A scientific dead end

CERN particle collider

Particle colliders are fairly awesome, as technological achievements go. Do we really need another one though? Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder comments on the news that CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) is planning to build a huge $22 billion collider by 2050 that will be ever bigger than its Large Hadron Collider near Geneva:

CERN’s press release of plans for a larger particle collider, which I wrote about last week, made international headlines. Unfortunately, most articles about the topic just repeat the press-release, and do not explain how much the situation in particle physics has changed with the LHC data.

Since the late 1960s, when physicists hit on the “particle zoo” at nuclear energies, they always had a good reason to build a larger collider. That’s because their theories of elementary matter were incomplete. But now, with the Higgs-boson found in 2012, their theory – the “standard model of particle physics” – is complete. It’s done. There’s nothing missing. All Pokemon caught.

The Higgs was the last good prediction that particle physicists had. This prediction dates back to the 1960s and it was based on sound mathematics. In contrast to this, the current predictions for new particles at a larger collider – eg supersymmetric partner particles or dark matter particles – are not based on sound mathematics. These predictions are based on what is called an “argument from naturalness” and those arguments are little more than wishful thinking dressed in equations.

I have laid out my reasoning for why those predictions are no good in great detail in my book (and also in this little paper). But it does not matter whether you believe (or even understand) my arguments, you only have to look at the data to see that particle physicists’ predictions for physics beyond the standard model have, in fact, not worked for more than 30 years.

I am totally unqualified to comment on any of this except to say that it appears that an important branch of science, theoretical physics, has stalled out. Is that right?

That’s fast

A supermassive black hole at the center of a distant galaxy was recently spotted sucking in matter at a speed that would probably get you pulled over on most highways:

In a paper published September 3 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a team of researchers reported, for the first time, spotting a clump of matter falling directly into a distant black hole at nearly one-third the speed of light.

The observations, which come from the European Space Agency’s orbiting XMM-Newton X-ray observatory, are of the 40 million-solar-mass supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy PG211+143, about one billion light-years away. PG211+143 is a Seyfert galaxy, meaning it hosts a bright, actively feeding black hole at its center pulling in gas and dust from its surroundings. By spreading the X-ray light received from that material out by wavelength, researchers led by Ken Pounds of the University of Leicester clocked a clump of matter falling into the black hole at 30 percent the speed of light — about 56,000 miles per second (90,000 kilometers per second). “We were able to follow an Earth-sized clump of matter for about a day, as it was pulled towards the black hole, accelerating to a third of the velocity of light before being swallowed up by the hole,” said Pounds in a recent press release.

Sure, 56,000 miles per second sounds fast… but you haven’t really seen fast until you’ve seen planet-sized blobs of plasma hurled from a “blazar” galaxy at more than 99% the speed of light.

Blazar galaxy

Artist’s conception of a blazar (Source)

Even more mind-crushing is the speed achieved by the “Oh-My-God particle,” a cosmic ray particle detected above Utah in 1991. It was traveling at 99.99999999999999999999951% the speed of light, which caused considerable surprise to the astrophysicists observing it. Hence the name.