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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Filed under: Science
soundoff (408 Responses)
  1. V Saxena

    God, I hope you're being sarcastic, Julie. If not, you're as stupid as Paul. And thank you, Paul, for making all right-wing conservative religious fanatics look absolutely retarded :-). You cannot write correctly, you are overly emotional, and you are full of crap. You, Sir, are mentally disturbed!

    February 21, 2011 at 5:32 am | Report abuse |
  2. PAUL


    February 21, 2011 at 5:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Brooke

      Why don't you go out and make these claims in the town where you live? I'm sure you'd discover it's not just us saying you're disturbed. I know majority opinion isn't always right, but in this case, it really is you, okay? My issue is, you sound so angry, in general. Try to slow down and be less angry. Things are bad, yeah, but the sky isn't falling down and things really could be worse (we could be fighting wars in _our_ country). Try to go do something and relax. I might think you're crazy, but I am worried about you. Don't get worked up into such a frenzy about things. I also worry about the world and the future but I'm also grateful for what I do have and where I live, because I could have been born in North Korea or Iran or places like that, and America might have a lot of problems right now, but its still my home and my country and it's a good place with good people at least!! Look at the positive things!

      February 21, 2011 at 6:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Rem1061

      Yeah Paul, Obama wasn't elected, most people hadn't even heard of him but HE Created the collider with his own hands. YOU ARE AN IDIOT. And hoarding anything for the "Chaos times" that you cant eat or barter is another example of your stupidity. Gold's only realy value is in jewelery and electronics, when everyone is trying to find food to live they dont care about jewels, and won't be building any electronics. Please go find a Cobalt 60 source and carry it in your front pockets for a few days. The world will be a better place.

      February 21, 2011 at 7:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      Hahahahahahahaha, hahahahahahahahahahah

      February 21, 2011 at 7:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Atari2600

      Why is every right-wing nutjob a) mentally disturbed b) angry and c) a name calling, hate monger? Paul, seek help.

      February 21, 2011 at 7:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom Rasko

      Wishful thinking is in long supply on this one!

      February 21, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Scotty

      Do not feed the trolls.

      February 21, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  3. o_really

    Paul = Troll noob

    February 21, 2011 at 5:38 am | Report abuse |
  4. Prometheus

    Ummmm Hello Paul & Julie?

    This facility (the LHC) is on the border between France and Switzerland, and funded by European interests. The USA has no hand in it whatsoever. in fact, on January 10th of this year, house republicans discontinued funding to OUR Particle Accelerator located at fermi-lab in Chicago. They also nixed the budget of the larger science lab also located in Chicago (Argonne).

    So as Bart Simpson says; 'DON'T HAVE A COW MAN...'

    February 21, 2011 at 5:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      I can't help but pity the people over at the Tevatron... no one even seems to remember the name of that collider, let alone want to fund it anymore. And some great research did come out of Fermilab, we have them to thank for the top quark. But, with the LHC at 7TeV per beam, the Tevatron can't really compete anymore. Plus Fermilab doesn't have the kind of detector that CMS or ATLAS are.

      I've got some profs who worked at Tevatron... lucky for them, they've moved on to the LHC hehe.

      February 21, 2011 at 5:53 am | Report abuse |
  5. gate

    guys ,,, this is not american project ??? its a european project ??? and its all about science ,,,, and you are talking like people in the dark ages against new frontiers in discovery ,,,,, very funny to think this way !!!!!

    February 21, 2011 at 5:46 am | Report abuse |
  6. CJM

    1st) PAUL: This is experiment is not US Government. France and Switzerland are in a place called Europe.
    2nd) Who wrote this piece? It is the most muddled explanation of the Super Collider ever published.

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

    This is so cool! As a scientist, I am really excited to see what comes out of this project. If the Higgs Boson does indeed exist, I think I may become overwhelmed with excitement.

    February 21, 2011 at 5:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Cool, what research are you doing? Are you associated with the LHC, or another branch of science? I'm a physics major myself but right now I'm looking at some Hubble white dwarf data, so a far cry away from LHC work.

      February 21, 2011 at 5:55 am | Report abuse |
  8. ivan

    like they say, you can be Ameri CAN or Ameri CAN'T...i guess in conspiracy thing your presidents have always been from the first type. but don't worry – we are all going to die.

    February 21, 2011 at 5:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. Yazid

    @Paul wha? 1. Its NOT in the U.S its in Europe 2.Obama was just a civil servent when it was being planned or first being built. Oh blame Clinton I guess for that one huh..? 3. some body is as 0_really said a troll and drinks WAY to much Faux News Kool-Aid.. smh...:(

    February 21, 2011 at 5:55 am | Report abuse |
  10. Yazid

    I agree with ivan,, BUTwith all the signs and false dates NO ONE knows they day or hour. Heck leave to our grandparents and great grandparents we have been living in our last days for the last 100 years..

    February 21, 2011 at 5:58 am | Report abuse |
  11. Radical Centrist

    False premises aside, how do quark-gluon plasma and major advances in science have to do with a "new world order"? I know the article mentions this is a confusing concept, but it shouldn't cause your neurotransmitters to shut down and all rationality to leach from your brain!

    February 21, 2011 at 6:06 am | Report abuse |
  12. Prasanna

    Yeap the cosmos is created from nothing by god the create with sound of OM (translated in christain as AMAN) this sound came out of the mouth lord narayana... his breath formed the oxygen we breath... instead of trying to create useless experiments let them invest in exploring the inner self with which we achieve enourmous power...it is proven fact that one who controls breath lives longer, this is billion year old ancient since that by lord himself.. so invest inner science.. whence you know thyself you know god.. whence u know god u know everything...

    February 21, 2011 at 6:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Gaurav

      And the notebook and internet you are using to write this came from money spent on researching 'Inner Science' ?

      February 21, 2011 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Lulz

      Obvious sign of a mind riddled with religious retardation.

      February 21, 2011 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      You are as bad as the right wing paranoid nut job above.

      February 21, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
    • JoeR

      Hahaha "whence"

      February 21, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Derick

    I'm going to open an apocalypse cape that runs deep into the earth. All of the internetz-owning religious whackos that are posting here about buying gold (Jesus like it when you have gold, "sheeple") can have this cave. I will have bibles printed and stocked in the cave along with thousands of canisters of survival food. You should be able to stay in the cave and pray your a** off for the next 20 years or so. During that time, we will all continue on with our lives not killing other people in the name of some desert witch. Nor will we try to legislate from the pulpit.

    February 21, 2011 at 6:22 am | Report abuse |
  14. Robert

    Just because the LHC is in France doesn't mean America isn't help fund it. Jesus you people are retarded. Yep google search say 500+ million. People like Paul would freak out a hella lot more if they actually researched stuff, like the fact that they believe they'll probably make black holes, or theorize stuff like stranglits could happen instantaneously turning us all into metal. Of course the iceing on the cake is the 2 story statue of Shiva goddess of destruction outside CERN. Haha but all the said, Im totally for it,

    February 21, 2011 at 6:23 am | Report abuse |
  15. Yazid

    What ^^^^^^ said...

    February 21, 2011 at 6:38 am | Report abuse |
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