31 03 2008

I’ll admit it, I’m highly excited about the impending opening of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and especially at the prospect of the Higgs boson finally being discovered — or not, which has the potential to be just as revealing. It appears, however, that some people don’t share my enthusiasm. This isn’t anything new, by the way — the same sort of fretting occurred prior to the opening of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider in the US.

Now, concern over the possibility of a doomsday situation is not, I’ll concede, entirely unfounded (although it is quite unnecessary). The two main fears concern the formation of microscopic black holes — mini black holes, as they’re often called — and the production of strangelets, a form of exotic matter which could hypothetically catalyze a chain reaction which would reduce the entire Earth to a lump of hot strange matter. The hazard of the former is pretty much precluded by the laws of physics as we know them (although the black holes could hypothetically be formed), whereas the latter is not really worth discussing, for a wide variety of reasons.

I don’t blame the average person for worrying about the possibility of black holes being formed; after all, don’t black holes simply consuming everything surrounding them? Couldn’t they eat straight through the Earth and start to devour it from the interior outward? Well, no. There’s something called Hawking Radiation, which essentially causes all black holes to evaporate over time. It works something like this: what is generally thought of as empty space is not empty in actuality, it is seething with shortly-lived particle-antiparticle pairs, known as virtual particles. These virtual particles can briefly coalesce out of energy borrowed from the vacuum, which has an classical energy level (to coin a phrase, I believe) of zero. Of course, the particles are not technically allowed to do this — the first law of thermodynamics, correct? — but they do it anyway, which illustrates some very odd phenomena in quantum mechanics. The caveat is that they must immediately make restitution, so to speak, and return the energy in debt to the vacuum. Accordingly, they immediately annihilate one another, at which point the whole messy situation is swept under the proverbial rug.

Except when a black hole is involved. If this is the case, when the pair of virtual particles is formed with sufficient proximity to a black hole, in the infinitesimally brief period of time in which they exist, one can cross the event horizon, at which point it is inexorably sucked towards the singularity of the black hole. This frees the other particle in the opposite direction, towards infinity. Obviously, this poses a problem: under normal circumstances, the particles annihilate each other, leaving us with a lovely, pristine vacuum with its lovely, pristine energy level of zero. However, we now have an issue: an energy debt that is unpaid still exists, and the debtor has gone running off into space. We cannot go creating energy (which equates to mass — E=mc2) — but it appears that this is what has occurred. So what can be done about it? It turns out that the energy debt is filled, and that the energy comes from a convenient source: the black hole that consumed the particle originally. Enough energy from the black hole is released to fulfill the debt, and this phenomenon, occurring over and over again, will, by logical extension, be compounded over time to the eventual evaporation of the black hole. It also turns out that, the smaller the black hole, the more rapid the evaporation. So, hypothetically, mini black holes would evaporate due to the Hawking Radiation before they could cause any significant damage. Bear in mind, however, that this is all strictly theoretical, as the Hawking Radiation has never been actually observed. However, it makes sense, without any significant problems, so it is most likely the way that things are. (Edit: Pol Lambert has informed me, via his comments below, that the waveforms of elementary particles may not fit inside black holes of this size at all, doubly precluding danger. Thanks, Pol.)

Concerning strangelets, no one is actually sure that the catalyzation described would actually occur, and furthermore, if they did indeed behave is such a manner, the probability of a strangelet being produced and becoming issue is minute, in the vicinity of that of winning the major prize in the lottery three weeks in a row.

There is no real cause to be concerned about the LHC, especially as it could produce such monumental gains in our understanding of the Universe. This is not something to be discarded over unfounded, spuriously-based fear, and I sincerely desire that this post will have allayed any that you possess.


Global Warming

31 03 2008

I am not particularly opinionated on the subject of the existence global warming — I consider the evidence for both positions relating to its reality to be rather too sparse to be able to make an adequate determination on the matter. However, I am fully in support of attempting to curb the phenomenon, as, although I am not convinced of its existence, neither am I convinced of its unreality, and I am revolted by the “wait-and-see” attitude towards an issue of this magnitude. Let’s briefly consider both probable scenarios: in situation one, global warming is not occurring. Fine, we’ve spent some money that didn’t need to be spent. Whoop-de-do. At the moment, we are spending millions of dollars a day in Iraq, there’s no reason why we can’t spend a barely-comparable quantity on peaceful endeavours. In scenario two, global warming is indeed occurring, and our efforts have apprehended it — or not, if we haven’t attempted to do so. If the latter is the case, the planet overheats, the ecosystem gets torched, and we regretfully look back at the idyllic years when there was actually vegetation outside. I’m of the belief that the former is rather preferable.

Random Math Fact

30 03 2008

I found this to be fairly interesting: apparently, the infinity symbol (∞) is not a direct descendant of the Möbius strip, a closed path, or anything similar, instead, it is a corruption of the Etruscan numeral for 1,000, which is essentially a vertical line with two curves branching off from opposite sides from a point nearly at the top, and continuing to the same level as the lower point. To be slightly less obfuscated, it resembles an “m”, which is, in fact, the source from which the Roman numeral “M” was derived. The infinity symbol is a corruption of this symbol.

Yes, I actually found that interesting, quite so, in fact.

Beaks of Squids

30 03 2008

I am fully aware that it would be more professional, perhaps, to have the title as “Squid’s Beaks”, but I tend towards lolcat-like mannerisms in certain areas, so you’ll have to cope.

Anyway, I found this interesting. Apparently, the reason why the razor-sharp beak that squids possess does not simply slice through their none-too-solid flesh is because the density is on a gradient, that is, the beak becomes progressively harder as the distance from the base increases. What I found to be particularly intriguing is that we don’t actually have a very good idea of how to produce a material with such a gradient. I personally have ideas, but they’re probably entirely half-baked and worthless, as I have no particular qualifications in this field.

If I have utilized bad grammar, tortured syntax, or anything similar, it’s most likely because I’m not particularly awake, and I’m too lazy to do any particular copyediting.


30 03 2008

I finally got a blog with which I intend to keep up. Sadly, this most likely won’t occur, taking into account my proclivity to have lovely ideas concerning various topics on which I would like to expound, and then never actually muster up the energy or patience to do so. This is an unfortunate phenomenon which, sadly, pervades most of my life. So, if by some wild, almost quantum-mechanical quirk of probability, you actually develop a liking for my productions, and I suddenly disappear, it’s probably because I’m a slacker, so simply send me lots of angry e-mails, and I’ll get right back to it.

However, I hope to avoid this problem in this blog, as part of the problem that I’ve been afflicted with in the past was the direct result of an attempt to make my blogs overly-specialized. I shall evade this by writing about whatever I feel like writing about, when I feel like writing about it. Hopefully I’ll be able to produce at least one good piece of work in this fashion.