Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Science of Alternate Realities

By Robert Evans
October 20, 2010

GENEVA (Reuters) - Physicists probing the origins of the cosmos hope that next year they will turn up the first proofs of the existence of concepts long dear to science-fiction writers such as hidden worlds and extra dimensions.

And as their Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN near Geneva moves into high gear, they are talking increasingly of the "New Physics" on the horizon that could totally change current views of the universe and how it works.

"Parallel universes, unknown forms of matter, extra dimensions... These are not the stuff of cheap science fiction but very concrete physics theories that scientists are trying to confirm with the LHC and other experiments."

This was how the "ideas" men and women in the international research center's Theory Group, which mulls over what could be out there beyond the reach of any telescope, put it in CERN's staff-targeted Bulletin this month.

As particles are collided in the vast underground LHC complex at increasingly high energies, what the Bulletin article referred to informally as the "universe's extra bits" -- if they do exist as predicted -- should be brought into computerized, if ephemeral, view, the theorists say.

Optimism among the hundreds of scientists working at CERN -- in the foothills of the Jura mountains along the border of France and Switzerland -- has grown as the initially troubled $10 billion experiment hit its targets this year.


By mid-October, Director-General Rolf Heuer told staff last weekend, protons were being collided along the 27-km (16.8 mile) subterranean ring at the rate of 5 million a second -- two weeks earlier than the target date for that total.

By next year, collisions will be occurring -- if all continues to go well -- at a rate producing what physicists call one "inverse femtobarn," best described as a colossal amount, of information for analysts to ponder.

The head-on collisions, at all but the speed of light, recreate what happened a tiny fraction of a second after the primeval "Big Bang" 13.7 billion years ago which brought the known universe and everything in it into being.

Please read comments below. Thank you.