countdown to the “big bang day”

august 24th, 2008. 17 days to go.

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let me see here. i have got an upcoming trip to bamyan, then another one to kandahar, and then another to amsterdam and bonn, and then yet another one to mazaar -again. that’s for the forseeable future -meaning the next couple of weeks.
but wait a minute: i should really not bother about the ones that take place after september 10th -because on that day, the doomsday will arrive.

it will be qiyaamat -apocalypse- finally.

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allow me to explain.

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when i was young -funny how many self-serious, pretentious sentences begin with this endearing cliche- as a precocious child of 13, i fantasized about several roles, several careers when i grew up. there were, to be sure, the offbeat ones that i did not dare admit to anyone else -like an eccentric modern day prophet ushering in a new moral order or a star gymnast. but there were also other careers that i wanted to pursue as a grown up -like a thick-glassed, fuzzy-haired, lab-bound scientist- that sustained late into my teen years. when, finally, as a student of pre-medicine i was forced to take a good deal of hefty physics courses, i found this old dream rekindled in me in the form of pursuing a career in particle physics. because that period of my life coincided with a stint in pakistan where the physics textbooks made a great deal of dr. abdus salam’s achievements in particle physics, i was even more enamored of the field and i have to say i developed a genuine fascination and awe for theoretical concepts of plasma physics.

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you see, the elusive concept of the grand unified theory -or gut- on which abdus salam and weinberg spent a good deal of time and ate much sooth -until they finally received a nobel prize- has yet to be fully tested in all its implications. essentially, gut presents a long sought after theoretical model for unifying three of the four fundamental forces in the universe: electromagnetic, weak nuclear, strong nuclear, leaving out the weakest of the four, which is also the one that we most commonly deal with, i.e. the gravitational force. these four forces, or fundamental interactions, are responsible for virtually all of the universe’s physical phenomena, all material interactions, and how the entirity of matter in the universe stand in relation to each other. this is why an as-yet-purely-conceptual theory that would provide common grounds for all the four fources has been called a “theory of everything” or toe – but that’s a whole new rabbit’s hole and probably still a few decades away. for now, we are more concerned about gut than toe -so to speak.

ok, all that is plain and clear until now.

thing is, how do you get to observe and test these forces in operation? well, you go to the sub-subatomic level -i.e. not only the protons and electrons, but what they are composed of: the universe of hadrons and ferions and quarks and gluons- and observe how the particles that compose protons and electrons are held together by the fundamental forces. in most cases, these are held together by the strong nuclear forces that are hundreds of times stronger than any of the other forces. we are talking about stuff that are stuck together pretty darn tightly and are loath to let go of each other. you can break the damn things apart easily. there are no anvils, no wedges, no laser beams, no screw-drivers, no knives that can pull them apart. so you use them against each other -you use one to break the other. you make them collide and crash headlong into each other at very high speeds and in vacuum and in very low temperatures until they break apart and reveal their tightly held secrets to us. exciting, literally cutting edge stuff.

in the days of yore, folks used to chase high energy beams from outer space to crash into stuff to observe their interaction. this involved trekking up to high mountains carrying lead ingots -sounds primitive, doesn’t it? well, then came along particle accelerators and colliders and atom crashers. these are self-contained devices that accelerate (and contain) particles using electromagnetic fields until they achieve speeds approaching the speed of light, and then guide them to collide head on into each other. they are big budget projects that because of their lack of commercial application only governments usually have the money and the wastefulness to back up, and in fact many have been built to date. among them, the construction of the largest dates back nearly a couple of decades and is built by the european center for nuclear research -cern- along -and under- the french-swiss border.

ladies and gentlemen: we are speaking of the awesome 16-mile-long, 8 billion dollar, 100 meter deep underground, negative 200 celcious cold, circular lhc or large hadron collider. this monster atom crasher will go operational on 10th of september, and the real big bang fireworks will begin going off on oct 21 when the first high energy collision experiments will be conducted. while there have been a slew of papers and official statements from cern to dismiss concerns about the lhc and the fact that the experiments may trigger phenomena that the accelerator’s magnetic forces -or anyone else for that matter, save for god’s own hand- will fail to contain or control, there are groups of concerned scientists who oppose the lhc’s operation on the grounds that there still remains a probability of these phenomena actually taking place. the collisions being experimented with -at speeds and energies as yet unseen- may give rise to what are called micro-blackholes (mBHs) or strangelets or other crazy shit that might suddenly go on a rampage and start swallowing the entire universe’s fabric of time and space. that, or the collisions will trigger an as yet unseen fusion chain reaction that will -once again- be unstoppable. or imagine a giant funnel suddenly opening a hundred meters deep in the swiss alpine plateaus that starts sucking in matter and light on all sides and within no time -or will our current concept of time be still operational?- takes us to square one. blip! game over!

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ok. i admit this is all a bit sensational. but when else do you get to count down to a date where there is a minuscale chance of all out catastrophe? at some level it is thrilling. in the lead up to the turn of the millenium, people starting counting down to the evil y2k! the bug that was supposed to bring down the financial system and end civilization as we knew it! of course the turn of the millenium came and went and nothing happened, but the hype was great. why not count down to a theoretically possible end of the world? a qiyamat? a countdown to the universe’s being swallowed by a giant blackhole… and who know what afterwards? perhaps on the other end of that funnel we all get transported to another dimension where rivers of honey and milk flow and people slumber on shades of evergreen trees with beautiful and never-aging beauties and birds of all colors sing and time goes at a different pace altogether. a paradise of sorts. afterall, the last thing i was to trust the scientists with is the safety of the universe. recently reports tied a microbiologist and expert on anthrax to having unleashed anthrax attacks in the us. and were it not for scientists we would not have the terrible spectre of nuclear annihilation constantly in the back of our minds. perhaps, just perhaps, this time around they are on to another terrible experiment.

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and so, the countdown is on at least on this blog. if some reader in another dimension, in another time-space fabric, happens to dig out all this information from the cyberspace some days in the distant future and happens to deciper the english language as the dominant language of early 2nd millenium human civilization, they will know we went into our end casually.

17 days left, and counting.

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also read gail collin’s op-ed in the ny-times:
digging ourselves a blackhole

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collision

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~ by safrang on August 24, 2008.

4 Responses to “countdown to the “big bang day””

  1. Yoda is gonna propa save my ass!

  2. Anyone know what time the experiment kicks off tomorrow?

  3. 8.30am

  4. they shunt do this jus incase it messes up

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