CERN black hole

dark matter


So… some scientists have made a mini black hole which very probably won’t engulf the Earth. Debs Taylor checks out the CERN black hole project and thinks “Wow, wouldn’t it be nice if each universe has been created by its predecessors’ inhabitants reaching a stage of evolution at which they can recreate the Big Bang and thus start the whole thing over again?”

This Wednesday morning, someone will press return on a computer keyboard in a room somewhere near the Swiss / French border, in a complex called CERN. This will then release some hydrogen into a 27 kilometre super cooled concrete circle, until they start travelling at as close to the speed of light as they can manage, and crash into each other. The person pushing the button hopes this may cause a mini black hole to emerge.

Anyone who has seen the Disney movie knows that Black Holes are really dangerous. So, why would anyone in their right mind want to attempt to create one in a bunker under France? Well, it’s all about figuring out how the universe began. Most people have their creation theories. The Christians say that God made it all. Voodooists believe it was a giant serpent that made the world. Scientists believe it was a really Big Bang.

Now, no one has found this serpent, or met God, at least not in any conclusive manner. But scientists think they can prove the Big Bang. And they can do this, in part, by firing hydrogen particles at each other at the speed of light.

That the universe is constantly growing was first confirmed by a man called Edwin Hubble, from his observatory in California. This proved that, contrary to previous belief, the universe had not just always been, static and immobile. It was something that was growing, rapidly, flying away from a centre. As though flung by an explosion, such as the Big Bang.

The next problem that the scientists faced was that there was not enough material in the universe to create everything that is in the universe. Nothing they could see. This was solved by the idea of Dark Matter, something that has a mass that fills the void of the universe, but is invisible and intangible. And has no measurable mass. The problem with mass is something else that troubles scientists. As you may, or may not know, we’re made up of incredibly tiny pieces, called atoms. As is everything in the universe. And they are truly miniscule. In fact there are more atoms in a glass of water, than there are glasses of water in all the oceans of the world. That’s a lot of atoms.

Each atom is made up of a nucleus, which is surrounded by a number of protons and neutrons. The different number of protons and neutrons define what the atoms make up, be it hydrogen, oxygen or whatever. Each combination of these compounds makes up everything in the universe. The interesting thing about the atom is that it’s mostly made up of nothing. Absolutely nothing. This means that we are made up of mainly nothing.

So how can we have mass? That’s the big puzzle. And that’s where a scientist called Higgs comes into play. Using lots of formulas that most people will never really understand, he devised the Higgs Boson. This is a particle that has a negative vacuum field, which generates mass in the universe. It’s possible that it was the Higgs Boson which was the origin behind the Big Bang, which is why it’s known as the God Particle.

There hasn’t been a Higgs Boson since then. And if one did exist, it would only exist for such a tiny fraction of a second, there is no way it could be observed. But the scientists at CERN are hoping that they will be able to create one, to measure its after effects. This is why they are firing hydrogen particles at each other at the speed of light.

This may, as I said, create a few black holes here or there. But, if Stephen Hawkings’ calculations and theories are correct, they will be of such a small size, they will only exist for second or so, before eating themselves and vanishing. Nor will, it can be hoped, the creation of the Higgs Boson recreate the Big Bang itself, starting off another new universe to replace ours.

So why take such great risks with the entirety of all creation? Well, if they can measure the residue of the Higgs Boson, it can tell us more about what constitutes mass. What the universe is made of and how that came to be. How Dark Material is composed and, maybe, a way of detecting it. Naturally, it’ll be revealed in complex and unintelligible text, which we, the common people, will not understand. But someone will break it down for us. Then we’ll know a little more about our nature.

With any luck you’ll be reading this and everything will have gone ok at CERN. And it’s very, very likely it will be fine. Especially as the really high energy collisions aren’t planned to start until 21st October…