Friday, May 21, 2010
Ever stop and wonder why there's stuff?
Seems pretty basic to me, but it isn't until I really consider the alternative, no stuff, that I'm extra glad to know that there's stuff.
Imagine for a moment a universe with no stuff. Not only that, but ponder the notion that there was a very brief instant a very very very very long time ago when the possibility of a universe full of anti-stuff was as likely as one full of stuff.
There's a delicate and quite constant stuff/anti-stuff not-quite-balancing act being played out in front of our very eyes, and it has been playing out since long before there was enough stuff to actually form eyes.
Imagine that undersized spare tire you have in the trunk, or that bottle of mango Snapple. With just the slightest variance in the behavior of subatomic particles 13 billion years ago, there would be, in another anti-stuff-universe, an anti-undersized spare tire, and an anti-mango Snapple to perfectly balance out the stuff-universe stuff that makes up the tire and the Snapple.
But there isn't an anti-stuff universe. There is an undersized tire in the trunk, and those mangoes did become a bottle of Snapple.
Do you ever ask yourself why there's stuff?
We just take stuff for granted, because there's been stuff for as long as we've been around to have stuff, and look at stuff, and hear stuff, and to marvel at the beauty of stuff.
Seriously, I don't even want to imagine an anti-stuff-universe Grand Canyon canceling out the stuff-universe Grand Canyon. Thankfully, there's no anti-Bach, nor an anti-moon. An anti-Anne Hathaway is pretty much unthinkable.
But it could have been that way, if not for the fact that high energy collisions between subatomic particles 13 billion years ago apparently (and I do mean apparently) produced more stuff than anti-stuff.
And, 13 billion years later, there's still some stuff.
There's a stuff-universe that isn't perfectly balanced by an anti-stuff universe. I've long suspected that there was a scientifically explainable reason why high energy collisions between really small, fast moving shit produces more stuff than anti-stuff, but I wasn't entirely sure what that reason was....all I knew is that there was stuff, which I consider overwhelming evidence of something.
Thankfully, we have the Tevatron collider out at Fermilab in Batavia, IL to answer questions about stuff. Those physicists at Fermilab weren't satisfied with having already discovered the Top Quark, the Bottom Quark, and the Tao Neutrino.
No, no, they still had questions about stuff out at Fermi. So, rather than feeling like the stuff-universe had passed them by when the Euros built a bigger version of the thing they'd been working with for the better part of 40 years, they continued looking for stuff.
As luck would have it, my family moved to the far southwest suburbs of Chicago back in the late 60s, just when Fermilab was being built. As a grade schooler, along with my other classmates, we took a tour of the newly opened Fermilab.
I was in awe. The accelerator itself covers parts of Batavia and West Chicago. Driving along Butterfield Road, heading west, if you look to the north you see what appears to be a large hump running parallel to the road. It's a concrete shaft, with grass growing on it, and the fucking thing runs for almost 4 miles. It's huge.
I knew right then and there that these folks knew a lot about stuff.
They've used the Tevatron in a variety of ways. Without getting too technical, one way they use it, is to get these tiny little particles of shit shooting through the shaft in one direction, very quickly, and slam them into a stationary object, like say, a sheet of 24kt gold. Then, they check their results to see what kind of shit came flying off.
Or, they get tiny little particles of shit, like a light beam of shit, shooting in one direction, and then they send another light beam of tiny shit particles in the opposite direction, and force the opposite directionally moving shit particles into a head-on collision. And, they see what kind of shit happens to both beams of shit particles.
And that's what the were doing when they discovered why there's stuff.
That's right, despite being dwarfed by the LHC over in Europe, the folks using the Tevatron at Fermilab have announced that they've made a huge discovery about stuff.
They were doing shit with stuff on the Tevatron, when they discovered that when protons slam into anti-protons under extremely high energy, the result is slightly more pairs of muons than pairs of anti-muons. Only about a 1% difference as it turns out, but that's enough of a difference to perhaps explain why there's a universe of stuff that's not being canceled out by an anti-stuff universe.
"Many of us felt goosebumps when we saw the result." said Stefan Soldner-Rembold, particle physicist and research team spokesman. "We knew we were seeing something beyond what we have seen before -- and beyond what current theories can explain."
I can understand why Stefan is being humble here. The particle physics community never likes a boastful type. Stefan isn't coming right out and saying "We've just made a huge discovery about stuff!" because he knows that these days scientific discoveries come a little at a time.
But let's face it, this is a monumental discovery. It's a huge step in explaining why there's stuff.