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)
  1. coastal

    I can't believe this!! No Charlie Sheen Jokes??!! C'mon people! I am disappointed!! You guys never usually miss a beat!!
    Let's go here! Crack Pipes, Libido, Salary, Alimony..........Work it!!

    February 21, 2011 at 2:06 am | Report abuse |
  2. roflamericanwinner

    hey liberals, why did you vote for a president that halted nasa's funding? Please remind me of your logic. Sincerely, a Christian.

    February 21, 2011 at 2:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      President Obama's measures to move toward privately funded space programs and give NASA the breathing room they need to use the budget they DO have to focus on projects that matter is a good move in the long run. The astronauts are still federal employees, and federally trained, we're just not going to waste money constantly trying to get newer and better rockets off the ground with our tax money, with an increasingly smaller budget for every project. Surprising you're a conservative, but don't seem to find the fiscal responsibility in outsourcing the manned space flight to private corporations and out of the taxpayers pockets. Not a Tea Partier, I guess?

      February 21, 2011 at 2:41 am | Report abuse |
    • roflamericanwinner

      omg we have a winner. Eric here just admitted that Capitalism is the answer.

      February 21, 2011 at 2:47 am | Report abuse |
    • roflamericanwinner

      No i am actually an independent, but i do see the substantial merit behind the ideas of capitalism.

      February 21, 2011 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
  3. Martin

    I hope they shut the Large Hadron Collider down before something terrible happens! Earth is the only planet we have to live on.

    February 21, 2011 at 2:35 am | Report abuse |
  4. Eric

    This is some amazing work that's being done, ground breaking in physics and understanding our world as it actually is, not as the theologians with their bed time stories would have us believe.

    I saw it on a motivational once... Just because you're not bright enough to grasp the physics, doesn't mean God exists. Sorry. 😉

    February 21, 2011 at 2:35 am | Report abuse |
    • roflamericanwinner

      Depends what you consider God to be. I think the idea of God has some legitimate merit to it, but i consider it to be the basis of which all objectivity and subjectivity finds it's subjectively objective basis to begin with, along with the human species capability to benefit from the concept of Love and Honesty (truth). I do not think he is some magical bearded man in the sky flinging lightning bolts, in fact, that seems to be the most common analysis from atheists of all people. I do give this Jesus fellow high merit, and i admit, i try my best to live as he did, and it is not easy. Have you considered some other scientific material even beyond this? Because i have, namely, the proton to electron mass ratio, the gravitational coupling constant, the electromagnetic coupling constant, the decay rate of the proton, the initial uniformity of radiation, the speed at which the universe expands, and Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. I think once you begin to understand where i am coming from, you will understand that theology, no matter what genre, is not as far fetched as the westborough baptist churches, or the al quida pilots, would have you to believe.

      February 21, 2011 at 2:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      oOo, look at all the fancy stuff. Intelligent Design theory? Let me guess, you find merit in arguements like... "If all these constants weren't exactly as they are, life wouldn't exist in the universe"? Ah, false logic... Theology will always have no merit, no basis in rational thought, no logical processing behind it. Pattern seeking is a great part of what makes us intelligent, we do it every day without even trying (Ever read a fortune from a cookie and immediately thought of 3 or 4 things it might apply to in recent memory? Yeah, me too.) It's... natural to assume a greater pattern in things we experience in our day to day lives, but it's not rational to accept those patterns without rigorous testing.

      Think of it this way. If there are multiple universes (which many theoretical physicists will tell you is easily possible), our universe arrived at the constants it maintains that make life possible by random chance, and THEN life sprang up because that's just where it ended up. It's not that our universe is special, or was created this way FOR us, but the conditions were right, so we came about. If you leave milk out in the sun, it wasn't MADE for the bacteria that grow in it, the conditions just happened to be right for growth.

      February 21, 2011 at 3:05 am | Report abuse |
    • roflamericanwinner

      Eric i was being genuine with you, and from what i just read, i fear you were being non-genuine with me. I mentioned nothing you spoke of, and you resorted to basic ad hominem arguments dealing not a whif with what i spoke of. I simply mentioned... welll.. here let me make it easy for you. --- To record data, you need a basis of which this data makes itself known, and a basis of which requires it's significance, for it to be recorded and acknowledged at all. Try and grasp what i am actually saying here, because i am being very genuine with you. Please return the favor.

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

      "Just because you're not bright enough to grasp the physics, doesn't mean God exists," fairly amounts to also saying, "just because you're not bright enough to grasp theology, doesn't mean that God do not exist." we all have our unique DNAs and specialties, and we all have the freedom to express our passions and pursuits as we study the universe which includes our very own dust called the blue planet earth. Just as there are physical laws that governs our universe, there are spiritual laws that govern our relationship with God the Creator. Let's not forget that as human beings, there is within us the real being called the spirit. At death, a separation of the body and spirit occurs. The real person within, that is the spirit, returns back to its Creator to give an account of what he/she has done.

      February 21, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dino

    So wait, why would this thing create a black hole?

    February 21, 2011 at 2:53 am | Report abuse |
  6. Meraqua

    In hopes of injecting some actual science into the comments, here's what this business about "particles from nothing" is about.

    Because of the strong force (the same one that holds protons and neutrons together in atoms), quarks normally remain stuck together in very tight clusters, with each cluster making up a single larger particle such as an electron. You can try to pull the quarks apart, but because of the intense force holding them together, it requires more energy to have one snap loose than it does for new quarks and anti-quarks to pop into existence and cluster up with it. So if you try to smash particles apart, you end up with jets of new particles flying away instead of a bunch of loose quarks, making it impossible to directly observe a single quark all by itself. This property is called "confinement".

    However, at extremely high temperatures like those found in the early universe, quarks have enough energy to overcome the strong force and float around freely, creating the quark-gluon plasma described in the article. The idea of the LHC experiment is to try creating a plasma by firing heavy atoms at each other at near light-speed, and then watch what happens as the plasma expands and cools off. Presumably, after it cools off sufficiently, the strong force should gradually reassert itself, causing new particle jets to occur in a specific pattern. By observing this and checking it against predictions, scientists can learn more about how the early universe behaved as it cooled off from the Big Bang and matter began to form.

    By the way, quark-gluon plasma is also interesting for astronomers. According to some theories, a particularly heavy neutron star could collapse into such a state in a process called a "quark nova", and the resulting object might account for why some supposed neutron stars don't produce the expected radio signals.

    February 21, 2011 at 3:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Meraqua, just for future knowledge, electrons are leptons, they're elementary particles and not composed of quarks. Nor are muons or neutrinos, etc.

      February 21, 2011 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Meraqua

      Which should teach me not to pull a random particle name out of my head without making sure it's a hadron, heh.

      February 21, 2011 at 5:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Careful, doesn't necessarily need to be a hadron, quarks also comprise mesons. Just stay away from the really light particles off the top of your head though and you should be fine, electrons are pretty light which should be a bit of a clue that it's probably an elementary particle.

      February 21, 2011 at 6:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Hadron = any particle composed of quarks (and gluons). Meson = hadron with two quarks. Baryon = hadron with three quarks. There can be more than three quarks, but these are exotic (and possibly not even observed yet).

      February 21, 2011 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Bleh, I'm a physics major, I should REALLY not be making mistakes like that. *sigh*

      Whatever, as long as I can do the traces I still feel somewhat confident with my knowledge of particle physics. Or at least... if I relearn how to do traces, that was a year ago now.... I should really pick up my old particle phys text again.

      February 21, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mons

    Actually, I think the equivalent temperature is 4 quadrillion - 4,000 trillion - degrees, not 4 trillion.

    February 21, 2011 at 3:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Meraqua

      Well, the energy from the impact would be spread out across many particles, so I don't think you can convert it directly to the average plasma temperature.

      February 21, 2011 at 3:42 am | Report abuse |
  8. Subhuman Troll

    Would be funny if they pulled God out of nothingness and God said, "Hey, what are you guys doing? Put me back!" The scientists would have to admit they couldn't put Him back so he'd have to stay here on Earth.

    February 21, 2011 at 3:26 am | Report abuse |
  9. Cosmo

    Actually, the egg came before the chicken. According to evolution anyway. The quick explaination is, a proto chicken laid a chicken egg. Make sense now?

    February 21, 2011 at 4:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Onitama

      but then where did the proto-Chicken Come from? ONITAMA PWNS ALL!

      February 21, 2011 at 5:10 am | Report abuse |
    • ivan

      and where the proto chicken came from? i think that giving birth to a live creature is the last phase of the evolution after dividing of cells and nesting eggs 🙂 and now i can't really think of a 4th way of reproducing in the animal world, but may be i am just forgetting something 🙂

      February 21, 2011 at 5:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      A more coherent evolutionary picture: "A chicken laid a chicken egg, it's just the chickens from thousands of years before probably could not mate with modern chickens".

      Evolution is a fuzzy line, think of ring species, A can mate with B can mate with C can mate with D can mate with E can mate with F. But F cannot mate with A. F cannot mate with all members of B, but can mate with some. F can mate with the rest. C can mate with F, but C can also mate with A, so if F is what we consider chickens, do we also consider C a chicken? But what about A? It's difficult to specifically put a line on where "non-chicken gives birth to a chicken". It's never that clear cut.

      February 21, 2011 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
  10. Frederick

    It's not so hard to understand. This machine tries to proove bingbang or the creation, but it's simple, when God created himself his theofanic body he produced the bingbang couse' all the thing created were in himself. at the biginniing was the Word... and in him everything was. The question is what was before the bingbang so they shall need another machine for that answer??? LOL before this world was done, another exist in his mind, that's why He said which was cruciied before the fundation of the world in many occasion. The battle which wasin Heaven became to be materialized on Earth as Armagedon. There are question that thru science take too long to answer. 🙂

    February 21, 2011 at 4:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Intellectual morons are the goldfish who figure out how to jump out of the fish bowl. These fools do not belive in God and are seduced by a wickness of Satan to destroy Creation and humanity. They want to pierce the very fabric of creation. They are tearing particles, and by these destructions, arrograntly hope for knowledge to unravel its fabric and
      matrix of life. It has been fortold your work will not be allowed to stand.

      February 21, 2011 at 7:00 am | Report abuse |
  11. Mack

    How long until these are sold "As Seen on TV"?

    February 21, 2011 at 5:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Who

      Niiiiiiiiiice! I haven't laughed like that in weaks!!!!! I needed that! Thanks for the morning chuckle!

      February 21, 2011 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
  12. Dave

    >>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.

    Creation? but not exactly as the Creationists believe. 😉

    February 21, 2011 at 5:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Dave, first rule of science regarding man. Nothing is created or destroyed. To make something out of nothing is not possible, you need something to make something.

      February 21, 2011 at 5:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Excuse me, but how is that "the first rule of science"? Science just concerns itself with empirical observations, and as far as quantum physics goes, mass-energy conservation can be violated over incredibly small timescales. That's the entire point of quantum fluctuations. Virtual particles don't exist long enough for direct detection, but can still show up when looking at things like decay widths. They directly violate mass-energy conservation.... for really short times.

      February 21, 2011 at 5:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Meraqua

      That's not strictly true, at least according to Wiki. There's an uncertainty relationship between time and energy the same way there is between position and momentum, so when you look at a system on smaller and smaller timescales, the amount of energy that's actually in the system becomes increasingly uncertain. Rather than energy appearing from nothing, the amount that was there in the first place fluctuates.

      February 21, 2011 at 6:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Meraqua I'm not quite sure how "[it's not] energy appearing from nothing, the amount that was there in the first place fluctuates." differs other than semantically. Virtual particles aren't constrained by mass-energy equivalence because of energy uncertainty... and the only real basis for mass-energy equivalence, the sort of "mass/energy cannot be created or destroyed" statement in the first place is mass-energy equivalence. So if someone wants to say the "first rule of science is mass-energy equivalence", they're wrong, and if they have "mass-energy cannot be created or destroyed", they are not making any established statement within science. Over long timescales, perhaps, but citing conservation laws as ubiquitously true is a dangerous move.

      February 21, 2011 at 6:37 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      so matter just appears when it gets really hot..That's totally what she said!

      February 21, 2011 at 6:56 am | Report abuse |
    • B-rad

      Hey John, now that is funny.

      February 21, 2011 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Ames

      To John...thank you. I realized the same, simply truth.

      February 21, 2011 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Jared

      On small scale, any piece of matter is either a particle or energy (wave). Mass and energy are always conserved.

      February 21, 2011 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
    • beezlebum

      ...wouldnt that be the first rule of thermodynamics?

      and rules are made to be broken. No absolutes, just general guidance.

      February 21, 2011 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
    • JSH

      Energy can be created from matter (fusion/fission) then why not matter energy? After all, isn't matter just energy in another form. Maybe at 4 trillion degrees heat spontaneously heat energy transforms in quarks/gluons?

      February 21, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      First rule of science: Never start an argument with "According to Wiki" or any variation thereof.

      February 21, 2011 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
    • dave

      If you need something to make something else, who made the first something. Stuff does not just appear, even if there were a god that god would have to ask: Where did I come from?

      February 21, 2011 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Andy


      The conservation of energy is only a theory. There is absolutely nothing proving to be true. The so-called "laws" of thermodynamics are not truly laws at all. Mathematically, it's even possible to prove the third law of thermo to be false, but engineers and physicists just ignore this because physically this scenario is almost impossible.

      So when you here physicists talking about something that "violates" the laws of known physics, chill out. We've been "updating" the relationships we use to describe our physical world since science began...

      February 21, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • JLG

      @ the Mmmmm thread. Mmmmm your referring to the law of conservation of energy (and Matter) which clearly states the conditions to include a closed system. In quantum physics, its difficult to define a closed system and would therefore, at least appear to, violate that law along with a whole host of others because we are much less capable of scientifically quantifying the closed system environment and all of its variables

      February 21, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      @JLG, in all due respect, you are not creating...science in its true sense can only discover,understand, measure, manipulate what is...even with that can do with much limit...you not sitting here telling the world in essence you're pulling a bunny out of a real magician's hat...creating particles??? That would make you a looney toon...

      February 21, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Julie

    Sadly, I feel Paul is right. When I read about things like this I can only feel that Obama has his hand somehow on this project, and who knows what sort of nefarious plot he may have in mind. I personally have been buying gold when I can, it only makes sense for when the stuff hits the fan and the world goes into utter chaos.

    February 21, 2011 at 5:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      When chaos overtakes nothing has value!

      February 21, 2011 at 5:33 am | Report abuse |
    • M3llo1

      NWO is bigger than obama better believe that its the rockafellers the buildiberg group and secret societys lets wake and stop blaming obama for every little thing its much bigger than him.

      February 21, 2011 at 5:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Brooke

      Are you serious? I mean really. You people that point fingers at the President for everything are extremely over complimentary about his actual sphere of influence. Yes, he's the President of the United States, but that's it. He's not Emperor of the World. If he had this much power, then we probably wouldn't be having the problems we do have, since he could just influence everyone to do what he wants. Because that's what you're implying. France and Switzerland would lalugh in his _face_ if he ever came over there trying to influence anything! Are you really this simple? I mean I hated Bush, but I never accused him of such absurdities. Please get sterilized.

      February 21, 2011 at 6:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Nick

      Are you for real? Do you really think your gold will be worth anything in case of total chaos? That's sad. You're better off listening to Paul and stocking up on water instead 😉

      February 21, 2011 at 6:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Jaysunstar

      This project was going on WAY before Obama became president. Do some research first.

      February 21, 2011 at 6:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Xen

      Yes, I also have been stocking up on gold in preparation for a cataclysmic event, such as the universe tearing apart.

      February 21, 2011 at 6:14 am | Report abuse |
    • JC

      I knew that somehow Obama would come into this. Typical Limbarf Head. If it was Bush, you'd be praising him.

      February 21, 2011 at 7:01 am | Report abuse |
    • 2+2=5

      Well, in that case when you get a clue hun let us know and you can be part of an intelligent conversation on the topic. A little research won't kill you either.

      February 21, 2011 at 7:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Atari2600

      OMG...do you realize you sound insane with statements like that?

      February 21, 2011 at 7:32 am | Report abuse |
    • RSFan

      Jared Laughtner? Is that you? I thought they arrested you!

      February 21, 2011 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom Rasko

      Well I sure WISH this was the case; then I would not be responbsible for my own problems anymore. Obama has helped our country by giving a lot of people the excuses they need to keep going.

      February 21, 2011 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Yes Obama A.K.A Lex Luthor is currently in his underground layer plotting the end of all civilized existence. He wants to create a world where people are atheists and only believe in science and black people........So you better buy some gold.

      February 21, 2011 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
    • MadDog

      You a stupid Republican or what ?

      February 21, 2011 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      When your "utter chaos" comes the only use for bars of gold will be to bargain for your life with the overlords or to bash in the skulls of the post apocalyptic murderers who will be roaming the charred landscape.

      In other words, stop watching Mad Max movies and Glenn Beck telecasts.

      February 21, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
    • skeptic

      Obama? Don't be silly. It's really the ALIENS who secretly control everything ! ! ... now where did I leave my Lithium ...

      February 22, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. o_really

    Paul, its in Europe.

    February 21, 2011 at 5:32 am | Report abuse |
    • o_really

      Also it took 14 years to build

      February 21, 2011 at 5:36 am | Report abuse |
  15. marcus

    No damn kidding this is a plot for world control,you'd have to be a complete FOOL to not see thru these kinds of things. The Obama administration lays a nice blanket of LIES over such a project and calls it scientific research...when it should be CLEAR to anyone with 7 braincells that this yet the next step in a one world government. Get with it ladies and gentleman, we are witnessing yet ANOTHER step in the downfall of mankind to the secret global elite. Stockpile your food,water,batteries, guns,gold, and prepare for the unleashing of ww3 by 2015.

    February 21, 2011 at 5:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom Rasko

      I wish ... oh how I wish you were right. Life would be so much easier.

      February 21, 2011 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Lulz

      I'll be ready to have you committed by 2012.

      February 21, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Explain. I really am curious to hear how this specific facility and experiment are part of the illuminati plot.

      February 21, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Who

      Funny. When Bush was in office, haters said the same things about him – just to inflame the conversation.

      The fallback argument for the ignorant haters (an order of redundancy to go please) is to blame whichever POTUS is in office. That would be the POTUS they DIDN'T vote for. How predictable.

      February 21, 2011 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Andy


      If by "elite" you mean "not ignorant like yourself" then yes, us elite people are going to take over the ignorant morons (like yourself) and rule the world with this stuff we elitists call "logic".

      February 21, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Seraphim0

      marcus... before you go and don your tinfoil hat... take a look at when construction was started on this project... and then tell me if Obama was president when it was even being built.

      Yeah. Didn't think so. Next?

      February 22, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • skeptic

      Have no fear, the aliens will rapture the true believers up into their UFO's. And they've promised me they have plenty of Lithium for everyone.

      February 22, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
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