were all the positrons coming from.

The conclusion points to the elusive ghost known as dark matter. Dark matter has gravity but produces no light, we know it makes up 70% of our universe. Beyond that science becomes fiction. The best theory we have is that dark matter consists of neutralino particles; collisions of these particles are creating the positrons.

A cautiously optimistic Ting expects to rule out pulsars as the only other possible source within the next year.

AMS (splash)

A new ScienceCast video explores the possibility that signs of dark matter have been detected onboard the International Space Station. Play it

Dark Matter

The universe is made of matter, normal matter is the matter we understand. Normal matter makes up only around 5% of the universe. The rest – about 70% is dark energy, and 25% dark matter.  We have no idea how dark energy or matter work, we only know it’s there. To understand them we may have to throw Einstein’s theory of relativity out the window, as his theory on gravity holding the universe together doesn’t seem to apply to 95% of our universe.

.Albert Einstein