Vail Valley Voices: Praise the gap …
Vail, CO, Colorado
… and I’m not talking about the clothing store.
By all accounts humans, or Homo sapiens, have been walking on the planet Earth for at least 100,000 years. Some scientists believe that number might be closer to 250,000 years.
There is also plenty of evidence that clearly shows that Homo sapiens and Neanderthal man, our close cousins, shared the planet for a brief but significant time period.
It goes without saying that we humans won the evolutionary battle against the Neanderthals. One of the arguments of why that happened is that Homo sapiens became meat eaters, which introduced a higher concentration of protein into their diet. This led to the further development of the brain, which led to higher intelligence and improved motor skills.
Simply put, humans became better hunters and were more adaptable to their environment.
The earliest evidence of a known human civilization (a relatively advanced stage of social, political and cultural development) only dates back to about 10,000 years ago. Although quite advanced for the times, their collective knowledge was very limited. Engineering was just getting off the ground, and it would take another 9,500 or so years for the advent of science.
Ten thousand years ago to the present, whenever humans didn’t understand something, or let’s say that there was a “gap” in their knowledge, the remarkably superstitious and fearful people had a very neatly wrapped explanation for all things unknown. That explanation was God.
Earthquakes were God’s way of venting his anger. We now understand plate tectonics.
God let the light of the sun shine down on us, yet they weren’t quite sure why the sun went away every night. We now understand that the earth rotates on its axis.
God would punish the wicked people with plagues, yet they weren’t quite sure why many of the dead were good people. We now understand invisible microbial infectious disease.
The Earth was the center of the universe and everything revolves around it. We now understand that the Earth is one of eight planets (sorry Pluto) and over 300 moons that revolve around the sun.
We also know that our sun is one of 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, which spreads over a diameter of 100,000 light years. We also know that there are another 100 billion galaxies in our universe.
Science has looked into the past and has actually taken images of the farthest known galaxy. That galaxy is 13.2 billion light years away. Beyond that is a detectable energy field extending another 500 million light years. Beyond that, nobody knows for sure. At least not yet.
One might say that at this point, we have a gap in knowledge.
We live in an expanding nniverse that is 13.7 billion years old. To truly understand the universe, one has to understand its origins. Since the universe is expanding, it makes good sense that is moving away from something. But what? There’s that pesky gap again.
Now try to imagine the expanding universe process in reverse. In other words, roll the film back for 13.7 billion years to a point where even time did not exist.
At time zero, the universe was nonexistent. At that instant of time, there isn’t a scientist, a philosopher, a theologian or any other living thing on this planet that truly has the knowledge of what took place at the beginning of our universe.
Roll the film forward again and at that moment, the universe began. This is what is now commonly known as the Big Bang theory.
The last couple of hundred of years, science has made many incredible breakthroughs in all fields of study.
From the industrial revolution, advances in medical care, agriculture, nutrition, communication and all other technologies, the knowledge that we as a species have obtained is awe inspiring.
Even today, the one thing holding us back from exponentially increasing our base is that the technologies we need to prove our theories do not yet exist.
Earlier this year, NASA announced results of its Gravity Probe B. Its mission was to test Einstein’s theory that there existed a space-time vortex around the Earth. The results were that Einstein was right, again. Thirteen new technologies were invented for that probe. Who knows where they will take us?
For the past 70 years scientists have been piecing together the standard model of the universe. Its goal is to explain everything about the universe. What is it made of and how did it begin? It sounds simple, but one of the gaps of proving the standard model to be true is finding an independent source that can verify, through experimentation, how matter was created.
Great advances have been made in quantum mechanics and particle physics. So great, in fact, that those particle accelerators have been smashing atoms together for the past few decades. The information from those experiments can now accurately tell us what happened down to less than one billionth of a second after the Big Bang.
Current technologies have seemed to hit a wall. The matter particle, or as some call it, the “God particle,” has not yet been found. The church has weighed in on this issue and put out a statement saying, not an actual quote, that it is their belief that God put the Big Bang into motion. In other words their gap is now less than one billionth of a second.
At CERN near Geneva, Switzerland, The Large Hadron Collider is the grandest and most ambitious science project that mankind has ever undertaken. Within the collider’s 17-mile long particle accelerator, speeds and energies never before having been imaginable will be reached.
The amount of information that will be gathered may take years to be sifted through. To give you an idea of what this means, the LHC recently had a breakthrough. They collected an Inverse Femtobarn of data. That’s 70 million million detectable particle collisions and each particle being roughly the size of the nucleus of a uranium atom. Imagine the technology. It’s mind boggling.
One of the reasons that I love science is that science loves to be proven wrong. The more accurate the information, the better.
So far, all the scientific information concerning the universe that has ever been successfully tested has fit in nicely into the standard model.
The standard model predicts the existence of the Higgs-Boson particle, or the “God particle.” The theory is that this is when and how matter came into existence.
The large Hadron Collider is in the process of testing that theory. If successful, science will have created matter in the lab.
Then the gap will have become even smaller.
Nick Huzella is an Eagle County resident.