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CERN and the Big Bang

Dr. Alaro De Rujula
How do experiments at CERN improve our understanding of the early universe? Click the photo above to hear Dr. Alvaro De Rujula explain. You will need the RealPlayer in order to view this video.

In the first few minutes after the Big Bang, the universe was far hotter -- billions of billions of billions of degrees hotter -- than anywhere in the universe today. This heat gave particles of matter in the early universe an extraordinary amount of energy, causing them to behave in a much different way from particles in the universe today. For example, particles moved much faster back then and collided into one another with much greater energy.

If these conditions do not exist anymore, how do scientists study the behavior of matter in the early universe? One of the most powerful tools for such analysis is the particle accelerator. This device allows physicists to recreate conditions just after the Big Bang by making a beam of fast-moving particles and bringing them together in very high-energy collisions.

Researchers at CERN are using an accelerator called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to accelerate subatomic particles called protons to close to the speed of light. This is how fast scientists believed these particles moved in the instants after the Big Bang. By looking at the behavior of these protons, CERN physicists hope to better understand how the Big Bang created the universe.

photo: CERN

When completed in 2005, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN will provide new insight into the past, present and future of our universe.

What is the fate of the universe?

The Big Bang theory raises some important questions about the fundamental nature of the universe: Will the expansion of the universe, set in action by the Big Bang, continue forever? Or will gravity stop the expansion and eventually cause all the matter in the universe to contract in a Big Crunch?

Scientists don't yet know the answers to these questions for certain. But particle physics experiments like the accelerator studies at CERN may offer some clues down the road. By probing into what matter is made of and how it behaves, such experiments can help us explore what the matter in our universe--the planets, stars, and galaxies--might be doing billions of years from now.


For more information on the Big Bang:
A Trip through the Big Bang
BBC Interactive Timeline

NASA Origins

PBS: Stephen Hawking's Universe
Scientific American article: Fireballs of Free Quarks

The Heart of the Matter



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