Archive for the ‘Physics’ Category

The Smallest to Largest

Smallest to Largest

Smallest to Largest

Have you ever looked around at everyday objects and wondered what they are made of? Easy some may say, wood for a desk, rubber for a tube, but then what is the wood and rubber made of? It is like an infinite path down the road of no return. But for everything as we know it, there is a beginning and an end – life and death. In this article I shall increment from the smallest proven known, and I emphasize on the words known and proven, particle, the photon, to the largest known proven object in existence, the universe. It turns out that this topic is more complicated that can be imagined and will be left open for discussion and review, and please note not all these particles and objects can be measure on the same scale system.

Photon: size 0
This is the beginning of our journey. A photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic field and the basic “unit” of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. The mass of a proton is zero but yet can still be observed at both microscopic and macroscopic level due to it not having a rest mass. They exhibit properties of both waves and particles in the sense that they can bump off each other yet behave normally like waves and are diffracted. The photon is massless, has no electric charge, and does not decay spontaneously in empty space. During a molecular, atomic or nuclear transition to a lower energy level, photons of various energy will be emitted, from infrared light to gamma rays with a speed of ‘c’ (speed of light) in open space. There is however a theorized smaller particle, namely the Higgs boson, aka the God particle. But we shall not divulged into that just yet until the folks at CERN make a hopeful discovery.

Neutrino: close to 0
Closely followed to the photon is the neutrino which as well has a mass of near 0. These particles are created as a result of radioactive decay or nuclear reactions such as those in the sun. Neutrinos are very difficult to discover as they pass through objects nearly unnoticeable. Only experiments deep underground where nothing can interfere have scientists observed these particles. Heres a fun fact, more than 50 trillion solar electron neutrinos pass through the human body every second.

Electron: 9.11 × 10^−31 kg
An electron is a subatomic particle that carries a negative electric charge. It has no known substructure and is believed to be a point particle with a mass that is approximately 1836 times less than that of our next particle, the proton. Electrons also have quantum mechanical properties of both a particle and a wave, so they can collide with other particles and be diffracted like light. Electrons are the particles that circulate around the nucleus of an atom. The electron has a mass of just 9.11 × 10^−31 kg.

Quark: < 1.67 × 10^−27 kg
The quark is a fundamental constituent of matter making up stable particles namely hadrons such as protons and neutrons.

Protons/Neutrons: ~1.67 × 10^−27 kg
Protons and neutrons usually form the nucleus of an atom and the majority of an atom’s weight (99.9%). They have a mass of around 1.67×10^−27 kg. The two particles are bound by nuclear force into atomic nuclei.

Atom: 1.67 × 10^−27 to 4.52 × 10^−25 kg
The atom is a basic unit of matter consisting of a dense, central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons and a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons at the centre. The masses of atoms range from 1.67 × 10^−27 to 4.52 × 10^−25 kg. More information can be seen in a periodic table.

Molecule: > 1.67 × 10^−27
A molecule, the smallest particle of a substance that retains all the properties of the substance, is composed of one or more atoms. A molecule may consist of atoms of a single chemical element, as with oxygen (O2), or of different elements, as with water (H2O). Most molecules are far too small to be seen with the naked eye, but there are exceptions such as DNA, a macromolecule, that can reach macroscopic sizes. Single molecules cannot usually be observed by light (as noted above), but small molecules and even the outlines of individual atoms may be traced in some circumstances by use of an atomic force microscope.

Red Blood Cells: 6-8μm
Red blood cells are the most common type of blood cell and the vertebrate body’s principal means of delivering oxygen to the body tissues via the blood. They take up oxygen in the lungs or gills and release it while squeezing through the body’s capillaries. There is no standard size for them, but average estimates put them at standard size of about 6-8μm.

Home Sapien: 100µm to 2.72m
The great home sapien, oh what a wonderful creature, James Sweitzer once said: “As much as we have progressed in science, we are still finite creatures with limited conceptual abilities and imperfect observational tools – but add one thing, we are curious at that”. We as a creature are the most highly evolved that lives on this planet Earth. What makes us is our highly developed brains, capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, and problem solving. We humans range in size, but the minimum and maximum is ambiguous, for at what stage do we become human once the little sperm enter the egg. Or are we only human once we are born? If we begin at the stage of the egg then we are 100 and 200 µm in diameter so to speak. The tallest human to determined was a man in USA namely Robert Pershing Wadlow at 2.72 m (8 ft 11.1 inches), but of course who knows, there could have been taller people back in the days.

Great Pyramid of Giza: 3.8 million metric tons
Located outside Cairo, Egypt, the great pyramid of Giza is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids located in the vicinity. Construction began around 2540BC and concluded around 20 years after. The pyramid was once 146.6 meters (480.97 feet) tall, but due to erosion is shrank down to a still impressive 138.8 m (455 feet). It is roughly 2,500,000 cubic meters. With an estimated weight of 3.8 million metric tons.

Three Gorges Dam: 34 million metric tons
Next on our list is the Three Gorges Dam, spanning the Yangtze River in China. The dam weighs about 34 million metric tons, has a length of 2,335 meters (7,661 ft) a height of 185 m (607 ft), and width (at the base) of 115 m (377.3 ft). The dams main structure was completed in 2006 for an estimated us$39 billion.

Mount Everest: 3.04 x 10^5kg
Mount Everest is the highest mountain on Earth, and the highest point on the Earth’s crust, as measured by the height above sea level of its summit, 8,848 meters (29,029 ft). The mass is estimated as 3.04 x 10^5kg. The mountain, which is part of the Himalaya range in Asia, is located on the border between Sagarmatha Zone, Nepal, and Tibet, China. Everest has claimed 210 lives, including eight who perished during a 1996 storm high on the mountain. Conditions are so difficult in the death zone that most corpses have been left where they fell. Some of them are visible from standard climbing routes.

Earth: 5.97 × 10^24 kg
Earth is the third planet from the Sun. It is the fifth largest of the eight planets in the solar system, and the largest of the terrestrial planets (non-gas planets) in the Solar System in terms of diameter, mass and density. Its Mean radius is 6,371.0 km and has an estimated mass of Mass 5.97 × 10^24 kg.

Jupiter: 1.90 × 10^27 kg
The next heaviest planet in our solar system is Jupiter with a mass of 317 Earths (1.90 × 10^27 kg). It is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with a mass slightly less than one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all of the other planets in our Solar System combined.

Star: 2100 solar radii or 7 quadrillion Earths
I have groups all stars as one as they vary dramatically in size, our sun is a star and is in fact tiny compared to all others which really does get you thinking, first have a look at this image (notice the sun in that image is not even a pixel!) and then this video – that video should really get you thinking. Our sun has a diameter of 1.39×10^9 m with an estimated mass of 1.99×10^30 kg (332,900 Earths). Now to put that into perspective, the largest known star is VY Canis Majoris with a size between 1,800 and 2,100 solar radii (basically 1800 of our suns can fit in its radius). Assuming the upper size limit of 2100 solar radii, light would take more than 8 hours to travel around the star’s circumference, compared to 14.5 seconds for the sun. It would take over 7,000,000,000,000,000 (7 quadrillion) Earths to fill the volume of VY Canis Majoris.

Galaxy: 200 million LY
A galaxy is a massive, gravitationally bound system that consists of stars and stellar remnants, an interstellar medium of gas and dust, and an important but poorly understood component tentatively dubbed dark matter. Typical galaxies range from dwarfs with as few as ten million  stars up to giants with one trillion stars, all orbiting the galaxy’s center of mass. These galaxies each consist of million to trillions of solar system, which makes you wonder, we cannot possible be alone, especially taking into account that fact that there are 100 billion observable galaxies. In 1961, Dr. Frank Drake developed an equation that estimates the number of technologically advanced civilizations that might exist in our Galaxy alone. Frank Drake’s own current solution to the Drake Equation estimates 10,000 communicative civilizations in the Milky Way.

In 2005, Japanese astronomers have discovered what they call the largest object in the universe: a colossal structure 200 million light-years wide that resembles a swarm of giant green jellyfish. This young galactic blob could reveal how and when the earliest galaxies formed.

Universe: 46.5 billion LY
The universe is the theoretical limit, the all encompassing region that holds everything together. The age of the Universe is about 13.7 billion years, but due to the expansion of space we are now observing objects that are now considerably farther away than a static 13.7 billion light-years distance. The edge of the observable universe is now located about 46.5 billion light-years away. It contains about 10^80 atoms, with the vast majority of the energy density contributed by the mysterious dark matter and dark energy. Some theories however state that the ‘World (meaning everything possible in this context)’ consists of many galaxies. Picture them as sheets of paper next to each other flowing in the wind. A theory developed from this was that two of these papers struck each other and started off the development of out universe from the big bang.

What really got me thinking is that atoms are somewhat like solar systems, with the sun as the nucleus and planets as electrons. Now atoms make up molecules in the same way that solar systems make up galaxies. Galaxies compose the universe along with the mysterious dark matter the same way that quarks and electrons, protons and neutrons make up atoms. So from this sort of ratio the universe contains all the galaxies and solar systems etc. what if the so called God particle is a universe?

The upper and lower boundaries of this list are not static and are just known facts we currently have. So lets summarize the scale line:
Photon – Neutrino – Electron – Quark – Proton/Neutron – Atom – Molecule – Red Blood Cell – Homo Sapien – Three Gorges Dam – Mount Everest – Earth – Jupiter – Star – Galaxy – Universe.


Large Hadron Collider


Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located in a tunnel 27 kilometers (17 miles)  in circumference beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland, is the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator intended to collide opposing particle beams of either protons at an energy of 7 TeV per particle or lead nuclei at an energy of 574 TeV per nucleus in an attempt to re-create the Big Bang.

It was built with the intention of testing various high energy physics, such as the existence of the Higgs Boson (the massive scalar elementary particle, commonly portrayed as the “God Particle” in the media) and extra dimensions predicted in the relatively new science of String Theory.

Before the LHC even begun work (before it had its first fault), many skeptics believed that it would create a black hole that would engulf the planet and eventually our solar system of course. But scientists have unanimously agreed that this is a near impossibility, yet slight chance a minute black hole could be developed. Concerns are based on fear of radiation (no danger 328 feet underground), fear of “strangelets,” exotic material that can pop up enough gravity to turn the planet into a giant sucking sound (if such strangelets existed, they’d be unstable and decay in a zillionth of a second), and that most ominous one, black holes (no way, they’d be too small and unstable to do any harm). The concerns are based on fear of radiation (not a problem at over 100 meters, 328 feet, underground), fear of “strangelets,” exotic material that can pop up enough gravity to (though if they existed they would be too unstable and exist, well, you can’t even blink that fast, and that most ominous one, black holes. But Professor Stephen Hawking did theorize that black holes need a certain minimum size in order to survive and gather more energy then in uses. In the LHC case the black holes, if at all, developed would be far too minute to hold any danger at all.

One things for sure, it will blow our minds away (hopefully) in the following ways:

  • Accelerates particles faster than, albeit atomic-sized, 99.9999991% the speed of light. And for those tiny particles, time slows down for them (another immortality solution?).
  • Give us a whole new meaning on cold. The temperatures needed to steer particles around the tunnel are well below those found in deep space (-270 Celsius/-454 Fahrenheit), at a cost of $100,000 worth of electricity every day.
  • Might find the Higgs boson. Researchers think if they find it, it may help them explain exactly why things have any mass at all (Did you ever stop to think about that?).
  • The whole cost of the scientific experiment exceeds that of the cost of Iceland, having currently spent $20 billion for a few decades now. It is expected to rise quite a bit during operations and with $100,000 a day, why not?
  • Might prove string theory. Some of the scientists working on this project believe in string theory, which posits that atoms and molecules aren’t particles at all, but vibrating strings that seem to be in two (or more) places at once (extra dimensions with 14 estimated).
  • Could discover a whole new group of particles. The string theorists are especially interested in finding supersymmetric particles (the relationship between matter particles and force carriers. For example, for every type of quark there may be a type of particle called a “squark”, and this may unify gravity if proven) or sparticles, to help prove their tangled theory.
  • It’s going to get even bigger. Plans are in the works to make this behemoth even more monstrous, and by 2012 it could be called the Super Large Hadron Collider (SLHC), giving scientists an even better chance of seeing rare particles and building on their research with the LHC.
  • Unlock secrets about dark matter and dark energy. There’s something out there in the universe that’s pulling galaxies around. All the stuff we can see only accounts for 4% of the total matter in the universe. But that’s not even the half of it. Visible and dark matter together might only account for 25% of the universe’s mass. The other three quarters? Dark energy, alleged contributor to the expansion of the universe — and we don’t even know if dark energy exists yet.
  • This thing sucks, big time. In fact, it contains the largest volume of a vacuum ever created by man, and it’s a super-vacuum, sucking 10 times less pressure than you’d find on the moon. It contains fewer particles than the emptiest parts of the solar system — we wouldn’t want any stray atoms getting in the way of those light-racing protons, now would we?
  • Might develop black holes and engulf the planet. But all credible scientists say the collider poses no threat to the world, except to smash old physics theories that are incorrect. Even if it does, it will be so fast we wouldn’t even be able to complain
  • Test whether hyper-drive is possible based on the idea that a stationary mass repels a relativistic particle that’s traveling faster than half the speed of light. We may yet be on our way to other stars.

In anyway, when the project restarts in mid November 2009, it should be really interesting to see what has been proven and debunked. Stay tuned!