Big Bang blues
As we wait with bated breath for the first collision of speeding protons in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), it’s time to ask the professors some tough questions, writes Manas Chakravarty.
No, the world did not end on September 10. But as we wait with bated breath for the first collision of speeding protons in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), it’s time to ask the professors some tough questions.
The big question that some TV channels have been excitedly airing along with much hot air is: what happens if the collision produces a black hole? Physicists have dismissed the fears, but they have a vested interest and trusting them in this matter is like trusting a Dalal Street broker for stock tips. Not satisfied with their explanations, I decided to check for myself, browsing through the Journal of Nuclear and Particle Physics for clues. And lo and behold, in the September issue, what do I find but a paper titled ‘Level structure of the odd-odd nucleus 54Mn’. Clearly, something decidedly odd is going on in the nucleus, which is not good news.
True, Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith of the UK Atomic Energy Agency is reported to have said ‘The chances of us producing a black hole are minuscule and even if we do, it can't swallow up the earth.’ Maybe not, but what if it swallows up Switzerland, where the LHC is located? It won’t be a pleasant sight for some of us watching all those Swiss bank accounts disappearing down a black hole.
Others are distressed that neighbouring France too may be sucked into the hole and are stocking up on champagne. Some believe the hole could suck in the entire Western hemisphere, an alarming prospect. ‘Can the US Congress ratify the nuclear deal even if they are down a black hole?’ is a question
people often ask me. I’ve also been worrying whether we should lead with the headline, ‘Sensex plummets as world ends’ or whether ‘Stocks sink in black hole’ is better. On the other hand, if the black holes are very small, as the scientists claim, they could be used as rubbish dumps and toilets. Scientists assure me nobody has ever seen a clogged black hole, although I suspect there could be one under my kitchen sink.
To be honest, black holes are just a by-product of the scientists’ quest. What they’re really hoping to find, apart from dark matter and new dimensions, is the elusive Higgs boson a.k.a. the God particle that gave mass to all things. As a religious-minded researcher put it, ‘In the beginning was the Higgs boson. And He (the Higgs boson) said, ‘Let there be mass’: and there was mass. Note that He didn’t say, ‘Let there be light’, that was the photon’s line. He then went on to explain how the Higgs boson then begat leptons that begat quarks, that begat atoms and molecules, that begat galaxies and stars and the earth and water and dinosaurs and
mammals and homo sapiens before evolution finally begat its apogee in Paris Hilton. On my pointing out that evolution had also produced Mamata Banerjee, he urged me to look on the bright side and the possibility of her being sucked into another dimension.
In fact, the possibility of other dimensions being created by the experiment could be reassuring, because it provides a way of escape should the black hole eat up the dimensions we have at the moment. Many people point out that compared to the stress and strain of modern existence, life as a corrugated
triangular helical spheroid in another dimension may be infinitely better. The bigger worry is what happens when the dark matter opens up and Darth Vader, Voldemort and the Dark Lord get into our universe. Frankly, I’ve already started having my doubts. Is that guy sitting next to me a colleague, or an alien in disguise?
Finally, the experts also say the universe was the size of a small coin before it exploded in the Big Bang. That raises two important questions: 1) Why did it explode? 2) What happened to the person in whose pocket or purse the coin was in when it exploded?
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint