Last week it was a near encounter with an asteroid that could take us out and a meteorite impressive enough to convince the Russians they were under attack. This week there’s more news on the space front… and again, we’re reminded that we’re basically facing mass extinction at every twist and turn. Forget the zombie apocalypse; the universe is out to get us, and I think I’ve watched this episode of Doctor Who before.
For those of you who aren’t as nerdy as my husband and I are, let’s me tell you a little bit about the Higgs Boson (also known as The God Particle, for you Dan Brown readers—but be forewarned, he didn’t do a good job of describing it). This is a super-tiny particle that theoretical physicists have been ‘searching for,’ and by searching for, I mean constructing massive laboratory facilities and trying to recreate under controlled settings. What’s so important about the Higgs Boson that physicists felt the need to build the Large Hadron Collider at CERN—the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, a multinational endeavor with up to nearly 14,000 staff and visiting scientists working there on any given day? Let me tell you: Scientists believe that the Higgs Boson can tell us why anything in the world has mass. Anything. Any and every particle has mass (even if its mass is miniscule) but we only have speculations as to why. And mass is kind of important here, since if we didn’t have any, we likely wouldn’t exist.
Well, last year, the LHC at CERN believes it finally created the Higgs Boson. Now they’re number-crunching and looking at super-complex math calculations and all the rest, and they think the math behind the Higgs Boson is telling them that the particle (and of course, these particles make up what’s called the Higgs Field, and the Higgs Field permeates everything in the universe, in order to give it mass and all) rides a critical line. Of all the line sit could decide to ride, it decided to ride the super-holy-crap-critical line. By critical line, they mean a line that says if everything isn’t exactly perfect in the vacuum of space, the Higgs Boson will immediately deteriorate, and then we will all cease to exist. In a microsecond. Now, scientists are saying this will likely happen billions of years in the future… but what are they going to say? That it could happen at any minute? Or not at all? Just so we can all live in a state of suspended doom for the rest of our lives?
The reassuring bit out of the stories yesterday wanted to point out to all us measly humans that the event in which the Higgs Boson jumps over to the bad side of the critical line, the effect will almost instantaneously happen and we won’t even know what hit us! Hooray! As Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist, stated,
“You won’t actually see it, because it will come at you at the speed of light. So in that sense don’t worry.”
Thank you, Dr. Lykken. I won’t worry. That statement makes me feel so much better!
The Higgs Boson and its critical line weren’t the only science news yesterday. At the same time that physicists were telling us that the end is nigh (or not, who knows?) NASA was busy losing radio contact with the International Space Station. The NASA statement from yesterday says:
“This morning, at approximately 9:45 a.m. EST, the International Space Station experienced a loss of communication with the ground. At that time, flight controllers in Houston were updating the software onboard the station’s flight computers when one of the station’s data relay systems malfunctioned. The primary computer that controls critical station functions defaulted to a backup computer, but was not allowing the station to communicate with NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites.”
Guys—we have six humans up there in space, with only a tenuous satellite connection to keep them in contact with us (okay that’s not really true, they were able to keep talking with Russia intermittently through ground stations), and the weight of American space exploration on their shoulders. Who’s going to tell us that the Higgs has decided to end it all if they aren’t able to talk to us? Who’s going to tell the British that we need to call The Doctor when shit gets real? Who’s going to be the first to see the Daleks when they decide to attack us on Christmas Eve?
As the President and Congress go back and forth in the days before March 1 about sequestration and budget cuts and furloughs, I think we all need to make sure to put the word out that we’d like to know more about when the universe plans to kill us all, and that means that we need to bump up some NASA budget lines. Let’s get them some computers that can handle system upgrades. Let’s get a space program back up and running. And let’s get some more people working on that Higgs Boson particle problem—and try to figure out how to push those math calculations a few points over into the safe side of things. All the while, figuring out how to push wayward asteroids out of our path…
Please note: Sarah is not a scientist, rarely uses correct scientific wording (although she tries), and is a Whovian. Our impending doom should be taken with a grain of salt.