<IT WORLD> A step closer to the final frontier
By Martin J Young
HUA HIN, Thailand - Following weeks of media hype and years of planning and
preparation, the boffins at European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN),
finally fired up the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the most powerful particle
accelerator ever built, on Wednesday.
Many expected this to be the mother of all experiments, with the possibility of
the planet being sucked into itself, but as it turned out they were just giving
it a test run. The US$10 billion device successfully steered a beam of protons
around the entire 27 kilometer circumference of superconducting magnets that
line the underground ring tunnel.
There were no big bangs, 'god-particles', 'dark matter' or black
holes, and the world didn't start collapsing into an all crushing gravity
vortex as depicted on
YouTube earlier in the week. They're saving that for a later date.
This week's first beam was a gentle bowling of a few protons around the track,
which may sound simple but it has taken over ten thousand people more than
twenty years to get to this stage. Thousands of individual elements had to work
in harmony and things were not as simple as just flipping a switch. Timings
synchronized to under a billionth of a second were required and beams finer
than a human hair had to be brought into a head-on collision.
The scary part comes later, when they finally have two beams of hadrons
(particles bound together by a strong nuclear force, protons and neutrons are
the best examples) going round in opposing directions at a fraction under the
speed of light. (See
Building a backyard black hole, Asia Times Online, Aug 30). The beams
will be forced into collision and the results analyzed in hopes of discovering
mysteries of the universe and the existence of sub-atomic particles which have
so far eluded astrophysicists.
In the 1960s, the existence of these particles was proposed by Professor Peter
Higgs, of the University of Edinburgh, during his studies of gravity. The Higgs
boson or "god-particle" has yet to be observed, which is why there are still so
many unanswered questions regarding the behavior of gravity throughout the
Other discoveries that could possibly emerge from the high-speed proton pile up
are supersymmetric particles that mirror some we do know about, and dark
matter, which occupies the 95% of the universe and cannot be viewed with
conventional scientific instruments. Recent advancements in technology has
enabled scientists and astronomers to verify the existence of dark matter by
using a technique called gravitational lensing, which analyzes how light is
bent around massive objects in the universe.
There have been a number of media reports claiming the experiment could cause
an apocalyptic scenario recreating the universe's "big-bang", and doomsday
prophets have been busy online condemning the project for various reasons, many
of them religion based. Tragically, a young girl in India acted on them this
week and committed suicide fearing the loss of her village and family.
One hypothesis, known as the Dominium model, goes against most of the current
scientific theories. It proposes that the creation of a mini black hole (MBH)
by the LHC through the constant flow, collisions, and pile up of protons will
spawn a matter devouring entity that will continue to feed unless the process
is reversed in time. The alternative is a snowball effect that begins on a
sub-atomic level and ends up consuming all around it since containment or
destabilization of such a beast has yet to be recorded.
Unless the project is stopped, which appears unlikely, the next stage for the
CERN team will be to achieve two stable beams running in opposite directions.
They will then ramp up the power and proton count until they have full
throttle, only then will the colliding start and we'll all either have new
physics books or a really bad day.
Google's quest for world domination continued this week with another newly
launched service. It has started to scan in old microfilm from the archives of
newspapers in an effort to have the information searchable online. Readers will
be able to search the news service using keywords and view the articles as they
originally appeared in black and white print. Google's vice president of search
products announced the new feature at the TechCrunch50 conference in San
Francisco this week.
The service will initially run alongside the Google News system until, the
search giant claims, it is offered to partnering newspapers directly. Google is
currently partnered with around 100 newspapers with which it hopes to share
revenues from running its Adsense adverts on the archives pages.
Some publishers will see this latest offering as competition, and a threat to
revenues already earned through archives. Others claim that they would never
have dreamt of the concept without the assistance from Google's technology -
either way the California-based search giant's profit figures will inevitably
Microsoft is looking to take a bite out of the Apple and gain some ground on
the iPod with the latest additions to its Zune media player family. Extra
goodies will include wifi capabilities enabling the unit to download and stream
songs when connected to wireless networks, larger hard drives, flash-memory
models and price cuts. Free updates to the device's software and firmware will
be available from September 16 as older models are phased out.
There is also a new music store called Zune Marketplace, which bears great
resemblance to offerings from its fruity opponents. Microsoft has sold 2.5
million Zunes since its launch in November 2006, so it still has a long way to
go to catch Apple's well-established music business, with the iPod notching up
11 million sales in its fiscal third quarter. Competition between the two tech
giants can only be good news for the consumer, who gets a wider selection, more
functions and better prices in the media player market.
Back in the Apple tree, there have been further announcements on changes to the
iPod and iTunes product line. At an event called "Let's Rock" in San Francisco,
a thin-looking Steve Jobs unveiled new designs and functions to the
ever-popular media player.
A new iPod Nano will hit the shelves at US$149, though aside from a splash of
color and a few rounded corners, it does not offer much more than the existing
model. A couple of other tweaks here and there have been added to the iPod
Touch, but a lack of major announcements or surprises at the event had a
knock-on effect on Apple's share price, which fell 4% on the day.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.