t-7 hours to LHC

Lhc2 In less than 7 hours, the LHC gets switched on at 9 a.m. CEST. The live webcast can be found here. Cosmic Variance, the blog from which I probably learn the most, is live blogging the eventStuart Jeffries in the Guardian:

What, I want to know, do half the world’s particle physicists hope to achieve by triggering a machine called a Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to drive two beams of particles in opposite directions around this 27km ring at 99.9999991% of the speed of light, steering the beams at four points during their circuit into head-on collisions with enough energy to recreate in miniature the cosmic circumstances that existed one trillionth of a second after the big bang?

Everything conspires against understanding. The European Organisation for Nuclear Research is confusingly known by its French acronym Cern, for instance. But that’s nothing. Cern’s scientists also hope to find extra dimensions, perhaps as many as 10, coiled up in microscopic loops. (I look back on that last sentence wondering what the hell it means.) They hope to create called a Higgs boson, which is a particle that hasn’t existed since a split-second after the big bang and yet which, physicists hypothesise, was fundamental, billions of years ago, for the establishing the nature of reality. A Nobel prize-winner called the Higgs boson “the God particle”, but every expert I speak to says that this term has no theological import, but is a silly, misleading piece of nomenclature. So thank you, Nobel laureate Leon M Lederman, for muddying further already murky waters.

Discombobulatingly, I read that only 5% of the universe is made of matter that scientists understand. A further 25% is so-called “dark matter”, which clusters around galaxies, and the remaining 70% is even more enigmatic “dark energy”, which drives the expansion of the universe. Or so scientists claim. But hold on: if scientists only understand 5%, how can they posit anything about the remaining 95%? Aren’t they, then, only slightly less ignorant than me? Won’t you let me hold on to that dream? Please?