Thoughts, Rants and Stuff

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What is the ‘Higgs Boson’?

You’ve likely heard that scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have found the Higgs Boson, but you may be wondering what exactly it is. The simplest way of putting it is that it gives stuff mass. But how? That’s what I’m going to attempt to explain here. (And no, it won’t be in Comic Sans)

To understand how the Higgs boson gives particles mass, you must first understand what mass is. A particle without mass (such as the photon; the light particle) travels at the speed of light, 186,282.397 miles per second (299,792,458 meters per second), constantly. It is physically impossible for a massless particle to travel at a different speed. Particles that have mass have the ability to change speed or direction, but can’t go at or above that speed. The more mass a particle has, the tougher it is for the particle to change speed and direction.

The way particles gain mass is by how they travel through the Higgs field (notably different from the Higgs boson). The Higgs field is everything. Spacetime (what used to be referred to as ‘ether’), the ‘fabric of the universe’, has the Higgs field in it, everywhere. When a particle travels through this Higgs field, it reacts with the Higgs field, and effectively bounces off of it. While, in between bounces, the particle is traveling at the speed of light, at appears to move much slower, or even not at all. Some particles (such as the top quark; the elementary particle with the most mass of all) react with it a lot, but others (such as the photon, a massless elementary particle) don’t react with it at all.

That’s what the Higgs field is, but what’s the Higgs boson? The Higgs boson is merely an excitation of the Higgs field; the detectable part of it. In fact, the Higgs boson reacts with the Higgs field, allow itself to have mass. Actually, the Higgs boson reacts with the Higgs field much more than it does with other particles, so the Higgs boson has a very large mass when compared to other particles.

That’s what the Higgs boson is, but how do you find a new particle? The Higgs boson, when created by protons smashing into each other, is very short lived. It instantly decays into other particles. There are a lot of other particles that it can decay into depending on the circumstances. Some are more likely than others, but they are all possible none the less. Scientists at the LHC didn’t actually see the Higgs boson, but an escalated amount of particles that it can decay into, warranting the possibility of the Higgs boson existing. While millions of collisions had to occur to reasonably deduce that there is a Higgs boson, scientists believe that it’s there. From the data that they have received, scientists can infer that there is an unidentified boson with a mass of 125 billion electron volts (the mass of 133 protons). This matches the predicted mass of the Higgs boson. So while scientists aren’t positive that the Higgs boson exists, they’re certain beyond reasonable doubt.

Scientists will postpone the previously scheduled renovations to the Large Hadron Collider to further investigate the Higgs boson and after that look into dark energy (the proposed reason for the universe expanding at an escalated rate which is believed to occupy 74% of the universe) and dark matter (which is believed to be matter that does not react with the electromagnetic force (light) and theoretically composes 80% of the 26% of matter in our universe).

Filed under higgs higgs field higgs boson boson standard model elementary particle physics theoretical physics particle physics large hadron collider lhc cern european organization for nuclear research

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When you look up at the night sky, you may only see a few stars. If you’re in an exceptionally dark area, however, you may see what look like millions. In reality, that’s not entirely inaccurate. While you may only be able to count a few hundred or thousand, our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains an estimated 300 billion (300,000,000,000) stars. That’s a lot of stars. Even more impressive, our neighbor spiral galaxy the Andromeda Galaxy (Messier Object 31) has an estimated 2 trillion (2,000,000,000,000) stars. Yet, there are galaxies that dwarf the Andromeda; there are an estimated 125 billion galaxies, each containing billions, trillions even quadrillions (10^15), quintillions (10^18) or sextillions (10^21) of stars.

Our sun is a star. Even though it’s a million times the size of the Earth, it’s a small star. The largest star that we know of, VY Canis Majoris, is 2,454,000,000 miles in diameter. If VY Canis Majoris were to replace the sun, its edge would reach out well beyond Saturn. When a star of this size dies, it goes out with a bang; a really, really big one. It’s called a supernova, and it’s the most powerful event in our universe. But before I talk about the death of a star, let’s stick to the slightly happier note of the birth of one.

Stars are born in enormous clouds of gas and dust called nebulae. Gravitation pulls dust particles and gas together until the star has gained enough matter to become a star. Due to its shear mass and size, gravitation wants to condense this star down to become much, much smaller, but there’s a force working against it. This force will equalize with gravity to create a stable object. This force, is nuclear fusion. At the core of stars are many hydrogen atoms heated up to temperatures that can be described as “hot” to say the least - the sun’s core is 27 million degrees Fahrenheit. Hydrogen atoms heated to these temperatures move so quickly that when they hit each other they don’t bounce off of each other, but instead fuse into helium. This process, nuclear fusion, is the basis for nuclear bombs and the result of Albert Einstein’s most famous equation: E = mc² which shows how matter can be converted to energy. It’s almost as if a nuclear bomb is going off every time two hydrogen atoms fuse. In this process of nuclear fusion, a photon is generated. The photon is the force carrier (boson) of the electromagnetic force. A photon is a light and heat particle. Photons have no mass so they travel at the speed of light - 186,282.397 miles per second. But even at that speed, it takes a while to get to you. The sun is so dense, that it takes a photon 30,000 years to get to the surface. But from there, it’s just an 8 minute journey to Earth.

Stars continue to do this for millions, billions or perhaps even trillions of years. But eventually, they run out of hydrogen. At that point, they continue to make carbon then oxygen once a star makes carbon, it begins to die. Stars much larger than our sun can continue to smash oxygen atoms to continue the process, but once they make iron, it’s all over because iron doesn’t fuse with any other elements.

Once a star stops creating other elements, gravity condenses the star’s core and the star’s corona (surface gas) expands, causing the star to grow drastically. When this happens to the Sun, it will expand out to Mars. This is called a red giant, the next stage in a star’s life. After this happens and the corona travels away from the star, gravity will have crushed the star’s core to one millionths of its original size. When this happens to our sun, it will become the size of the earth. The white dwarf will continue to burn for millions of years.

White dwarfs continue to facilitate the fusion of many elements just like its predecessor, the star. However, most white dwarfs don’t exist alone, like our Sun does. Many of them live in a binary star system, which is where to stars orbit each other. When one of them becomes a white dwarf, it starts to take material from the other star (which is still living). This is called a type 1a supernova, and it’s the most powerful thing in the universe. Type 1a supernovas are incredibly unstable and when they produce the first iron atom, they explode. When they explode, the elements trapped inside go flying everywhere, these later form nebulae, other stars and planets. They also create a gamma ray burst, which I will talk about shortly. To create elements heavier than iron, such as uranium, they collide in the supernova. Not may collisions occur, which is why these elements are so rare.

When a giant, singular star explodes in a supernova, gravity can crush its core down to an extremely dense object called a neutron star. A neutron star is so incredibly dense, that one teaspoon of it would weigh 100 million tons, and they rotate 1000 times each second. But that’s not it, in some cases, the gravity is so intense that the star becomes a black hole at its center. The black hole then begins to devour the star around it. It takes in matter at 10 earth masses each second. This is too much for it to handle, so it spits it back out in gamma ray bursts. Gamma ray bursts are deadly. If one were to hit us, it would destroy our atmosphere, killing all plants and animals. It would topple the food chain and cause mass extinction. There could one heading right at us right now, and we wouldn’t know about it until it hit us and it’s much too late.

So next time you look up at night, think about the wonder of stars I just explained to you and try not to think about the impending doom due to a gamma ray burst that could be just days away from hitting us.

Filed under Andromeda Astrophysics Galaxies Milky Way Physics Theoretical Astrophysics VY Canis Majoris black holes neutron stars stars white dwarfs red giant

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As we know, there are known knowns. There are thinks we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
Donal Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense

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Does The Higgs Boson Exist?

As you (hopefully) knew, science is filled with questions. Some of them however, sound pretty stupid. One of them is “Why does matter have mass?” You probably thought that that was an extremely stupid question. But think about it for a second. Go ahead, this article will still be here for you to read when you’re done. You probably came up with the answer “It just does” or “It’s stuff, it’s gotta have mass”. Why does it have to have mass? This has been baffling scientists for decades. One of the answers that we’ve been able to come up with is called the Higgs Boson.

My understanding of the Higgs Boson as that it’s this particle that’s contained in all other particles. This particle travels through the Higgs field, and the denser/bigger the object, the more “mass” it “collects”, which causes it to slow down giving it more mass. But as of now, this is just a theory. There are a plethora of other theories as to why matter has mass, but this is the most widely accepted.

The Higgs Boson is one of the most integral parts of our existence. This may just be why it’s one of the most sought out particles ever. Because of this, it’s been given a nickname: “The God Particle”. I think that just about speaks for itself. However, it may no longer subside as just a theory.

Physicists think they’ve stuck the jackpot and found it. This may ring a bell. A few months ago I told you that physicists think they got a Tau Neutrino to go faster than the speed of light. In a press release they said that they didn’t in a very prolonged way. As of now, we can just hope that they’re right about the Higgs Boson.

But what does it mean for non-physicists? Not much. Our lives wont change just because we know something new. We wont lose or gain weight because of this. But for physicists, everything will change. They will now have a new outlook on matter. They will now be able to pursue other theories that rely on the Higgs Boson.

But this is all a big “if”. This all assumes that we did actually find the Higgs Boson. Only time will tell.

What do you think?

Filed under higgs boson higgs boson science

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You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down and it has made all of the difference in my life.
Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

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Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith
Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

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Tau Neutrinos Going Faster Than The Speed of Light?

Nine days ago, BBC broke the news that physicists at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland may have got a tau neutrino to go faster than the speed of light. I’m sure that a lot of you have been bombarded with news reports about this, but I’m also sure that a lot of you don’t know what a tau or a neutrino is, so first of I’m going to explain that to you. In the standard model, which is a model that illustrates all of the basic particles that we know of today, there are quarks, leptons and bosons. Quarks are well quarks. There are 6 types of quarks: up, down, strange, charm, top and bottom quarks. They each have their own distinctive properties, but up and down quarks are the most common, as they make up protons and neutrons. The bosons are the forces, there’s the photon, gluon and two weak forces (there is also the predicted Higgs boson which gives particles mass, but it has not been discovered yet). And finally there are the leptons: the electron the muon and the tau and then their respective neutrino versions (the electron neutrino, the muon neutrino and the tau neutrino). You have probably heard of electrons before, they are tiny particles with electric charge that along with protons and neutrons make up an atom which then makes up all of matter. Electrons have 2 big brothers, the muon and tau which have larger masses than the electron. Each lepton has it’s own neutrino version, the election neutrino, the muon neutrino and the tau neutrino. Neutrinos are created in types of radioactive decay and nuclear reactions. Neutrinos have a very small, non-zero mass.

Physicists at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland have been sending neutrinos from Geneva, Switzerland, through a tunnel in the alps into Italy where they are collected and observed at the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics’ Gran Sasso National Laboratory. A couple of weeks ago, neutrinos being sent from CERN to the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physic’s Gran Sasso National Laboratory arrived there 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light would have predicted them to. The speed of light is 186,282.397 miles per second, or 299,792,458 meters per second and according to Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity, nothing can reach or go faster than the speed of light, a theory that has been confirmed. A tau neutrino arrived at the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physic’s Gran Sasso National Laboratory 60 nanoseconds before it should have. Physicists at CERN have been recreating this experiment many times, only to find the same result, they have also been going over this data many times to check for errors, but haven’t found any. They have given themselves an error margin of 10 nanoseconds, meaning that it arrived in Italy between 50 and 70 nanoseconds before it should have.

However, this isn’t the first time that this has been reported. A couple of years ago at Fermi lab in Illinois, USA, physicists reported that they found similar results. However, they gave themselves such a large error margin, that they concluded that this was a mistake. Because of this, you probably never heard about it.

If this is indeed true, this would be a monumental discovery. This wouldn’t change how the universe works, but rather it would change how we think it works. Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity, which has been worshiped for over a century now by Physicists all over the world, maybe incorrect. However it is tough to believe that his theory is incorrect because of Time Dilation. Because the speed of light is the ultimate speed limit and is not relative, it is always constant, time slows down as you move faster. I talked about this in a previous article, but in short, the closer you go to the speed of light the slower time progresses for you relative to those on Earth. If you go reach the speed of light (which according to Einstein is impossible) time will stop. If you go faster than the speed of light (which according to Einstein is also impossible) time will go backwards. The effects of time dilation have been confirmed. This makes the fact that tau neutrinos went faster than the speed of light all the more baffling. One theory as to why this happened is that the tau neutrino may have traveled through another dimension to get there earlier than it should have. String theory (which I will talk about in a later post) predicts that there are 11 dimensions, 7 more than the 4 dimensions that we currently live in (left-right, up-down, back-forth and time are the dimensions that we live in).This means that there may be other dimensions for us to travel through.

But what does this mean for science? Will we have jetpacks? Will be able to travel to galaxies millions of light years away? Maybe. We probably won’t have jetpacks, we will have something far more exotic than that. We may have the ability to effectively teleport to other places by traveling through other dimensions. We may be able to travel to other planets in galaxies far, far away if we deplete Earth’s resources, though I wouldn’t count on it, so don’t go turning on all of your lights and leaving them on for a couple of days.

Still, this hasn’t been confirmed. We don’t know that the tau neutrino traveled faster than the speed of light, we are just very sure. A lot of you probably think that it didn’t travel faster the the speed of light, and there is a valid argument for that, and you may as well be right. But a lot of you probably think that it did travel faster than the speed of light and you may also be correct. How ever it isn’t debatable that if this is true, it would be a huge discovery. What do you think?

Filed under einstein relativity tau neutrino tau neutrino science physics speed of light cern fermilab italian institute for nuclear physics gran sasso national laboratory

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The Reality of Time Travel Part 2

I little while ago I wrote an article about the reality of time travel, however I left out some stuff that I will be going over today. First and foremost, when I talked about time dilation as part of Einstein’s theory of special relativity but I forgot to mention that the speed at which you travel at to achieve difference in time is measured based on how fast you are moving relative to the center of the universe, and compared to the center of the universe we are moving quite quickly. The earth is spinning around at a speed of 1,038 mile per hours (provided that you are standing on the equator, if you are standing on one of the poles, compared to you, the earth isn’t spinning). Then the earth is orbiting around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour. When you add those two together, you get 68,038 which is how fast we are moving relative to the center of the universe. If you plug that into the equation for time dilation (which I won’t discuss here, just Google “time dilation equation” and you should find it) you get that time for us on earth (provided that you are standing on the equator, though if you aren’t the change would be negligible) is 6.93048261% slower than in the center of the universe. For example, 60 seconds for us in the center of the universe is 55.84171043 seconds for us. To put that in perspective, the average lifespan is 75 years, or 39420000 minutes. In the center of the galaxy that’s 42355436.14 minutes or 80.58492415 years! So if you want some way to live 6.93048261% longer, then go to the center of the galaxy.

However, there is the slight problem of getting there…it would take a very long time, millions of years traveling at almost the speed of light (plus traveling at almost the speed of light would also have an effect of time dilation). However, there is a simple solution, wormholes. Wormholes are bends/tears in  space-time where if you go through a wormhole, you would end up in a totally different place at a totally different time, so I could go through a wormhole and be in a different galaxy, or in this case, the center of the universe. I would also be in a different time, maybe 1000s of years ago. But there is a slight problem. Wormholes are so unstable that if we were to so much as send an atom through one, the wormhole would collapse causing the atom to be crushed. Also, according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, wormholes can exist, but they can’t be moved, so we would have to go through a wormhole and (provided that the wormhole doesn’t collapse) hope that we would end up in the center of the galaxy at a time not too far from now. But, it’s still a cool idea.

What are your thoughts on this?

Filed under science physics einstein relativity special relativity general relativity wormholes time travel

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The Reality Of Time Travel

For a countless number of years we have been obsessed with the idea of time travel. Is it possible? Yes. Is it practical? Maybe not. Now I’m sure that I just caught your attention when I said that it is possible, because it is. Well, traveling forward in time is possible. Traveling backward in time is theoretically possible if we had the ability to travel faster than the speed of light, which we can’t because of Albert Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity.

Traveling forward in time is possible because of the phenomena of Time Dilation from Albert Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity. Time dilation is extremely hard to explain with graphics, let alone without graphics so I’ll do my best, but don’t blame me if you can’t understand it, not many people can. In a nutshell, Special Relativity basically states that all speed is relative. Picture it like this; you’re on a bus sitting next to someone. Relative to that other person you’re not moving at all. Relative to a person outside of the bus, you may be moving at 50 miles per hour. All speed is relative to something. If I’m sitting hear on the couch writing this, I’m not moving relative to someone who may be sitting next to me, but I am moving relative to the sun. I’m moving quite quickly actually.

However, Special Relativity also states that the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) is always the same, it never changes based on what it is relative to. To make sense of this you get time dilation. Here’s another example to help you understand it. Imagine that you are on a moving spaceship and there is a spaceship above you that isn’t moving. If the spaceship that isn’t moving shoots a beam of light and measures how fast the beam of light is moving they would find that it is moving at one light second (how fast light travels in one second) per second, correct. But if you shoot a beam of light and you’re moving you might calculate that it moves one light second per two seconds because you are also moving behind it. This would yield an incorrect answer, light doesn’t move at 93,000 miles per hour but 186,000 miles per hour and the speed of light isn’t relative. The only way for this to work is for time to slow down. If time on the spaceship slows down then there will be enough time for the beam of light to move at one light second per second. The amount of time you travel forward is dependent on how fast you move, the faster you move the more time is needed to slow down for the light to go at one light second per second.

This happens to us everyday. If you get up and walk around the room you are traveling forward in time, but by so little that it doesn’t really have any effect on you. You would have to move at thousands of miles per second to even begin to see the effect of time dilation. You can use an equation to figure out the effect of time dilation, but I won’t get into that. What about traveling backward in time? Yup, that’s theoretically possible, but not realistically possible. Using the same mindset as going forward in time, If you go faster than the speed of light, you will go backward in time. Also, if you go precisely at the speed of light, time will stop. But we can never reach or go past the speed of light, it’s kind of like a speed limit that can’t be broken.

Now you understand (sorry if my explanation was not clear enough and you couldn’t understand it) that time travel is possible, what is the practicality of it? Imagine for a second that we could go faster than the speed of light and we could travel backward in time. If we travel back in time to change something, wouldn’t my present already have accounted for this to happen? For example if I were to go back in time right now and make it so I never write this, then would you see this post fade away before your eyes like in the movies? Or would you have never seen it at all since I never wrote it? That is one thing that I struggle with when I think about time travel and am finding more confusing as I write this.

What do you think?

Filed under time travel time travel albert einstein albert einstein science science fiction relativity special special relativity