Recreating the Big Bang: Slightly More Complicated Than Advertised

When I was in ninth grade, Miss Axton gave us a project. We were to build a replica of an ancient structure, and write a paper about it — why the structure was important, what it was used for, how it impacted culture, blah blah blah. For mine, I decided to do the Parthenon, largely because I thought the word "Parthenon" was cool and liked to say it out loud. (Ditto "Acropolis.") My plan was to use dowels and plaster of Paris. And by "my plan," I really mean "my entire plan with no backup." For as I discovered when I sat down to begin construction the day before it was due, plaster of Paris is kind of a shitty adhesive. Eventually my Dad got involved, and tinkered with it for several hours while cursing under his breath. Mostly I tried not to look at the clock and/or panic. The whole affair came vividly to mind this week when I read about the continuing troubles that have befallen the Large Hadron Collider. It turns out that building something, be it the most advanced scientific facility in the world or an underwhelming 1/100 scale Doric column, is sometimes a lot harder than it sounds.

Back in September, when the LHC made its debut, we here at AN examined the possibility that the world would be sucked into a singularity. In lieu of its ongoing setbacks, we wanted to take a few moments to continue the conversation.

Okay, so ... no black hole in Switzerland? Not so far, no. A black hole is pretty much something everyone would have noticed by now.

And that means we're safe? The alarmists were over-alarmed? Well, technically the LHC is still not a fully armed and operational battle station. There are problems with the magnets used to accelerate particles, and the system has been completely offline. Engineers hope to have it up and running this winter.

Which would be a delay of over a year, correct? Sure, but it took fifteen years to get it this far. What's another year, give or take? That's like a six-month project being delayed by twelve days. (Math, bitches!)

Still, this is a complete disaster, right? After all this hype, physicists are abandoning the LHC for other facilities, and it might be years before the is fulfills its potential. Is there any precedent for this? There most certainly is. In a way, the LHC is the Hubble Space Telescope of the 21st century. Years in development, loads of hype, and right when the whole world was watching, a goose-egg on the scoreboard. Did we shrug our shoulders and move on? Hell no, we fixed it. We fixed that thing, and it's not even on this planet.

At a cost of ... ? ... Hm?

I said, how much did it cost to fix the Hubble? Oh, it was ... something like ... mumblebumblegrumble ...

I'm sorry, I couldn't quite hear you just then. (Ahem.) I said, it cost billions of dollars. But to focus solely on the dollar signs is to miss out on some of the most spectacular astronomy that's ever been conducted. Take a look at the photos they get from that puppy. The Hubble may have been comically flawed when it was launched, but the time and resources used to set it right have yielded groundbreaking science. Bear that in mind when considering the near-term prospects of the LHC. Yes, it's disappointing, and yes, the economy is in a plastic shit-house. In the long run, however, we will be glad to have it.

Because it will be crushing all matter on Earth into a single point in space that occupies no area and has infinite mass. Exactly.

Between the September post and this one, how many times have you misspelled Hadron as "Hardon?" Something like forty.

How did you and your Dad end up fixing the Parthenon? My Mom handed us a glue gun.

Do you think that would work for the Hadron Collider? Oh come on, now you're just being silly. You don't honestly think that a glue gun ... would ... uh ...

Crap. Can someone in Switzerland run a glue gun over to those guys?