Monday, August 15, 2005

The Horrors Of Particle Physics


A couple of random news stories, which are somewhat related:
Earth punctured by tiny cosmic missiles
FORGET dangers from giant meteors: Earth is facing another threat from outer space. Scientists have come to the conclusion that two mysterious explosions in the 1990s were caused by bizarre cosmic missiles.

The two objects were picked up by earthquake detectors as they tore through Earth at up to 900,000 mph. According to scientists, the most plausible explanation is that they were "strangelets", clumps of matter that have so far defied detection but whose existence was posited 20 years ago.

Formed in the Big Bang and inside extremely dense stars, strangelets are thought to be made from quarks - the subatomic particles found inside protons and neutrons. Unlike ordinary matter, however, they also contain "strange quarks", particles normally only seen in high-energy accelerators. Strangelets - sometimes also called strange-quark nuggets - are predicted to have many unusual properties, including a density about ten million million times greater than lead. Just a single pollen-size fragment is believed to weigh several tons.
...Until now, all attempts to detect them have failed. A team of American scientists believes, however, that it may have found the first hard evidence for the existence of strangelets, after scouring earthquake records for signs of their impact with Earth. The team, from the Southern Methodist University in Texas, analysed more than a million earthquake reports, looking for the tell-tale signal of strangelets hitting Earth.

While their very high speed gives strangelets a huge amount of energy their tiny size suggests that any effects might be extremely localised, and there is unlikely to be a blast big enough to have widespread effects on the surface.
"Extremely localized." Riiiight. In other words, "Sucks to be him."
The scientists looked for events producing two sharp signals, one as it entered Earth, the other as it emerged again. They found two such events, both in 1993. The first was on the morning of October 22. Seismometers in Turkey and Bolivia recorded a violent event in Antarctica that packed the punch of several thousand tons of TNT. The disturbance then ripped through Earth on a route that ended with it exiting through the floor of the Indian Ocean off Sri Lanka just 26 seconds later - implying a speed of 900,000 mph.

The second event took place on November 24, when sensors in Australia and Bolivia picked up an explosion starting in the Pacific south of the Pitcairn Islands and travelling through Earth to appear in Antarctica 19 seconds later.

According to the scientists, both events are consistent with an impact with strangelets at cosmic speeds. In a report about to be submitted to the Seismological Society of America, the team of geologists and physicists concludes: "The only explanation for such events of which we are aware is passage through the earth of ton-sized strange-quark nuggets."

So, ton-sized lumps of extremely unusual matter are passing through the earth from time to time at "cosmic speeds." (I guess that means really, really fast.) The report goes on to say that due to evolving seismograph technology, these unique events are being elimnated from the data because they are not earthquake-related. My question is, why not try to monitor this things more closely, especially since all you really need at this point is to piggyback off exisiting seismograph networks?

So why does this matter? Read this:

Killer plasma ready to devour the Earth
SCIENTISTS yesterday issued warnings of two new menaces to mankind that could either swallow up the Earth or turn the universe to jelly...

...In a catastrophic chain reaction, the killer strangelet would gobble up nuclei until it had eaten a million billion, when its weight would pull it towards the centre of the earth. Dr Allanach said: "Eventually, the strangelet would be the size of an atom and just sit at the centre of the earth, eating other nuclei. It would eventually be heavy enough to attract some of the earth's mass gravitationally. That way, it would eat our planet from the inside out, converting the entire earth into one giant strangelet and killing us all in the process."

That can't be good.
Fortunately, the chance of this happening is very small.
Oh, I feel much better. But you know there's a "but" coming, don't you?

However, the other apocalyptic model, could be "even more catastrophic", Dr Allanach said. According to "supersymmetry" theory, every particle has a heavier, ghostly partner that has similar, but not identical, properties.

These "super-partners" were present in the early universe but if a super-partner of the quark formed, which could happen if there was a chance fluctuation in the vacuum of the universe, then everything would come to a very sudden end. Dr. Allanach said: "This would be bad news, because in some region of space which has jellified, particles of light would become immensely heavy. Nature would not have enough energy to produce them, and all would become dark."

I'm not sure the term "bad news" is a wholly adequate description.

"Because photons are responsible for the electric and magnetic forces, these forces would no longer exist. This would be the death knell of the poor atom, because it is the electric force that binds electrons to the nucleus," he said. "Because the new region of jellified super-partner would be more stable than the rest of the universe, it would jellify the space around it. The region of new vacuum would expand at the speed of light, wreaking dark havoc."

For all we know, this has already happened somewhere in the universe and a deadly wall of jellied universe is expanding towards Earth, killing everything in its path.

However, Dr Allanach said further calculations indicated that the probability of this event happening was minuscule, even in a time as long as the age of our universe.

He said: "Although our disaster scenarios caused some initial nightmares, after further investigation, they proved to be so unlikely that we can sleep soundly at night."

Yes, sleep. As your universe ends. Because you are already screwed.

[step step step step step]
[SLAM! VROOM! Scrreeeee....]


At 3:05 PM, Blogger Tyler Farrer said...

It's pretty hard to destroy the Earth. But, if you want to get started, here is a good resource. Being gobbled up by strangelettes is, understandably, number one.

Sam's Archive

At 8:31 AM, Blogger Nathan said...

When he said, "a deadly wall of jellied universe is expanding towards Earth, killing everything in its path," he really should have called it "The NOTHING".

I think the term "Scientist" should be replaced with "Star Trek Sreen-writer".

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Reach Upward said...

I kind of like jelly. Of course, earth-eating jelly would be bad. Gee, maybe Congress should hold hearings. We could probably spend a few trillion $ combatting jelly and strangelets. Heck, we spend it on just about anything else.


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