Monthly Archives: July 2012

xkcd's Relativistic Baseball

xkcd has been my favorite webcomic as soon as I discovered it many, many years ago. Nothing else ever comes close, and nothing else makes me laugh as hard. And now it looks like there’s a new section called “What If: Answering your hypothetical questions with physics, every Tuesday”.

Did I even need another reason to adore xkcd? No. But oh my goodness, I am so happy right now. I’m this close to actually setting my alarm to remind myself each Tuesday.

So, above is the first installment, explaining what would happen if someone could pitch a baseball at 90% the speed of light. If you need convincing to click through, here’s a spoiler: it involves a mushroom cloud. (Since I’ve never been much of a sports fan, this is how I feel every baseball game should end, but I digress.)

The Higgs boson(?)

The news has been flooded with articles saying that the Higgs boson, or “God Particle”, has been found by CERN (or at the very least, their findings are 99%+ in line with what the Higgs would look like). This has been a hot topic for years, but what does this finding even mean?

I wanted to share this little video partially because it’s cute, and is presented as a cartoon. But this video, made by Fermilab, should probably have been the one called The Higgs Boson for Dummies.

So far, my favorite blog entry or article on finding the Higgs is by Phil Plait on Bad Astronomy:

Two different detectors at the LHC both independently found a strong signal between 125 and 126 GeV at about the 5 sigma level – that means they can claim a 99.9999% confidence this signal is real! This means they found a previously undiscovered particle which, as it happens, is within the range of mass the Standard Model predicts for the Higgs particle! That’s what that plot above shows: a bump in the energies detected, and it’s seen so strongly that it can be called a discovery.

So it looks like this has physicists and astronomers bouncing up and down with glee, but technically the Higgs hasn’t been found yet. A new particle has been, but we need more proof before we can really say it’s really the Higgs.

But to me, that’s not really the point. My favorite quote from Phil’s blog entry was this:

The discovery of this new particle, and the vast potential it has, was all because we’re curious. This huge machine, the LHC, was built solely because we wanted to find things out, and some people had the vision to fund it and build it. When we wish to explore, when we wish to see what’s over the next hill, wonders unfold before us.