The Higgs Boson - unanswered questions

2012-07-08 15:36

As A “Matter” Of Fact

By Martin McGhee

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Now then, hold your neurons, don’t count your protons before they hatch and consider this: the discovery last week of the elusive, all-but non-existent Higgs Boson has been tempered by more cautious souls who repeatedly inject the word “probably” into the flurry of excitement and incredulity currently infecting the scientific world.

The experts are something like 99,9% convinced of the validity of the find but at the same time have plainly stated that “more work needs to be done” before absolute proof is presented to a world full of people talking about something about which they have no idea what they’re talking about – if you get my drift.

Put plainly, in the world of particle physics 99, 9% is not good enough although one of the world’s greatest minds and Simpson’s star, Professor Stephen Hawking is preparing to pay out on a $100-dollar bet he now feels he has lost. This I suppose should be good enough for most but while the probability factor is still there I think I’ll wait and see.

But OK, let’s assume my sliver of scepticism is wrong and the “God Particle” really has been found, we finally know how we have shape, form and mass and the fundamentals of physics have been changed forever.

Have we now discovered everything as the president of Britain’s Royal Academy of Science confidently announced at the turn of the 19th century?

Well, no, not really.

The speed of light

There are still three more scientific Holy Grails our boffins are chasing; dark matter, gravitational waves and of course the mother of them all, travelling faster than the speed of light. The former two, like black holes, are known to exist but have never been seen.

As things stand, nothing, absolutely nothing can travel faster than 186,282 miles per second – or at least that was a fundamental of physics in the 20th century. To travel at that speed would of course open up the possibility of intergalactic travel, but not I fear, in my lifetime or yours. As for moving faster than the speed of light, the mind boggles and such speculation should be left in the imaginative hands of the sci-fi writers and movie makers. Would you meet yourself coming back? You know, that sort of thing.

Dark matter

Dark matter is, excuse the expression, another matter altogether. It’s another of those impenetrable theories that state that something exists even though we cannot see it – something that can be accurately guessed at but more or less not yet proved... The theory goes something like this: Space is not empty and is still growing with only a paltry five percent comprising “normal” matter; that is the stars and all the planets ever observed. The rest, wait for it, constitutes 70 percent of “dark” energy and the remainder formed out of dark matter of which little (read nothing) is known. Latest indications are that dark matter is made up of massive sub-atomic particles formed during the Big Bang which are capable of passing through galaxies without causing “observable effects”.

Well and good, but if it causes no observable effects then how on earth will they ever find it/see it? Next question.

Discovering gravitational waves

These are supposedly the universe’s most elusive waveforms created by “unfathomably huge events far out in the universe, the collision of neutron stars or the convergence of black holes,” according to Jonathan Brown, writing in The Independent last week.

Black holes, naturally, are something else we cannot see.

However, according to Brown, these “ripples on the face of time happened so far away that they would always be too weak ever to be recorded when they reached earth.”

Scientists, German naturally, claim to be now on the brink of measuring their first gravitational waves which in turn would usher in a new era of astronomy where such waves would be used in telescopes and allow us to finally, maybe, glimpse back into the origins of the Big Bang and eventually “see” how the cosmos was born.

For myself, like someone travelling in the vicinity of a black hole, I refuse to be drawn any further.


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2010-11-21 18:15

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