Large Hadron Collider makes a mini-Big Bang

Machine smashes together lead ions instead of protons


In an experiment on the Franco-Swiss border conducted on Nov. 7, scientists managed to create temperatures a million times hotter than those at the centre of the sun and create a mini-Big Bang by smashing together lead ions instead of protons, Reuters reports. The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s highest-energy particle accelerator is kept in a 27-km long circular tunnel underground near Geneva, and has been colliding protons to learn more about how the universe was created. For the next four weeks, scientists will analyze data from lead ion collisions to learn more about the plasma the universe was made of, 13.7 billion years ago, for just a millionth of a second after the Big Bang. The collisions generated the highest temperatures and densities ever produced in an experiment. At those temperatures, protons and neutrons (which make up the nuclei of atoms) melt to create a soup of subatomic particles called quark-gluon plasma, which is believed to have existed just after the Big Bang.

BBC News

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Large Hadron Collider makes a mini-Big Bang

  1. This is so exciting!

    Anyone have any idea why they went with lead ions instead of protons? I assume there's a practical reason for it, I'd just like to know what that is.

    • I was curious about that as well. All I could find was "ALICE will observe the collisions of high-energy lead nuclei when the LHC accelerates lead ions instead of protons. With this experiment, the collaboration will study the evolution of matter in the universe, from the first fraction of a second of our universe's existence to the time when the ordinary matter, from which today's visible universe is made, was formed. Key to this endeavor is the measurement of the thousands of particles that will emerge from lead-lead collisions."

      Lead is favourable for its smashed-up soupiness, perhaps.

      • Yet the risks have not gone away, as proved by a secret project, CASTOR, for Centauro and Strangelets Objects Research, a calorimeter installed in CMS for the study of strangelets, the ultradangerous explosive, cause of Nova explosions, which CERN denied in court it could produce but it affirms in the leaked 'CASTOR papers' it will produce with a 70% of probabilities in those ion collisions. To notice that if strangelets are formed, they will fall to the center of Earth and will take months before we realize they are eating us inside out.
        more at http://www.cerntruth.com/?p=125
        [youtube G5K9DvD5T8w&feature=channel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5K9DvD5T8w&feature=channel youtube]

    • Note: I'm not a scientist.

      It seems that the CERN researchers are trying to create an exotic form of plasma illustrative of the state of the early universe. Plasma is sometimes called the fourth state of matter as it's not solid, gas or liquid. It's gas-like, but has been super-heated and contains particles that have been ionized (they have more or fewer electrons than "normal" particles, giving the particles a positive or negative charge). So it would seem that, by stripping electrons off of lead (making lead ions) and slamming them together at absurdly high energies, they are able to generate the type of plasma they're looking for. Protons by definition have a positive charge, and are probably not useful for their specific experimental purpose.

      Yes, this stuff is way cool.

    • From Wikipedia:

      "Its four stable isotopes have 82 protons, a "magic number" in the nuclear shell model of atomic nuclei."

      The magic number means lead is has the biggest known stable atomic nuclei. They probably figured that neutrons and electrons wouldn't affect the results and to increase their chance at a collision, or to make the collision more energetic, they could go with the biggest ball of protons that won't decay naturally.

      • These are much better (as in, more exciting) answers than I was expecting. So I hope you guys are right!

  2. Shouldn't they have started with NOTHING? That would be a lot more authentic than using artificial means to supposedly support this ridiculous theory that NOTHING created EVERYTHING. Where did the stuff come from that led to this Big Bang? What external force caused it to happen, and where did that force come from? How can existence suddenly come from non-existence? It is impossible to recreate the 'Big Bang' because you would have to start with NOTHING.

    • Not quite. The big bang was an inflationary event where the universe, in a hot and dense state, suddenly inflated or expanded. Think of the change of state when liquid water becomes steam: Steam unmixed with air has 1,600 times the volume of liquid water. That's why steam is so powerful when it expands.

      The big bang theory holds that the universe changed state dramatically — but the theory doesn't say the universe sprang from nothing. In expanding, the universe sprang into a new state, which we see through telescopes as distance and time; we measure with volume and mass. This change of state immediately after the big bang (the inflationary event) is exactly what the CERN scientists referred to the article are trying to study.

      • That is interesting, and perhaps the experiment will produce some useful results. I do appreciate the measured response, as I was fully expecting some name-calling and eye-poking. I am still curious about where the universe allegedly came from before the theoretical inflationary event. Is there a theory about that? Also, what caused the singularity to expand once it somehow came into existence?

  3. So… did the earth move for anyone else?

    • No, darn it all. On the other hand, I didn't get sucked into some black hole, either. And I can still hope we've opened a portal into another dimension we just haven't noticed.

  4. Once again, thanks for the helpful and detailed response. You are definitely far more knowledgeable about such matters than I. You spoke of the big bang no longer being theoretical in the common sense, but how could the big bang ever be repeated? It is apparent that some scientists are seeking to simulate conditions that they believe existed during or following a theoretical big bang, but there is no reason to believe that those conditions actually did exist in the past. Just because something can be done by scientists today does not mean that it happened naturally in history. The big bang can never be proven to have actually happened, as it would have been a one-time, unrepeatable event. No amount of "repeating" it or any scientific experiments can confirm it. Rather, the big bang can only be accepted on faith, with the experimental results then interpreted to fit that belief.

    • "The big bang can never be proven to have actually happened, as it would have been a one-time, unrepeatable event. No amount of "repeating" it or any scientific experiments can confirm it. Rather, the big bang can only be accepted on faith, with the experimental results then interpreted to fit that belief."

      Your rationale is like saying a volcano blew up and we have evidence in the geology to show the volcano blew up and we have evidence in the paleontology, and we have evidence in the tree rings, and we have recorded history of it happening too, but because we can't make THAT volcano blow up on demand, it's just a theory. That's not science. That's just being argumentative for argument's sake.

      Sorry, but you are really mistaken on this one — both about the scientific method and the big bang. What must be repeatable and testable for a scientific theory to be found valid are the experiments to test a hypothesis and measure a phenomenon, not the phenomenon itself. Theories and experiments have to be testable and ultimately have predictive value.

      It's important to note that the first definitive evidence for the big bang was NOT found by people who were looking for it; they weren't trying to confirm a belief they already had "faith" in. It was discovered quite by accident by people trying to fix a bug in satellite phone calls. The discovery was hotly debated and for more than 40 years since scientists have tested and confirmed its veracity.

      The big bang most definitely and provably occurred. Cosmic inflation has been seen and measured thousands of times using a variety of techniques. Experiments have been set up to look for its ABSENCE and still always it is found. We have tried to see if it varies anywhere else in the universe and it does not. The behaviour and structure of the visible universe, the expansion and acceleration of MILLIONS of observable galaxies, the shape of the microwave spectrum itself, all confirm this. No matter where you look in the night sky, the echo of the big bang is found. Even a small percentage of the "snow" on your old TV is a remnant of the big bang.

      Evidence is not a question of faith. Evidence is just evidence. How we feel about it may test our faith, but that's a human trait, not a scientific one.

      • Agreed, evidence is not a question of faith, but it is being used to support a matter of faith. Volcanoes are observable, and so they are not analogous. This is much different than the big bang, the theory of which still rests upon many untested and untestable assumptions.

        The results of scientific experiments can be used to support or modify the hypothesis of the big bang, but they cannot prove that the big bang occurred. One does not have to accept this theory just because it is the dominant one. There are plenty of scientists who question or disagree with it, and they ought not to be derided for doing so.

        I am not just trying to be argumentative for no reason. I don't go along with the theory or its underlying atheistic, naturalistic philosophy, that's all.

        • "Volcanoes are observable, and so they are not analogous."

          Cosmic inflation and its effects are observable. You are mistaken (or choose to look away).

          "I don't go along with the theory or its underlying atheistic, naturalistic philosophy, that's all."

          In so choosing, you reject science and evidence, and unnecessarily so. Like Darwin's theory of how species evolve makes no claims about the origin of life itself, but rather describes the process of life's diversification; the big bang theory makes no claims as to the origins of the universe, but rather describes the observable process of the universe's emergence, inflation and transformation.

          Many particle physicists, astronomers and cosmologists are also deeply spiritual people. Many are not. They may not all believe in a designing or interventionist deity, but they find room in their personal belief system for a universe whose observable characteristics neither require nor bend to the will of man or god. Even scientists of faith, however, would disagree with your assertions above as they fly in the face of science itself. Like it or hate it, there's no evidence in the natural world that necessitates divinity. This observable, testable reality is different than denying the value of human faith.

          • @Amateur Hour: To paraphrase and simplify your argument:
            1. Lead Ions existed before the Big Bang.
            2. The universe in cyclical rotation switched to expand-mode.
            3. Therefore: "Something can be brought out of nothing without some external influence".
            Does this argument make deductive, observable, scientific-sense to you?

          • Not one of your three items is a statement made by me.
            1. The lead ion discussion above relates to the immediate aftermath of the big bang (not "before the big bang" as you put it). The early universe contained very simple and light elements (helium, hydrogen, lithium). The more complex elements of our present universe (carbon, oxygen, iron, etc.) were (and are) formed in the nuclear furnaces of stars.
            2. I've never mentioned a cyclical rotation of expansion and contraction (that's a very Hindu concept, btw). Indeed, the only observable evidence is of expansion — an expansion that accelerates the farther one looks out into space, no matter where one looks.
            3. I expressly corrected a commenter at the start of this thread, noting that the big bang theory does NOT suggest the universe arose out of nothing. Rather, the theory holds that the universe was in a state in which our measures of volume and mass and time and distance were not yet present. Expansion itself created space-time and that change of state in the early moments of the universe is part of what CERN is exploring.

            That you could attribute three statements to me that I never made is indicative of your biases.

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