Archive for Thursday, May 29, 2008

Black holes no conCERN

May 29, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend was apparently the most active three days of an active tornado season. Thankfully, the destructive storms missed the area.

Unlike dedicated research meteorologists, I don't want to see a tornado. The three I've seen in my lifetime are enough.

I will grant they are awe-inspiring and the filtered "tornado light" that accompanies severe storms can make alien landscapes we view nearly every day. I saw the countryside between De Soto and Eudora so transformed driving home from work during the late April storm that produced funnels in Johnson County and Missouri.

Still, I don't get the impulse to chase severe storms, especially when recent tragedies have taught us that intersecting a tornado in a vehicle is as foolhardy than riding one out in a mobile home.

Nonetheless, it's hard to avoid the television specials of researchers chasing storms in the hopes of getting data and video of tornadoes. We're repeatedly informed about how important the video is to understanding funnels, but it would seem there is enough around now to make added footage redundant.

They are doing something important but there seems to be an element of thrill-seeking to it as well.

In a story that will dominate science in coming years, European scientist are about to start experiments with a new toy. It is the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Swizterland, the most expensive and complex machine on the globe.

The collider is to spin sub-atomic particles around in opposite directions at near the speed of light before crashing them into each other. The object of this is to bust the tiny particles into even smaller bits. In doing so, scientists hope to verify the existence of something called the Higgs boson. The as-yet unobserved particle is thought to allow massless protons to construct mass or something magical.

But there might be some bi-products created during the smashups, such those favorites of science fiction, wormholes. Apparently some Russian mathematicians said creation of wormholes could open up the possibility of time travel from the future but only back to the second of their creation and if the time visitors were really, really small.

Subatomic-sized time travelers don't sound too worrisome but it is also thought the collisions could produce black holes. Now you might think scientists have no business possibly creating something that could compress the Earth and all of us into a none inescapable dot, but that just reveals the depth of your Luddite ignorance.

There is no concern, physicists say, because once again the black holes will be really, really tiny and dissipate instantly - probably. If the signal from Geneva suddenly goes really black, we might suspect they didn't quite get the predictions right.

I'm going to put my faith in the reassurances if for no other reason than those making them are going to be a whole lot closer to the action than I am. But I'd feel a lot better about it if there weren't other researchers spending Midwestern springs chasing after killer storms.


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