What is the Higgs Boson?

Artist rendition of Higgs bosons generated after a particle collision. Created for Niels Bohr institute by artist-in-residence Mette Høst

Billions of Euros have been ploughed into the construction of the largest experiment known in the history of mankind. The Large Hadron Collider (officially due to be “switched on” September 10th 2008) will eventually create proton-proton collision energies near the 14 TeV mark by the end of this decade. This is all highly impressive; already the applications of the LHC appear to be endless, probing smaller and smaller scales with bigger and bigger energies. But how did the LHC secure all that funding? After all, the most expensive piece of lab equipment must be built with a purpose? Although the aims are varied and far-reaching, the LHC has one key task to achieve: Discover the Higgs Boson, the world’s most sought-after particle. If discovered, key theories in particle physics and quantum dynamics will be proven. If it isn’t found by the LHC, perhaps our theories are wrong, and our view of the Universe needs to be revolutionized… or the LHC needs to be more powerful.

Either way, the LHC will revolutionize all facets of physics. But what is the Higgs boson? And why in the hell is it so important?
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Do Hadrons Feel Pain?

Catchy slogan at the protest (BBSpot)

Or else... what? (BBSpot)

Hold on, I’ve just found out some worrying news from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). This mammoth experiment goes online in one month and two days and I don’t think we’ve fully grasped what this machine is going to do.

It will kill hadrons, by their millions.

I know, I felt the same way. What kind of deprived mind would think up such a plan? There we are being told by the physicists that colliding hadrons at high energies will somehow benefit mankind. We are also being told by the doomsayers that the LHC will create a micro black hole, killing us all. But so far there has been little thought for the tiny elemental particles caught in the middle of all this. Do you think they want to be accelerated to the point where they resemble a wave more than a particle? No. Do you think they want to be bashed at high speed, splattering their innards around the inside of a detector chamber? No.

Please, spare a thought for all those innocent quarks, they don’t have a voice…

(Oh dear, here we go again…)
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Could Past Sunspot Variations Lead to the Current “Blank Sun”?

The Sun as seen on Aug. 6th 2008. Still no sunspots. It's like watching paint dry... (SOHO/MDI)

The Sun as seen on Aug. 6th 2008. Still no sunspots. It's like watching paint dry... (SOHO/MDI)

Wow, what an unremarkable few months the Sun is having. Yes it is going through its solar minimum and yes that means it’s going to be fairly quiet, but the total (and I mean total) lack of sunspots is beginning to get a little boring. Sometimes the Sun does this, it does something unpredicted, like generating historic X-ray flares after solar maximum (like in 2003) or being unseasonably quiet (like now). This is the big issue with solar physics; although we can study our nearest star in great depth, we still do not appreciate what drives the inner workings of the Sun. We don’t fully understand why its atmosphere (corona) is so hot, let alone the nature of the 11-year solar cycle.

So, when asked “what are your views on the current lack of sunspots?”, I have to remain vague and point out that any form of solar forecasting is not possible at this stage, and more work needs to be done when working out the nature of sunspot activity. But now, with the help of a fellow blogger, a paper has been brought to my attention that actually predicted there will be no sunspots by 2015. What makes this enthralling is that this dual-author paper was written in 2006… back when the Sun was winding down from a pretty ferocious Solar Cycle 23. Could their prediction be coming true?
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Channel 4 Report About LHC Safety (ft. Walter Wagner!)

Working on the LHC (CERN)

Working on the LHC (CERN)

The LHC is set to go online in around two months time and the scientific world waits in anticipation for the first results. However, there are a few who are more concerned than excited for the LHC experiments. On Tuesday night, I was kindly asked to join the LHC debate with the prominent LHC critic, Walter Wagner on Captain Jack’s show Paranormal Radio. To be honest, I really enjoyed the open platform provided for me to ask Walter some questions about his forthcoming lawsuit against the US partners funding CERN. Mr Wagner is far from being a fantasist or “crank” (as I’ve seen unkindly written in some of the media), but his views are more in the realms of speculation, rather than being based on the actual physics predicted to come out of the LHC.

Today, science reporter David Fuller with the UK news channel ITN contacted me to say that he had covered Walter’s story in a news item for Channel 4. He put together a very balanced report that should allay any fears that micro black holes or strangelets could be produced by this awesome experiment in the search for the Higgs boson…
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LHC Detector ATLAS Captures High Energy Atmospheric Particles

Reconstruction of a muon passing through ATLAS (CERN/LHC)

Reconstruction of a muon passing through ATLAS (CERN/LHC)

Hold on! ATLAS has already started detecting particles? Yes, indeed it has. Particle collisions don’t only happen inside particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC); they happen all the time in the Earth’s atmosphere. High energy protons (or larger ions) generated by the Sun or other cosmic phenomenon (such as a supernova) bathe local space, passing through matter and colliding with atoms and molecules. Should a natural collision event occur in our atmosphere, billions of particles cascade from the point of collision, creating an “air shower.” Muons are one product of this air shower (in fact, the only natural muon production processes known are cosmic ray collisions) and some have been captured, making a fast-dash across the sensors in the recently completed A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS (ATLAS for short) detector at the LHC. It’s unexpected observations like these that really excite me, especially when we are a (possible) few weeks away from the first injection of particles into the LHC…
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International Space Station Solar Transit

The International Space Station Transits the Sun (© Martin Wagner)

The International Space Station Transits the Sun (© Martin Wagner)

Sometimes the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) is just too hard to pass up. Yesterday’s APOD features our sunspot-less Sun with a strange shape in the lower left-hand side of the image. On closer inspection suddenly it becomes clear as to what we are looking at. It’s the International Space Station transiting the solar disk. Stunning
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Tonight: Walter Wagner Discusses His LHC Lawsuit (a.k.a. “The Doomsday Suit”) on Paranormal Radio – I Will Join the Debate!

The LHC at CERN (CERN)

The LHC at CERN (CERN)

I’ve been captivated by the commotion caused by this summer’s “switch on” of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. Much of the last few month have been focused around a lawsuit that Walter Wagner filed in Honolulu, Hawaii four months ago.

Tonight, Walter Wagner will be talking live with Captain Jack on Paranormal Radio (WPRT Radio) to discuss his concerns for the particle accelerator. Kudos to Wagner for appearing live to defend his views on the subject. In an added twist, I’ve been invited to join in with the debate. The live show begins at 9pm Eastern Time (Wagner will be on the show starting at 10pm EST), airing over Seattle and Chicago (I think!) and transmitted over the internet.
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