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.

Post by:
Filed under: Science
soundoff (408 Responses)
  1. JustPassingBy

    Here is a thing. They are trying to get 'God Particle' out of these experiments and so far they found nothing. Every experiment they had so far was failure, so much of Science. They think they can reach God??? Silly silly man kind.

    February 21, 2011 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      You do know that 'God Particle' is just a metaphor they use for a very important sub-atomic particle which researchers feels may be one of the most important building blocks of the universe right? They are not actually searching for God. Now, I'm catholic and believe in God. Unlike you (I guess you must be protestant or something like that) I believe that God gave us intelligence and curiosity in order to better know God by knowing the vast universe God has made, So science, logic, reason, are all manners by which a man with faith may better appreciate the workings of God.

      February 21, 2011 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
  2. Funkymonkey1

    I am a huge fan of scientific exploration and I am sure that the research being done with the hadron collider is going to yield some signficant findings. I just hope that these guys know what they are doing and are considering all of the consequential possibilities. Seems like they are playing with fire (pun intended).

    February 21, 2011 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  3. robbo88

    This conversation started out with informed and intelligent feedback about one of the greatest experiments ever, then it just eroded into moronic ramblings.

    February 21, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Uffe

      As always sadly 🙂

      March 7, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Chris

    Julie and Paul. You two need to seek help ASAP. I can't begin to imagine the troubled world you live in with minds like that.

    February 21, 2011 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jonny Quest

    Would not something that achieved 4 trillion degrees need a containment system to hold it, if even for a split hair of a second. 4 TRILLION DEGREES? Really????????? A flash of heat that intense. Would the air around it ignite? What can be made to burn that hot? Can that temp be made in a vacuum? Questions? Questions?

    February 21, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Yes, it is being made in a vacuum. No, the air won't ignite – it actually can't. That was a just some idle speculation from one of the A-Bomb physicists.

      February 21, 2011 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Jonny Quest

      Ok Then, Who got to hold the thermometer?

      February 21, 2011 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      Yes, 4 trillion degrees is hot, but you need to realize we're talking about an infinitesimal sized particle here right? There is very little energy associated with these particles, even at high temperatures. It's not like they have a swimmingpool of plasma at 4T degrees.

      It's like a satellite getting hit by a tiny dust particle traveling 30000 km/h. No it doesn't blow up, it just makes a tiny pock mark in its outer shell.

      February 21, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Jonny Quest

      Andy, Yes but that dust particle can do some real damage to the satellite if it hit something critical!

      February 21, 2011 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. mr774

    Does this experiment produce 'Black hole' suddenly?
    If it happens , even if it's size will be very very small, our earth will be absorbed !
    It's a sudden ending of our world !
    Mayan calender may predict it. 2012 is coming.

    February 21, 2011 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
    • ben

      any black hole smaller than about a car would immediately evaporate. so no, it wouldn't destroy the world

      February 21, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  7. Otto

    The HillBilly and Red Neck (both the same) should not be allowed on the Internet; they are simply too stupid and have no common sense or understanding. Do they use any from of high speed connection, or do they use AT (ok) ATZ (ok) boing...boing...sheeee....old 24K modem? I would even take away their fax machines because they believe so much in God creating everything; they should stick with their bibles and guns only. America called the greatest nation on Earth; yet, having tens of millions stupid people.

    February 21, 2011 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  8. Jason

    If CERN had any sense of humor, they should do the big test on 12/21/2012 (Mayan's World Ends Date) and announce OOOPS!

    February 21, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
    • JoeR

      Haha this would be pretty great.

      February 21, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Marichuy

    They had a lecture in my town few years ago. They explaine many things in way that no-scientists could understand, and it was amasing and interesting. They even answered on all our questions. If you invite them you will be delighted.

    February 21, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  10. ben

    It's actually not that hard to understand, but these reporters don't actually know enough to fill in the blanks that the physicist doesn't explicitly say.
    First understand that space is no longer just considered nothing, but space-time is more comparable to a fabric than anything (not a perfect example, but usable). Quantum theory shows that at the quanta level, space-time undergoes "quantum-jitters" (random movements of particles seeking higher entropy) that actually do slightly bend space-time. Almost all physicists agree that space is permeated by some field (whether it's the Higgs field or some or field doesn't matter), and that quantum-jitters cause the field to fluctuate and causes this cascade of particles which this article is talking about.
    Also, the Higgs field would give particles their mass, not gravity.

    February 21, 2011 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  11. ben

    It's actually not that hard to understand, but these reporters don't actually know enough to fill in the blanks that the physicist doesn't explicitly say.
    First understand that space is no longer just considered nothing, but space-time is more comparable to a fabric than anything (not a perfect example, but usable). Quantum theory shows that at the quanta level, space-time undergoes "quantum-jitters" (random movements of particles seeking higher entropy) that actually do slightly bend space-time. Almost all physicists agree that space is permeated by some field (whether it's the Higgs field or some or field doesn't matter), and that quantum-jitters cause the field to fluctuate and causes this cascade of particles which this article is talking about.
    Also, the Higgs field would give particles their mass, not gravity.

    February 21, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  12. PAUL

    LOL nice to see how worked up I got everyone on here before I went to bed last night, was a good laugh to see a whole page full of people wee-weeing their pants over my obvious and horrible trolling.

    February 21, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Paul you are giving yourself too much credit. This arrogance: disregard for God, his creation, and life has been around longer than the both of us. Particle science is tinkling with an uncontrolled experiment in an uncontrolled environment.

      February 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. jc

    i am a mechanical engineer and passionate about science. i like what Albert Einstein said, "science without religion is lame. religion without science is blind." in case you would be interested, find out what famous scientists say about God in this link: http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/sciencefaith.html

    February 21, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sandman

    God said BE, we call it Big Bang which is ok, God wants us to believe but always curious.

    February 21, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. james cueto

    Yes, Basil, but what does it all mean?
    We're too busy looking for things that are irrelevent that we over look the relevance of starvation, homlelessness, and overall world crisis. So what do we do with this information? write it down, put into a book and move on to the next futile experiment?

    February 22, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11