Baryons, Gravity Waves

These are exciting, or disquieting, times.

Which it is depends partly on how much a person likes living in a world where scientific knowledge is rapidly changing.

I like it, a lot.

  1. CERN’s New Omega Baryons
  2. Gravity Wave Mission Gets Green Light: Maybe
  3. Looking Beyond the Standard Model

Since this is a “religious” blog, I’ll be discussing — briefly, for me — how my faith relates to experiments using CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and science in general.


Making Sense

An ardent Christian once told me that the sun goes around Earth, ‘because the Bible says so.’ He was right: assuming that Joshua 10:1213 and Job 9:7 are utterly devoid of metaphor and written with a contemporary literalist’s viewpoint.

I don’t make that assumption. I don’t ‘put my faith in’ science either. Putting knowledge, or anything else, in God’s place is a very bad idea. (Catechism, 21132114)

On the other hand, fearing knowledge doesn’t make sense. Not to me. Studying this universe and developing new tools are part of being human. (Catechism, 22922295)

We’re supposed to be curious. Truth can’t contradict truth, so honest research can’t threaten informed faith. Besides, this universe is filled with opportunities for greater admiration of God’s creation. (Catechism, 159, 214217, 283, 341)

New knowledge sometimes forces us to reevaluate our assumptions. That’s been happening a lot lately.

Maybe it’s easier to decide that the new facts can’t be so because they’re not what we “always” knew. But like I said: that doesn’t make sense. Not to me.

Anaxoras, Mostly

The pillars of the earth in 1 Samuel 2:8 and Job 9:6, and the dome of heaven in Psalms 150:1, reflect ancient Mesopotamian cosmology. (December 2, 2016; August 28, 2016)

Job was written somewhere after Sennacherib solved his “Babylonian problem” by destroying Babylon, but before Anaxoras tried squaring the circle. About two dozen centuries later, the Lindemann Weierstrass theorem proved that was impossible, and that’s another topic.

1 Samuel was compiled about the same time.

Some Psalms were composed before Nebuchadnezzar II captured Jeconiah’s Jerusalem, some after, and all before Antiochus IV Epiphanes took over Syria.

All of them were written for and by folks living just west of Mesopotamia.

The point is that it’d be surprising if Old Testament imagery didn’t reflect Mesopotamian culture and traditions. It’s what folks living in that part of the world were familiar with.

Celestial spheres go back to Anaximander’s cosmology. Aristotle, about two and a half centuries later, also thought Earth was nested in concentric spheres.

Aristarchus of Samos suggested that Earth goes around the sun, and suspected that stars were other suns. He lived around Aristotle’s time, but didn’t get listened to nearly as much.

The notion that folks accused Aristarchus of sacrilege got started nearly two millennia later. I’ll get back to that.

Aristotle’s geocentric model held up pretty well, with tweaking by Ptolemey and others, for something like 18 centuries.

From Copernicus to Oort

Copernicus took a look at what we had been observing, and decided that Aristarchus of Samos had the right idea.

Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter’s lectures about Copernican heliocentrism got the attention of Pope Clement VII and several cardinals in 1533.

One of the cardinals, Nikolaus von Schönberg, urged Copernicus “to communicate this discovery of yours to scholars….”

Copernicus had pretty much finished writing “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” by 1532, but insisted on delaying publication until after his death. There’s a story behind that, it’s not the usual one, and that’s yet another topic, for another day.

Copernicus died in 1542. Pope Gregory XIII used Copernican tables in his calendar reform — there’s a story or two about that — and Galileo got into trouble with an Inquisition. He was convicted of being insufficiently Aristotelian in 1616, and a legend was born.

A little later, Gilles Ménage translated Plutarch’s “On the Apparent Face in the Orb of the Moon,” and goofed.

Plutarch wrote that Cleanthes, who saw the sun as divine, opposed the heliocentric view. Cleanthes jokingly told Aristarchus that he should be charged with impiety.

Ménage messed up the grammar. In his translation the joke was a flat-out accusation. The translation came shortly after the Galileo and Bruno trials. I talked about European politics last week. (March 17, 2017)

I suspect part of the problem was a shaky grasp of distinctions between poetry, science, and faith. (March 17, 2017; January 8, 2017; December 2, 2016)

Johannes Kepler refined the Copernican model. He finished his “Astronomia nova” 1605, but couldn’t publish until 1609: thanks to a legal wrangle over use of Tycho Brahe’s data.

Isaac Newton added his laws of motion and law of universal gravitation to Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. They are still pretty good models, close approximations to what we observe.

They’re “laws” in the sense that they describe how the universe works under specific conditions. Newton didn’t invent motion or gravity, of course. What he did was describe, mathematically, how both work.

A “theory” can be philosophical, scientific, or political. The latter is, arguably, philosophical. A scientific theory explains some aspect of the natural world.

Scientific theories can be tested, which brings me to the early 20th century.

Starting in 1929, Jan Oort measured positions and motions of stars. He said that our sun wasn’t the center of this galaxy. He was right about that.

He also noticed that estimates of the total mass of our galaxy’s stars, gas, and other observable matter, couldn’t account for the observed rotation speeds. There isn’t enough observable mass, and it’s not in the right places.

One of the less-improbable explanations for Oorts ‘missing mass’ is dark matter.

Dark Matter?

“Dark matter” is stuff that doesn’t absorb, reflect or emit light or other electromagnetic radiation. That makes detecting it really hard.

Scientists have known about one sort of dark matter, neutrinos, since 1956.

Neutrinos are subatomic particles with no electric charge. They have mass, probably, but it’s tiny even compared to other subatomic particles. Since they’re electrically neutral, magnetism won’t affect neutrinos.

But the weak subatomic force does affect them, and so does gravity. They’re produced during radioactive decay and nuclear reactions, like what happens in our sun’s core.

So far, scientists are pretty sure many or most dark matter particles are WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles). Or maybe something else.

We may learn that dark matter isn’t what causes the effects we’ve observed.

Other explanations include mass in other dimensions, with gravity having an effect across all dimensions. This might explain why gravity is such a very weak force. It takes moon- and planet-size concentrations of mass to produce serious gravity fields.

Maybe we’re looking at defects in quantum fields. Or maybe Newton’s and Einstein’s descriptions of gravity need another major tweak, or Unruh radiation horizons generate inertia.

Dark matter is mostly theoretical at this point. Other explanations are even more so.1


1. CERN’s New Omega Baryons


(From Equinox Graphics/Science Photo Library, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)

LHC: Five new particles hold clues to sub-atomic glue
Pallab Ghosh, BBC News (March 20, 2017)

The Large Hadron Collider has discovered new sub-atomic particles that could help to explain how the centres of atoms are held together.

“The particles are all different forms of the so-called Omega-c baryon, whose existence was confirmed in 1994.

“Physicists had always believed the various types existed but had not been able to detect them – until now.

“The discovery will shed light on the operation of the ‘strong force’, which glues the insides of atoms….”

I’d like to explain exactly how Omega baryons work, and how Ωc baryons differ from Ωb and Ωb ones. The folks at CERN learned their masses and widths, but not their quantum numbers.

It’s a start, but just a start.

We still don’t know how, or if, they help us understand the strong force.

Murray Gell-Mann and Yuval Ne’eman found theoretical reasons to look for quarks in the early 1960s. So did George Zweig.

A whole bunch of scientists published “Observation of a Hyperon with Strangeness Minus Three” in 1964, which apparently is what Omega-c quarks were called then.

Quarks come in six flavors: up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top. Gell-Mann got the spelling of “quarks” from a line in “Finnegans Wake.” I’m not entirely sure how he got the “kwork” sound. Zweig called the particles “aces,” but hardly anyone calls them that now.

I’m also not sure why many scientists stopped using pretentious names for new stuff in the ’60s, but I rather like the change of style.

Baryons, Quarks, and Empedocles

From Trassiorf, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission
(From Trassiorf, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission)
(The baryon decuplet, left; and octet, right.)

If an astronomer says something is a baryon, it’s probably matter that’s not dark matter.

If an physicist says something is a baryon, it’s a hadron that’s not a meson.

The physicist’s baryons have 3 quarks.

Mesons have 2 quarks, more accurately a quark and an antiquark. Squarks are hypothetical particles that may or may not exist. I made an unnecessarily-long but incomplete set of links to more than you need to know about this stuff.2

We’ve learned quite a bit since Empedocles said there are four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. That’s not an entirely-inaccurate way to describe the four states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.

Except that there’s superfluid, Bose-Einstein condensate, and other weird stuff, too.

Aristotle added a fifth element, aether. It’s called akasha in Sanskrit, and that’s yet again another topic. Or maybe not so much.

Luminiferous Aether — or — There’s More to Learn

Isaac Newton suggested a corpuscular theory of light 1704. In 1718 he suggested that an aethereal medium accounted for diffraction.

Augustin Fresnel’s wave theory of light treated light as waves traveling in an aether.

The Michelson—Morley experiment‘s failure to detect “ether wind” in 1887, 1902 to 1905, and the 1920s, was the first strong evidence that luminiferous aether doesn’t exist.

Then, in the 20th century, scientists learned that at very small scales, matter and energy acts like particles and waves: and started working the bugs out of quantum mechanics.

I keep saying this: we have a great deal more to learn. (December 16, 2016; September 23, 2016)


2. Gravity Wave Mission Gets Green Light: Maybe


(From ESA, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“A cutaway impression of the laser interferometer system inside Lisa Pathfinder”
(BBC News))

Gravity probe exceeds performance goals
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (February 18, 2017)

The long-planned LISA space mission to detect gravitational waves looks as though it will be green lit shortly.

“Scientists working on a demonstration of its key measurement technologies say they have just beaten the sensitivity performance that will be required.

“The European Space Agency (Esa), which will operate the billion-euro mission, is now expected to ‘select’ the project, perhaps as early as June….”

Einstein said that gravitational waves, ripples in the curvature of spacetime, should exist. That was in 1916.

Detecting the things is very difficult, since their effects are very small and easily masked by ‘noise’ from other sources.

The first indirect evidence of gravity waves came from analysis of the Hulse-Taylor binary’s orbit. That happened in 1974.

The LIGO and Virgo interferometer collaborations announced the first direct observation of gravity waves on February 11, 2016. The signal, GW150914, came from a merging black hole binary. It changed the 4-kilometer-long LIGO arm’s length by a thousandth of the width of a proton.

The second, GW151226, came on December 26, 2015. The the LIGO and Virgo collaborations announced it on June 15, 2016.

Detecting gravity waves is as big a step for astronomy as Galileo’s use of the telescope and the first radio telescopes. Depending on who’s talking, that would be the Jansky-Bell Laboratories antenna, built in 1932; or Tesla Experimental Station, built in 1899. (December 16, 2016)

Or maybe Johannes Wilsing and Julius Scheiner’s 1896 efforts, or Oliver Lodge’s between 1897 and 1900.


3. Looking Beyond the Standard Model


(From SPL, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The stage has been set for some years for the detection of super particles. But so far they have been a no show.”
(BBC News))

LHC scientists to search for ‘fifth force of Nature’
Pallab Ghosh, BBC News (July 10, 2014)

The next couple of years will be make or break for the next big theory in physics called supersymmetry – SUSY for short. It might make way for a rival idea which predicts the existence of a ‘fifth force’ of nature.

“Next Spring, when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) resumes its experiments, scientists will be looking for evidence of SUSY. It explains an awful lot that the current theory of particle physics does not. But there is a growing problem, provocatively expressed by Nobel Laureate George Smoot: ‘supersymmetry has got symmetry and it’s super but there is no experimental data to suggest it is correct.’

“According to the simplest versions of the theory, supersymmetric particles should have been discovered at the LHC by now. One set of null results prompted Prof Chris Parkes, of the LHCb to quip: ‘Supersymmetry may not be dead but these latest results have certainly put it into hospital‘….”

The Standard Model of particle physics has been around for about a half-century. It does a pretty good job of describing the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, plus subatomic particles like photons, quarks, and neutrinos.

But it doesn’t include gravity, or a dark matter particle that fits what we’ve observed so far.

That’s why scientists are working on Physics beyond the Standard Model.

Physics beyond the Standard Model may explain quite a few things — like where mass comes from, why gravity happens, why half the baryons we observe aren’t antimatter, and what dark matter and dark energy are.

Supersymmetry relates bosons, that have integer-valued spin; and fermions, with half-integer spin. Each particle from one group would be associated with a particle from the other, known as its superpartner. The difference between their spins would be a half-integer.

That’s a huge over-simplification.

Supersymmetry may tie up all the Standard Model’s loose ends.3

Remembering Phlogiston

Or the Standard Model and Supersymmetry may turn out to be like phlogiston.

Phlogiston was a pretty good way of explaining combustion in 1667.

Around the 1780s, new tech and analysis showed that some metals gain mass when they burn. Phlogiston theory said they should get lighter as the “phlogiston” escapes.

Scientists who liked the phlogiston theory said that phlogiston must have negative mass, or at least was lighter than air.

By the end of that century, only a few chemists still used the term “phlogiston.”

Joseph Priestley, the inventor of soda water and discoverer of oxygen, was one of the phlogiston diehards.

He also tried combining determinism, materialism, causation, and necessitarianism; and helped get Unitarianism started.

Priestley was sure that a proper understanding of the natural world would promote human progress. I agree that it’ll help.

I’m also sure that respecting humanity’s transcendent dignity and everyone’s well-being4 is an option — and not dependent on our scientific understanding. (February 5, 2017; October 30, 2016; September 25, 2016)

Priestley also thought understanding the natural world would bring about the Christian Millennium. I think that’s wildly improbable, at best.

Despite the name, by the way, he wasn’t Catholic. At all.

The point is that the Standard Model may be a pretty good description for how particle physics works.

Or, like phlogiston, new facts may show that it was a good idea that didn’t reflect reality.

Again, I’m quite sure that there’s a great deal left to learn.

Vaguely-related posts:


1 Shedding light on dark matter:

2 You don’t need to know this, but maybe it’s interesting. Or maybe not:

3 Making sense of reality, a work in progress:

4 I’ve talked about free will, transcendent dignity, and social justice before. (Catechism, 976980, , 17301825)1915, 19291933, 2820)

More of my take on science, technology, and using our brains:

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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