The Big Bang Machine

A simulated Higgs event

A simulated Higgs event

The big bang is now widely accepted as being the best explanation science can currently give us, for how all the star dust you and me and everything in the universe is made of, first came into being.

Unfortunately, the big bang theory is not yet a fully complete explanation, because the so-called dark material which the mathematics rely upon, in order to explain the varying levels of heat present in the background radiation left over from the big bang, hasn’t yet been directly observed.

The best brains in physics indicate that dark matter does indeed exist, because of the predictions that can be made and tested against the effects it has on everything else around it. But that pesky old problem of irrefutable evidence demands that scientists do all they can, beyond a reasonable doubt to prove, that it is indeed really there.

Ever since the 1960s, when the big bang theory first stepped ahead of the prevailing explanation on universe origins, the so-called steady state hypothesis, science has attempted to build a sufficiently large enough laboratory to carry out experiments on the atom itself, by slamming the constituent particles surrounding the nucleus together and watching what happens to the bits that fly off.

In the billionths of a second after this impact, dark matter, it is predicted, gives mass to the fundamental elements it interacts with – hence allowing them (after a VERY long time) to cluster together and form galaxies, built one atom at a time. If, on the other hand, dark matter does not exist, according to current mathematical models, there is no way of explaining why this bunching together of constituent particles occurs and the big bang as a theory begins to fall apart. Without bunching, nothing has any mass. Without mass, there is no space time. Without space time there is no gravity.

In short, without dark matter, the soup of material which came into being after the big bang, would have remained just that – a mass-less goop, incapable of bunching up into different elements, like iron, carbon and eventually, given the perfect mix of time, water and electricity, evolve into living bacteria, sea algae, then land vegetation, then fish, then monkeys, before eventually culminating in the ultimately evolved life-forms. You, me – even Republicans – we’re all made from the same material, which can only be fully understood, if predictions about the existence of dark matter are proven correct.

In this BBC documentary, Professor Brian Cox visits Geneva to look around Cern Laboratory’s Large Hadron Collider – the biggest science experiment ever built. The LHC will be switched on next Wednesday, the 10th of September, 2008. Inside the ring, under the Swiss / French border, four detectors will – over the next few years – either establish once and for all the existence, behaviour and properties of dark matter, or point the whole world of physics off in an entirely new direction, in the search for the ultimate truth to the ultimate question of how the universe and everything in it, first came into being.

Compare and contrast the joyful anticipation of the scientists who have spent their entire lives waiting to be proven wrong, with the arrogant ignorance of fundamentalist religious certainties and you begin to see how far we have to go in convincing all the people of planet earth just how amazing we really are.

EDIT: Google have removed this video. For the time being, you’ll have to look for it on UseNet – where I posted it to the newsgroup alt.binaries.documentaries. I’ll be re-submitting it to Google Video, under a different username soon.


3 comments on “The Big Bang Machine

  1. Less science, eh? OK. Well, I’ll try.

    Everything in the universe appeared out of nothing. Zero. NOT-A-FUCKING-THING! And just to prove it, some really bright people have built a massive great masheen that fires really small bullets at each other from two guns. Only instead of bullets they’re using single elements from inside the atom and instead of using guns they’re using a massive tube underneath the ground.

    You are made of atoms. The same kinds of atoms that make stars. In fact you are made from star dust. So are cars, planets, stripy tea mugs, animals, trees – EVERYTHING is made of exploded stars.

    Inside this star dust there are different kinds of particles, which when arranged in a different order make up different things. Think of particles as those one square lego bricks, which you always loose in the hoover. Because they’re easily lost, scientists have to look really hard to find them. They know these bricks do exist, because if they didn’t exist the other bricks around them, which can be more easily seen, wouldn’t behave in the way they do. They would just float off, unable to stick to each other.

    But just to be on the safe side, CERN want to look really really hard to see if they can spot one of these missing particles in particular – called the Higgs boson – because if they can catch one on film, as it ejects itself from the explosion which results from smashing a bunch of lego bricks into smithereens, they will have proved that the big bang is the best explanation we currently have for how the universe came into existence.

    Proving that means that it is safe to proceed onto thinking about what happened before the big bang, which is an area of research known as string theory – where instead of thinking about the big bang as being a one off, unusual, improbable but not impossible event (a singularity) lots of big bangs in fact might be happening all the time – in dimensions beyond our own, each of them creating other universes which may or may not grow up to become the same as ours, complete with someone, somewhere in time, asking and answering these same questions at the same time and at different times as you and me.

    Probabilistically these other universe living folk might even be called Lucy and James. The jury is out, however, on whether or not they can haz cheeseburger.

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