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What’s a particle accelerator?

Fucked if I know. But I’d love to. I just want to know the basics about it. And I’d love love love to know everything about it. That’s not going to happen though, but I can definitely do the former.

I’m doing this thing at the moment where I learn as much as I can in a week about something I know nothing about, without using the internet (I get distracted reading about things online, and books work better for me).

Last week I did ‘Stars’. I learned everything I could, only from books, about what they actually are. I didn’t learn as much as I wanted to, but at least now when I look up at night I can look at a star and understand a bit more about what I’m looking at. This is the question I wanted the answer to: ‘What are stars?’ And these are some of the things I learnt (from what I remember):
WARNING: For the love of god, please don’t take the following as fact, as I’m going by memory. And if you actually know a lot about stars, look away now, as this may be painful.

A star is a sphere of hot gas made up of hydrogen at first, then helium and then eventually in its final stage carbon. Gravity wants to make the star collapse under its own weight but the heat it creates from fusion at core pushes gravity out. The hydrogen and helium particles push up against the outer surface of the star. The hottest ones are the brightest but they live for the shortest amount of time because they burn up and explode (or supernova) much faster than darker, cooler ones. And stars don’t actually twinkle –when you look up at them, and it looks they’re twinkling, that’s just the interference of airwaves in the space between you and that star. So, the song ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ is just one big lie.

I focused only on stars and avoided the temptation to learn anything else about all the other cool stuff to do with Space. (Sidenote: I did also learn that the sun is in the middle of its life. It should burn for one thousand million years and currently it’s in year 480 million of its life).

This weekend I’m going to the Queensland Museum of Science in Brisbane and they have the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator, which is ‘the world’s largest scientific experiment’ (I haven’t watched and I’m not going to, this but it seems like a good video about it):

I’m going to find out as much as I can about what I’m going to be looking at this weekend, before I go there. So I don’t just look at it and say, ‘Wow. Shiny.’

I just borrowed three books on physics from the library and I have about 18 hours to learn what particle acceleration is. Knocking on Heaven’s Door – How physics and scientific thinking illuminate the universe and the modern world by Lisa Randall, Monkeys, Myths, and Molecules by Dr. Joe Schwarcz, and Energy – The Subtle Concept by Jennifer Coopersmith. Take me to the promised land, 3 books on Physics.

There’s a real power behind saying ‘I don’t know’ –I can say that about 99.99999999999999999999% of things that are in this world. When we assume we know something about something, we forever keep it at a distance, untouched, because we think, ‘I don’t need to go there, I already know it.‘ But when we say, ‘I don’t know’, so much knowledge and so many new worlds open up to us and invite us in.

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