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. Kevin

    What an incredible waste of time and resources. Don't these people have anything better to do than play with big expensive toys. Get a real job.

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

      A real job like Kevin's, you know – serving all of us Breakfast at the drive thru!

      February 21, 2011 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Wendy

      Hey Kev, I have some openings in your town. I need my parking lots cleaned.

      February 21, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. Scott

    The first rule of sicence is "disprove it".

    February 21, 2011 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
  3. Amy

    So how much money is being/has been spent on this? And really, why? Interesting, yes, I suppose. In the long run though, where is this getting mankind? NOWHERE!

    February 21, 2011 at 6:56 am | Report abuse |
    • JoeR

      Yeah discoveries and technological advances get us nowhere at all. I mean we pretty much know everything there is to know? Right?

      Just shut off your computer. Wasting your time online will get you NOWHERE!

      February 21, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seraphim0

      When you consider that the computer and internet you are using were created for scientists... well, I guess we didn't need this technology, either, did we? Look up thehistory of the internet, you dolt. Every modern convenience of technology that you use were created by scientists.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  4. hou jeeb

    scientists must do a complete 180 when it comes to this stuff , first by assuming that as particles for whatever reason appeared and encountered one another that there was a form of intelligence, lets call it intuition that each acted under and found mutual cooperative ways to interact to create what we now call the universe . no big bang . intuitive cooperation of particles as they encountered on another . the closest thing i can find in our world to compare it to would be water . each particle or molecule becoming part of the whole . flowing to become whole . thanx , i really love this stuff and also the ability to express how i believe the whole thing started.

    February 21, 2011 at 7:06 am | Report abuse |
  5. Sam

    We had high speed particle colliders long before CERN. It was called NASCAR.

    February 21, 2011 at 7:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Sunspot

      I thought it was called "Football". 😉

      February 21, 2011 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Gordon Ramsay

      That's not high speed. Watch Formula One .......

      February 21, 2011 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Why am I tempted here to say "stupid Sammy Parker!"

      February 21, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JoeJoe9

    Playing God, imitating God...that's what we try to do. Many scientists don't believe in a God because they don't have proof, knowledge of, or an explanation for God that they could ever understand, yet..."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."...they can't nearly understand half the experiments they are doing or why things like this happen. They try to understand energy and matter, but can't & don't try to understand anything beyond 3 dimensions ... if somethings exists (God) to an infinite dimension, how are primitive scientists using 3 dimensional equipment supposed to explain everything???

    February 21, 2011 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
    • JoeR

      Actually we already are 100% convinced of the 4th dimension (being space-time). There are already understandings as high as the 10th dimension (when you get into the highly controversial string-theory).

      February 21, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Summer Seale

    There is something seriously wrong with America right now when an article on particle physics suddenly generates a large amount of conspiracy theory posts by ranting lunatics blaming the President and other "secret groups" for creating a world government with...a particle accelerator.

    So, to answer all those brain dead morons in kind: Yes, it's true. Scientists are working to oppress you by using your "guvmint" to take away your guns, liquor, and "wimmin'". Better run for the hills and hide out and make sure us sane people never find you. We a comin' fer you in our black helicopters! Run! Run!


    February 21, 2011 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  8. The Patriot

    This is all Obama's fault! I can't wait for 2012. When Mama Grizzly gets here, she will do away with that LHC whatever and make sure the only science we read about is from the bible!

    Mama Grizzly baby YEAH!

    February 21, 2011 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      So Palin will decommission a facility in Switzerland that is not administered by the US?

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

      Wow I really hope this is only a joke, considering the LHC is not even located in the US.

      February 21, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Troll

    I like pie.

    P.S That pie is not the number pie.

    February 21, 2011 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
  10. James

    Why are you people quoting wikipedia???

    February 21, 2011 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
  11. john

    I see some people from Alex Jones site have made it over here, how did all that cabling get to the farm land down south to let these fools access the net in the first place? Oh I forgot, you can get it through satellite too...

    February 21, 2011 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. StopSpendingMoneyOnUselessItems

    $10 billion dollars that could have been spent for all the unemployed and help out the countries economy. What waste of money!

    February 21, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  13. Why all of this

    You know, people are dieing of hunger, kids not going to school, families living in poverty. Who cares where gravity comes from.... $10 billion could go a long way here. All this money in the world is going to the wrong places...

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

      Those $10 billion are a drop in the bucket compared to spending in other areas from all those countries participating. There are many countries involved, so no one country is spending even close to the $10 billion. Second of all, it is creating jobs in science which creates entire industries around them with research into other areas for the general progress of understanding and even other business industries. It's a chain reaction which helps humankind. Much like the space industry helped to create many technologies that you use today, it also created tens of millions of jobs in those areas, or created new ones in other areas as a direct or indirect result.

      I find it ironic that you are blasting scientific research while using the internet as that was started with what appeared to be, at that time, wasteful spending. By the way, the Web was "invented" at CERN. You wouldn't be using it if it weren't for "wasted" dollars spent there a few decades ago.

      So either turn your computer off, or appreciate it. If not, you're just being a hypocrite.

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

      People spend more on that in a year on cocaine when they're rich.

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

      Ignorant moron!

      That $10 billion DID go to creating jobs. Do you have any idea how many people are involved in the construction, maintenance and operation of the LHC? Obviously not. It's not like they just spent the money and POOFF, there it was. Instead of just dishing out money to the unemployed bums sitting around begging for money, they are actually bang for their buck...

      February 21, 2011 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  14. Robert

    The thing that I want to know is if we could harness any practical applications from the properties of super fluids.

    Because super fluids have negligible viscosity, they can "crawl" up the sides of containers and pour out. essentially, if left in a container long enough, all the fluid would leave the container. With the proper mechanism in place, this can create a fountain that never stops flowing; essentially, the fluid that pours out is rerouted back into the container and pours out again. Hence, infinite fountain.

    Now, what if we put a turbine in the way of the fluid? Could that create a form of "perpetual" energy?

    The following is a demonstration of the super fluid liquid helium. if it doesn't work, just search for liquid helium on youtube. Fascinating stuff.

    February 21, 2011 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. Rob

    this thread is why they wont tell us about the aliens.

    February 21, 2011 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
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