Early universe revealed at 4 trillion degrees
The Large Hadron Collider smashes matter at unprecedented speeds and energies. And it creates heat you can't even imagine.
February 20th, 2011
05:52 PM ET

Early universe revealed at 4 trillion degrees

You've probably heard about the $10 billion particle-smashing machine underneath the border between France and Switzerland. To refresh, it's called the Large Hadron Collider, and its mission is to collide matter at unprecedented speeds and energies to figure out what our universe is made of and how it came to be.

In Washington on Sunday, I sat down with Yves Schutz of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Schutz is a scientist with ALICE, an experiment designed to examine what the universe was like immediately after it was formed in the Big Bang. He had spoken about the experiment at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting.

Back in November, ALICE announced its latest results about what matter looked like in that primordial form.

The scientists have come to their current understanding of this early matter by heating particles up to some 4 trillion degrees, perhaps the highest temperature ever achieved in a laboratory setting, but not as hot as it will get eventually for this experiment, Schutz said. This is so hot - about 200,000 times hotter than the core of the sun - that it doesn't really matter if you're talking about Celsius or Fahrenheit anymore, Schutz said.

When water heats up above a mere 212 degrees Fahrenheit, it turns into a gas. But when you heat up this nuclear matter to 4 trillion, it's a liquid, which is a medium of strongly interacting particles. At the same time, while water is viscous - it sticks to surfaces - this primordial soup has nearly no viscosity whatsoever, a phenomenon that has been observed in a similar way in liquid helium.

Like any hot body of matter, it gives off electromagnetic radiation. And it's not visible to the naked eye because (a) it's too small and (b) it's not in the spectrum of visible light.

Also,  scientists are inferring these properties of the early universe in the same way that an archaeologist has to figure out the shape of an ancient vase by looking at the remaining pieces. Scientists can only see the consequences of this quark-gluon plasma and must draw conclusions from the ordinary matter that it becomes.

The nuclear matter used here is made of quarks and gluons, which are some of the fundamental building blocks of matter. The heat comes from the collision of particles in the accelerator - but those aren't what become this quark-gluon plasma. In fact, the quarks and gluons get pulled out of pure empty space. Yes, that's really confusing and impossible to imagine, but it's real.

The particle accelerator is restarting after a winter hiatus and will continue to run at 7 TeV in 2011 and 2012, said Felicitas Pauss, head of International Relations at CERN. Then, it will shut down for more than a year to prepare for particle smashing at the unprecedented energy of 14 TeV.

A lot of attention has been paid in the popular science world to the quest for finding a particle called the Higgs boson, which would explain gravity, among other things. But the scientists at the conference said they'd be happier if it's not found.

"There's a host of other things that could be out there," said Thomas LeCompte, physicist at Argonne National Laboratory. The Higgs is the "simplest and elegant" solution to many problems with scientist's current notions of how the world works, but there's no telling what the Large Hadron Collider will find.

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soundoff (408 Responses)

    I bet that particle accelarater could cook macaroni in half the normal time..

    February 20, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan Bednarik

      Ever since they started playing around with this, John Boehner appeared - dark matter has been identified.

      February 20, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Richard, Chattanooga

      @Scott- Is all you have to say?

      February 20, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      That accelerator could VAPORIZE macaroni in a millisecond. A millisecond later, it'd be plasma.
      Sounds like an interesting experiment that they'd never permit... 😉

      February 20, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • DAN

      I bet that thing could not cook MRE's until at least 30 minutes have gone by or unless Boson Higgs particles are involved.

      February 20, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Danilo

      Please use it to find Bin Laden

      February 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • truth¿

      Hey arthur...

      Who's to say there wasn't a "big bang" when "God" created the universe? Why are people always s hung up that it has to be either black or white? Maybe everybody is right...the scientists AND the theologians. Same with evolution.

      February 20, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • SF

      @arthur: while true, we really don't know when god is coming back. In the mean time we need to do some research because this planet is running out of space. I know I won't see it but FTL travel and other mysteries should be examined. It's in our nature to explore.

      February 20, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Erle of Moncton

      Genesis 1-31 and Gen 2-1,2.
      Some thousands of years ago Scripture was written telling about 6 days when all heaven and earth, sun, moon, and stars was created.

      Why does man need to go any further in inquiring into this? This truly was a "BIG BANG" happening!!

      February 20, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • caveman

      This statement makes no sense... "But the scientists at the conference said they'd be happier if it's not found." Why be a scientist at all if you don't want to understand the deepest secrets of the Universe? Secondly... you should never start a sentence with the words "and, or, or but"... It's grammatically incorrect.

      February 20, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nicholas

      The replies in this thread pretty much sum up the state of US education, and the consequent state of mind of an average US resident.

      February 21, 2011 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Arthur

      To the people who don't believe in science and want us to believe God created all: Where did God come from?

      February 21, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
    • EM

      But would it taste the same?

      February 21, 2011 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
    • EM

      II'm sure those CERN eggheads are not above trying a few pranks. I was one of those kids in public school, in January, the school-yard smart-alec goes to me: "Here, stick your tongue on this metal fence pole ... I dare ya". And of course the girl of my dreams is standing there watching so of course I went and did it.

      So bunch of these Cern scientists working on the collider, new guy walks in (newbie), big thick-rimmed glasses, they goes to him: "Here, stick your hand in this ... I dare ya" ............

      February 21, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
    • JR

      U sir R right, it does cook it in roughly half the time. I built one the other day in my backyard. Mine only hits 3 trillion degrees though. (only spent $9 billion on mine) Thank you tax-payers... no one wants those pot holes repaired or schools funded anyways...

      February 21, 2011 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
    • John Riccomb

      No Hadron collider in China, they'll just steal the research and claim they did it.

      February 21, 2011 at 3:16 am | Report abuse |
    • John Riccomb

      It is not grammatically incorrect to start a sentence with "and", "or", or "but", and never has been. It has just been discouraged stylistically but that is changing.

      February 21, 2011 at 3:23 am | Report abuse |

    what would happen if you put some popsecret popcorn in the particle accelerator? would it pop?

    February 20, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • sam

      Ruffnutt, you typify the boring, uneducated cretins in your country, where education is getting really bad. It ranks rather low now compared to other developing countries. Pity!

      February 21, 2011 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
    • TomUSMC

      @sam, sadly what you say is true.

      February 21, 2011 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
    • steve

      @Sam Maybe you should try getting laid. You confuse stupidity with humor. Something your inferior brain fails to understand. Maybe it is you who needs an education....neanderthal.

      February 21, 2011 at 2:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      @Steve, must you really lower yourself by calling someone else an idiot or can you not offer a more profound argument without insult. The fact remains, the majority of comments on this article are infantile at best and reflect an abysmal lack of understanding of science. That the U.S is ranked 23rd speaks for itself.

      February 21, 2011 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
    • John Riccomb

      Only the US and Europe have particle colliders, so Chinese who are mooching off the West's technology don't bother trying to talk crap to the United States of America. We drug your backwards, communist country out of intense poverty by building factories there. You are welcome, but we should probably pack them up and move them elsewhere now that your ego is getting big.

      February 21, 2011 at 3:26 am | Report abuse |
    • John Riccomb

      @Mark, these comments don't reflect knowledge of science. Your intellectual superior could be cracking a joke here and you'd never know it. Save your low self esteem for another discussion.

      February 21, 2011 at 3:30 am | Report abuse |
    • GetALife Anyway

      @Sam: Had your yearly bath yet? And about that missed appointment with the dentist... this is 4 years in a row now... ROFLMAO. Quite...

      February 21, 2011 at 5:09 am | Report abuse |
  3. Cesar

    You're right about that mac, REAL RuffNutt. ....I didn't know that anything existed on Earth that could be 4 billion degrees hot. I really cannot comprehend such heat, other than it will kill anything in the universe.

    February 20, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • MMore

      It would not kill Superman!!!!!!

      February 20, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      Actually it says 4 TRILLION degrees, although I don't think I'd realize the difference after the first trillion.

      February 20, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adi

      It is not heat. It is temperature.

      February 20, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous


      Heat is temperature. Temperature is the measure of average kinetic energy of molecules in a medium. This kinetic energy generates heat. Thus, temperature is a measure of heat. But nice try.

      February 20, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Actually Anonymous, heat and temperature are not the same thing. As you apply heat to melting ice, heat is absorbed but the temperature does not change. The same is true of boiling water. You apply heat, the water turns to steam, and the temperature does not change.

      February 20, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Adi is right. It was a very nice and seemingly well informed try.

      February 20, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Brian, are you saying when you apply heat to something, the temperature doesn't change? Lol, care to elaborate?

      February 20, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      I'm a physics major and at my college we have a plasma thruster/generator. It produces temperatures in the millions but I can hold my hand inches from the thruster without it turning into molten goo. Heat is the transfer of thermal energy. While these particles may have on average an extremely high kinetic energy (aka temperature), they do not transfer enough energy to even give me a burn, much less roast my hand.
      @Tony – When water boils at 100C, it's temperature remains constant even though heat is added. The energy goes into breaking the chemical bonds between water molecules. The average kinetic energy of those molecules, whether they be in the gaseous or liquid state, is the same.

      February 20, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • karl


      Heat and Temperature are certainly not the same thing.

      Temperature is a property of a material, in this case the identified "quark gluon plasma".

      Heat OTOH is a form of energy independent of matter. It is also defined as the transfer of energy due to a difference in temperature.

      There is no absolute correlation between the temperature of an object and the amount of thermal energy it contains. As another poster tried to explain. One reason for that is what is termed the latent Heat of fusion, and the latent heat of vaporization. You can keep adding heat energy to ice, yet it will still be 0 degrees C, until enough heat energy has been absorbed to satisfy the latent heat of fusion, causing the Ice to transition to water, and some temperature greater than 0 C.

      Another reason that two different object may contain the same amount of thermal energy yeat be different temperatures is called specific heat (the amount of thermal energy in joules required to raise 1 gram of the substance 1 degree celsius) this is different for most substances. Obviously 2 objects of the same substance containing the same amount of heat, yet with differing masses, - Will measure a different temperature.

      Hope that clarifies things for you.

      February 20, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Drew

      You're all missing the point. It's not the heat, it's the humidity!!

      February 20, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • SSampson

      While Drew had the best response...... I suggest the best way to clarify the Heat vs Temperature argument is to pehaps search for the subject on the web....

      Either that or I can copy the text from my 1977 Physics textbook.... I am sure it is there – I learned it then... I know they still teach this stuff.... Perhaps students don't pay attention anymore (maybe because they just need to let their parents sue the teacher i they don' pass – MUCH easier than.... um.... learning)

      Call me crazy !!!

      February 21, 2011 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
    • SSampson

      Oh – and while you are at it – check out MASS vs WEIGHT – another classic concept

      February 21, 2011 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
    • LvGordo

      4 trillion degrees is hot, but it is probably a dry heat, so that is ok.

      How can anything contain 4 trillion degree heat?

      February 21, 2011 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Who@Drew

      Yup, but at 4 trillion degrees, some people's sense of humor gets burned away.

      February 21, 2011 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  4. AMERICA 1st

    the only Alice i know was Ralph Kramdens wife on the Honeymooners!

    February 20, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • timetraveler

      Hardy har har!!!! Go back to watching NASCAR and guzzling you beer, buddy. This isn't your scene.

      February 20, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      New headline:
      ALICE makes wonderland!

      February 20, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |

    @cesar actually... one time i got drink and was hungry so i put some balonney in the microwaave and hit 500 in stead of 50sec... well by the time i figured out what was happening the balloney was charcoal and 3.9kk degrees celcius..

    February 20, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |

    HEY didnt it say 4 billion degreese earlier? now it says trillion..

    February 20, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • elandau

      Yes it was meant to say trillion originally. Thanks for reading! – Elizabeth Landau, CNN

      February 20, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |

      🙂 well i guess it's even hotter now..

      you know that must have been a big thermometer...

      February 20, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diddly Squat

      Thanks for clarifying Elizabeth.. It's great to see that some CNN reporters, you of course, care enough about their articles to answer readers questions.

      February 20, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Elizabeth! You've restored my flagging faith in CNN!
      Too many times, CNN fails to fix a mistake in an article or correct a visual. Case in point, on Global regarding a yacht that was taken by pirates off of OMAN, yet the visual says off of the cost of Somalia.
      But, this is science. Intolerant of errors of commission or omission. 🙂
      Thanks for fixing the bungle. I'd have closed the article had I saw billion.

      February 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • glenn

      Temperature in the trillions? We are talking about the velocity of the particles being heated.

      February 21, 2011 at 2:27 am | Report abuse |
  7. ichi


    February 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Exordos

      ... "why" what?

      February 20, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peanuts


      February 20, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. timetraveler

    Another pathetic "science reporting" attempt by CNN, by some idiot who doesn't know the difference between "it's" and "its".

    February 20, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • JBL

      Your completely right. Clearly anyone who confuses its and it's is not in any way qualified to write about a scientific theme, based on information from the top scientists in their field. They should immediately give all such articles to high school English teachers who will tediously make sure there are no grammatical errors.

      Feel free to complain about grammatical errors, but please explain how that is in any way related to CNN's "pathetic science reporting"

      February 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      I have no idea what the problem it. It's (contraction for it is) and its (possessive of it) are used correctly in the article.

      February 20, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • PR

      Don't make fun of timetraveler the only thing he understood about this article is "it it's". Let him shine. Thanks timetraveler for your helpful insight.

      February 20, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Clamshell

      Jbl, that should be 'you're' not 'your'

      February 20, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      I agree it's crappy science reporting, but that's a pretty lame reason. It's bad science reporting because it's clear the author has no background in physics, and so is trying as best as he/she can to dumb down an already dumbed down explanation... and this yields no real understanding of what ALICE even does, or how any of the experiments (CMS, ATLAS, ALICE, LHCb, etc) are different.

      Not necessarily the fault of CNN or the author though, I doubt CNN has many physicists on staff after all.

      February 20, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Andrew, I nearly closed the article when I saw them say that plasma was like liquid. But, I gave benefit of the doubt, as explaining plasma IS a bit tough to goober down...

      February 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • karl


      I'm guessing the writer heard "zero viscosity super fluid" and it was re-explained as "very slippery liquid". 😀

      February 20, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mick

      Gotta agree with Doug, Timetraveler. I don't see anything wrong with the writer's use of "it's" and "its".

      February 20, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Cesar

    I can't imagine four trillion. This is hotter than our sun! Amazing. Thanks Elizabeth, great article, but mind boggling if people do more than just read the words and try to imagine.

    February 20, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • sf13

      Are you serious? Seems like a terrible waste of $$$

      February 20, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      sf13, there are a number of things that are fortunate.
      One is that YOU do not get to choose what you think money should be spent on.
      Another is that YOU cannot complain, as it's a European effort, so your complaints to the amoral majority would have zero impact.
      Yet another is that your opinion is NEVER considered. For anything. Anywhere. Ever.

      February 20, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Gunnar

    And to think, up until now I thought I was the hottest thing in the universe 🙁

    February 20, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Who

      You haven't met Queen of Everything, have you?

      February 21, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  11. Josh

    Man, that thing's cook a Thanksgiving turkey in no time!

    February 20, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. sanjosemike

    I wonder what if any difference this makes as more and more unstable Muslim countries get nuclear weapons. Iran has already decided that Shi'a will "rule" the next Grande Caliphate. They will use nuclear weapons to FORCE Sunni to adopt Shi'a Islam...or die in a grand, nuclear war. (Israel is just a temporary by-product, which Iran intends to remove ASAP).

    Folks, this is our future. I'm glad I'm too old to ever see where and how it goes. sanjosemike

    February 20, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • lordpet

      Thanks for the insight, Mike. I will forward to CERN as you are clearly a genius.

      February 20, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mr. C

      Oh, I see, the word "FORCE" is why the comment is connected to the collider... :~|

      February 20, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Uh huh.
      Ride the horse, fluke!

      February 20, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tarzan, on his way to swinging from trees

      lol, lordpet. Yes, do that please.

      February 20, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • glenn

      Why do you believe that Iran will use the bomb if they ever get one? They will be in the same fix as Packistan and India. Neither dares to start another war!

      February 21, 2011 at 2:36 am | Report abuse |
    • KRS1

      You really connected this article to Muslims and then started giving your opinions on them? I know why you people are so afraid of Muslims, it's because anything and everything wrong with the world is some way connected to them. But you said you are old so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, maybe your mind has just deteriorated so much you have become delusional. Science isn't something to be afraid of.

      February 25, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ron San Bruno CA

    I would be happier if they could to find a cure for arrogance.

    February 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |

    whats amazing is it exactally 4trillion.. 🙂 what are the odds..

    February 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Rupert

    Yes, guzzle your beer and watch cars all day long. Hardy har har

    February 20, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
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