Horizon (1964) s43e15 Episode Script

The Six Billion Dollar Experiment

November 26th, 2007 promises to be an extraordinary day.
The most advanced scientific instrument ever build, the Large Hadron Collider, will be switched on.
This moment could conceivably trigger a catastrophic event.
A black hole, able to destroy entire cities, and Earth itself.
The scientists behind this experiment have something quite different in mind.
We have the outrageous ambition to understand the world.
How it works.
That's our objective.
Their method Nothing less than recreating the moment that exploded everything into existence.
The Big Bang.
You can feel by walking in the laboratories in the world that the enthusiasm is increasing in anticipation of what may happen.
Whichever scenario awaits us, the countdown to this faithful day has begun.
Particle physics is a strange job.
You know, I go to work every morning and my job is to recreate the conditions that were present less than a billionth of a second after the Big Bang.
Brian Cox is among the 2,000 scientists to inhabit a labyrinth of tunnels deep beneath the suburbs of Geneva.
Here lies CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, were they're putting the finishing touches to one of sciences greatest endeavours.
I think this is the most exciting place in all of science, at the moment.
This is the LHC.
This is the machine that's going to recreate the conditions present just after the Big Bang, and I can't think of no better place to be actually.
This is exciting.
Just look at it, it's blue.
Even an exciting colour.
In just a few months time, the LHC, or Large Hadron Collider, will begin this remarkable experiment.
The hope is, that in recreating the moments following the Big Bang, we can see how the indivisible units that make up our universe, were made.
And that could lead to a complete understanding of everything.
Well, the very big questions that humanity has posed always, are, where we come from, what are we made of, what is the future of the universe? But the universe, like everything else, is made of little pieces, which need to be understood in order to understand how the universe works.
Now, I think we're all looking forward to finding out what's actually out there in Nature.
We all have our idea's, we all have our theories and we play with them, but, want to know what's really going on, what's really there.
I think we are on the verge of a revolution in our understanding of the universe.
And now, I'm sure people have said that before, but, the LHC is, certainly by far, the biggest jump into the unknown.
Should the experiment succeed, it will complete a journey, begun, nearly 14 billion years ago.
A journey that will take us back to the very beginning of time.
The universe came out of nothing.
It was nowhere, because, before it, there was no time, there was also no space.
There was truly, truly, truly nothing! That is to say, not even a place where it happened.
Not even a time at which it happened.
Somehow, out of this nothing came everything! First, dust and gas gathered to form the stars.
All 70,000 million million million of them.
And counting They clustered into 100 billion galaxies, spread over a distance of 700 billion trillion kilometres, at the very least.
On the edge of one of these galaxies, 9 billion years after the Big Bang, a minor planet was formed.
It became know as Earth.
And the reason we know all of this, is because of a discovery made here, just 300 years ago.
Any time you look at the universe around you, you're always looking at the past.
And the further out we look, we deeper we stare into the past.
That discovery, was the speed of light.
And it's this, that allows us to see back in time.
Light travels at about 300,000 kilometres a second.
That sounds very fast, but still means it takes light 8 minutes to get here from the sun.
The further out you look, the further back in time you look.
It takes light about half an hour to get here from Jupiter.
We see Jupiter as it was, about 30 minutes ago.
The deeper into space we look, the longer the light takes to get here, and so the further back in time we see.
The nearest stars, are about 4 light-years away.
It takes light 4 years, to get to us.
That means when we look out in space, it's a time machine.
We're seeing the past of our universe.
You know, when we look out at distant galaxies, we're seeing what the universe was once like.
If we could see far enough, we should in theory be able to follow the light back, little by little, to the beginning of the universe.
Astronomers have gone to ever greater lengths, to try and do just this.
Ah, you did it! The quiz is what's the nearest bright star that we can see from here? And the answer is So this is Sirius This is the brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere.
The brightest star in the whole sky.
6 light-years, that's very good.
By observing the stars closest to us, we can understand the evolution of our universe.
This is a protostar, a protoplanetary system, in the process of formation.
The beauty of this, is that it's only 150 light-years away, which means, with the biggest telescopes now on the ground, we can see the processes that form where we came from ourselves.
So the light left this star, about the time of the US Civil War, give our take.
Once we're outside our cluster of galaxies, we reach a time that pre-dates our species.
So that's the heart of the Virgo Cluster.
The light that we're now seeing, left the galaxies at about the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs some 60 of 70 million years ago.
Some events, can take us back further still.
This is M1, the Crab Nebula.
This is the result of a supernova, that blew up.
When the supernova explosion was going on, it can be seen during daylight, for about a month.
That's how bright is was.
Yeah, they typically brighten 10 billion times.
They're really spectacular.
These dying stars illuminate the journey deeper into space and time.
The advantage of having them be so brilliant, is that they are therefore visible all the way through the extent of the visible universe.
They really allow us to learn about the shade of the universe.
Supernovae have been observed as far back in time and space as 11 billion light-years.
Yet there is more beyond here.
Seeing it, requires another leap of technology.
When I first met my wife, she commented that, whenever we left the house or left a restaurant, I would always look up at the sky, to see if I could see the stars.
I think that looking at a clear sky at night is still one of the great joys for any observational astronomer, even those of us who now work in the space business.
Few things can take us further into the past than the Hubble Space Telescope.
Orbiting nearly 600 kilometres above us, frees it from the distorting effects of the Earth's atmosphere.
We can see things that are approximately 10 billion times fainter than you can see with the unaided eye.
We can easily see the light from a firefly at the distance of the moon.
Hubble's ability to see into deep space, has produced one of the most revealing glimpses of the early universe we have.
Yet it started as a shot in the dark.
We formulated a plan by which we would point the telescope at an otherwise, ordinary and blank spot in the sky, and expose long enough that we would just be able to reveal whatever was there.
I've got on the screen here a picture of the sky.
We, were interested in a part of the sky called, Fornax This tiny piece of sky, the size of a pinhead held at arm's length.
As the telescope started to send back images, Beckwith couldn't be sure they would reveal anything new.
I'm zoomed in on the first image right here, and you see these are galaxies, these are clearly galaxies, but the rest of it, is justit's noise.
Only by amassing a total of 400 individual images, could this dark corner of the universe be illuminated.
OK, so now what I'm gonna do is, I'll build up the image.
You'll begin to see faint things here, you see these things? And indeed, you can see them coming out.
You can see all of this? See how beautiful that is? So as you add, more and more images together, pretty soon, now these things look quite bright.
In the end, we exposed the telescope, to the sky, for a million seconds.
It's the longest exposure that's ever been taken with an optical telescope.
All of a sudden, all these faint things just emerged clean from the noise and that's the process, that's how it works.
If I had another million seconds, it would look even better.
The result of this painstaking process, is an image that can take us back more than 13 billion years.
So we're flying now, into the universe and we're going back in time and as we zoom in farther an farther, you will come up to the point where here we have what ultimately becomes the Hubble Ultra Deep Field.
The stars light up my life These little circles here, show you places where we think we've detected the most distant galaxies that people have ever seen, in the universe.
And we'll zoom in on a couple of these just so that you can see them.
Traveling this far back, we see the universe in its infancy.
This is a place where galaxies are barely formed, and yet to take on, the distinctive shapes of later ones.
If you look out to the most distant galaxies.
you don't see any galaxies that look like the nearby ones.
You see no spiral galaxies.
You see no regular elliptical galaxies.
You see nothing that looks familiar.
We are looking back to a time when the universe was so young, it actually looks different.
And this is a palpable demonstration of the whole idea of the Big Bang.
Hubble Ultra Deep Field can take us to within 700 million years of this first moment.
It is as far as today's technology can allow us to see into to past.
We're already getting close to the point where going farther back will not reveal very much because at some point, at some time, there weren't any stars, and so there's really nothing to see.
And we are very close to that time in this image.
We are almost at what I would call the visual edge of the observable universe.
Beyond here, lies a time before there were enough stars to illuminate space.
A place called, the Cosmic Dark Ages.
Yet, buried deep within this darkness, is the earliest picture we have of our universe.
Hello? Hello? Is there anyone out there? This vision first came to light here, more than 40 years ago.
Ever since, it has been a landmark for astronomers.
Last time I was here was about 25 years ago, and it was pretty exciting to come here, and kind of exciting to come back.
I haven't been back since.
And this is were it all started.
What led to the discovery of this image was an earlier advance in ways of seeing into space.
Since the 1930's astronomers had realised that in addition to what the human eye could see, the universe could be observed through invisible light.
Light from the ultraviolet, infra-red, and even radio wavelengths could all reveal hitherto unknown details about space, so long as you have the know-how.
So what you've got to do, is swing this thing all the way around, so that's pointing up at the sky, and then, map the sky.
So the signal comes in, hits the horn bounces off the horn and is brought, to the receivers over there.
Into this room, which is awful looking.
What a mess! See what's here.
Here we go.
There's the surface, of the horn.
Look right straight down there.
So the signal comes up, comes through here.
You put your detector here, and pick up the signal.
It was not until 1964, when two astronomers took up residence in the horn antenna, that this new way of seeing came into its own.
Here's the phone numbers.
There's Bob Wilson.
Up here we have Arno Penzias.
Arno Penzias and Bob Wilson had simply set out to observe our galaxy.
Seeing the invisible light waves with their specialized telescope.
But before they could even get started, they ran into problems.
The telescope kept picking up an interference.
A constant background signal that prevented them from taking any useful readings.
I have to imagine they spent most of their time in here, scratching their heads, trying to figure out why they were picking up the signal.
You know, they thought everything was working perfectly, there shouldn't be any background signal, yet it was there.
They began looking for a source for the signal.
But with no obvious cause, everything around them was suspected.
Old parts were replaced.
Even a pair of pigeons, roosting in the horn were evicted, just in case their droppings were to blame.
Still, the signal persisted.
What would people think if we were to publish this result? When we started out, it was a nuisance.
Then it got to be a puzzle and finally an embarrassment.
After a whole year of failing to locate a source for the signal, only one remarkable possibility remained.
We eliminated just about everything.
And then the only possibility was, that it was coming from some place outside our galaxy, and that seemed like such a far-out idea, we just didn't know what to do with that result.
Eventually they shared their findings with other astronomers, and were made to realise that they had stumbled across something quite incredible.
The signal was the last remnant of light from the Big Bang.
These light waves had survived since those first moments.
But the expansion of the universe had stretched them out, until they had become invisible.
Nearly 14 billion years later, they had found their way into Penzias' and Wilson's telescope.
They won the Nobel Prize for that.
Yeah, and well deserved.
I mean, it was a great discovery that opened up a whole field.
The ancient light that Penzias and Wilson discovered, continues to yield clues to the nature of the early universe.
Professor David Spergel has examined it with the very latest generation of space telescopes: the WMAP satellite.
So, what we're seeing is the oldest light.
And it gives us, kind of, since we're looking back in time, this fossil picture of what the universe was once like.
And we're really seeing the universe as baby picture.
What it was like in its infancy.
By recording the varying intensities of this light, WMAP reveals how the universe would unfold.
Within these differently coloured ripples, can be seen the areas that would later become star forming regions, and eventually galaxies.
We can really use the observations to tell us, a tremendous amount about the properties of the universe.
Its composition, its age, its geometry.
And what happened at its first moments.
In all, WMAP can take us back to within just 400,000 years of the Big Bang.
But one fact remains.
While we can now paint a picture of the universe as an infant, we still can't watch its birth.
Before this, the universe was so dense, that light simply couldn't escape.
It is a part of the story that will always be invisible.
To see further back, we have to return to the other end of time and space.
It's a journey back through the first stars.
Back through the spiral galaxies.
Back through our solar system.
In all, through nearly 14 billion years of cosmological evolution, to the planet Earth.
More precisely, to a network of tunnels that straddle the French-Swiss border.
The machine under construction here, the Large Hadron Collider or LHC, promises to show us the moment that Nature has hidden from our view.
The moment just after the Big Bang.
What it does, it recreates the conditions that were present less than a billionth of a second after the Big Bang, but in a controlled environment inside giant detectors.
You can repeat that over and over again, and study it in exquisite detail.
So, in some ways, it's almost better than going back to the start of the universe and watching because you only get one chance to watch it.
So just how do you go about building a Big Bang machine? First, burrow down 100 metres.
Drill through the rock, until you have a 27 kilometre circular tunnel.
Fill this with 2,000 superconducting magnets, and you have a particle accelerator.
Around the tunnel, cast vast chambers, each the size of a cathedral.
Inside these, engineer the most complex cameras ever made, to detect the particles.
So after nearly two decades hard work and having sunk around 2/3 of the six billion dollar budget into the building alone, you can at last, contemplate the experiment.
So we're going to enter the underground experiment cavern, we are about 100 metres underground.
Some of the technologies we're using did not exist, about 16 years ago when we started actually designing these detectors and thinking about doing experiments at the LHC.
Once the machine is running, subatomic particles called protons will be accelerated until they are close to the speed of light.
So there's a beam of protons which comes at about this level, one way, and there's a counter-rotating beam of protons coming the other way, and they collide head-on.
Every second there will be 800 million collisions.
Just a tiny fraction will be of interest.
As the protons fragment, a magnetic field generated by the detector, separates out the different types of matter.
Among these pieces may be found the indivisible units that make up our entire universe.
Some will exist for just one thousandth of a billionth of a billionth of a second.
And in these fleeting images, we can glimpse the first moments following the Big Bang.
So what we're trying to do is to find out, what Nature was like at that instant.
The scale of the forces at work in this process are unprecedented.
The experiment, a step into the unknown.
Some believe, it is the only way we can grasp the reality of our universe.
We're actually at a point where only experiments can tell us what the way forward is.
Yet there remains a risk that the LHC may be opening the door to more than we ever imagined.
One possibility is discovering the existence of other unseen worlds, alongside us.
We certainly seem to think we see three dimensions of space, up-down, left-right, forward-backwards, but there could be other dimensions that we just don't observe.
It might not even be that light travels in those dimensions which might explain why we don't see them, or they could be very tiny, which could explain why we don't see them.
But these other dimensions, are dimensions outside the ones that we experience directly.
Should these extra dimensions be real, the LHC could unveil them.
The proof of their existence would be stranger yet.
Matter simply vanishing.
In effect, a black hole.
Could you make black holes? And it's possible that, if we get to high enough energies, that we will be able to see, evidence that there were higher dimensional black holes.
These black holes could conceivably grow, dragging gravity and everything with it into an extra, unseen dimension.
The chances of this happening are according to the scientists, extremely small.
These black holes wouldn't be dangerous.
They would decay right away.
These black holes, actually evaporate as soon as they're produced.
So it's almost impossible, that these black holes can devour the experiment or Geneva or the Earth.
Instead of destroying the Earth, these scientists hope to answer the ultimate question.
By going back to the beginning of the universe, they hope to come up with nothing less than an explanation for everything.
The further back in time you look, so you go back to hotter and hotter conditions, back towards the Big Bang, the simpler thing appear to be.
To understand the universe today, it's just too complicated.
You can't look at a person or a planet or a star, and work out what the fundamental building blocks are.
It's too difficult.
But if you go back to those early times, all that's there, is a very simple structure.
Just a few particles and a few forces.
And then you can begin to try and understand how that simplicity evolved into the complexity that we see today.
This dream has been the pursuit of scientists for years.
Few have been more successful in the search than particle hunter Leon Lederman.
And few have been more rewarded.
Well this is a very important room, I have all my medals here.
That's the Enrico Fermi Award.
This is that one.
There's the president of the United States.
That's Lyndon Johnson.
And that's another president.
I think his name was Clinton.
National Medal of Science.
This isAlfred Nobel.
Whoops I guess I damaged this, theNobel Medal.
It is rather nice.
It's mostly gold.
We have all kinds of other medals here.
I have a important medal which is 'Perfect Attendance in 6th Grade'.
Within the course of his own lifetime, Lederman has transformed our understanding of the universe.
It's not true that I watched the Big Bang.
People are lying.
But in the late 40's, early 50's, we didn't know anything about these particles.
We knew about atoms, but, we had no idea of the complexity of matter.
Lieberman's discoveries have taken us deeper into the nature of matter, peeling away the layers of the atom to reach ever smaller particles.
The moment of discovery is really a series of moments.
The experiment is working, we think it's OK.
And then finally, "Hey, look at that!" "There's an event!" Eventually, get enough data, to say, we're beginning to see a class of particles, that must have a very important role, in the evolution of the universe.
Part of the secret to Lederman's success, is timing.
He came to physics, just as scientists were testing the radical theories that had arisen in the first half of the 20th century.
The most astonishing was encapsulated in just 5 characters.
It was Special Relativity by Albert Einstein.
This equation stated that "E", meaning energy, and "M", or mass are inextricably linked.
That basically says that energy and mass, are two sides of the same coin.
They're basically the same thing and they're interchangeable.
In this idea, I think Einstein was truly the first.
Mass is just a form of energy.
That was a very deep insight of Einstein, there's absolutely no question and, there was no precedent for that idea.
After Einstein, matter, could be seen as just a highly concentrated form of energy.
Energy, that could be unleashed.
But the really extraordinary thing about the equation, was that it worked both ways.
Energy, could also make matter.
This insight, would open the door to a mysterious world that had been beyond the reach of science.
The world that contained the secrets of the universe.
The world of the subatomic.
By subjecting atoms to high energies, scientists could reveal the types of matter, that until then, had been hidden from view.
The greater the energy, the deeper they could peer into this world.
Until they reached the final level of all.
The indivisible building blocks that make up everything we see in the universe.
The fundamental particles.
In effect, they were winding the clock back toward the moment when energy first became matter.
The Big Bang.
The up quark, the down quark, the electron, the electron-neutrino the W+, the W- As they made their discoveries, scientists began to name these fundamental particles.
Charm quark, the strange quark, the muon, the mu-neutrino With these building blocks, they came to a remarkable understanding of the world.
The top quark, the bottom quark, the tau, and the tau-neutrino Now, they could explain what anything and everything, is made of.
The Z particle, and the photon.
This list of exotic names, was simply called, the Standard Model.
That's the Standard Model.
Oh, no the gluon.
I forget the gluon.
It appeared the be, the perfect theory.
The Standard Model was a fabulous achievement.
It describes the most basic elements of matter.
Even though we can't see those particles in our daily lives, we do know, how they interact, and we know they're there.
And that they are fundamentally, what matter is made up off.
It's beautifully precise.
Arguably, the most precise mathematical theory ever constructed.
The Standard Model, amounts to just 12 unfathomably small matter particles.
Lederman was among the first to set eyes on two of them.
To this day, he continues to work at the site of some of his greatest discoveries.
Fermilab, near Chicago.
Until the completion of the LHC at CERN, this collider, 6 kilometres in circumference, remains the worlds most powerful.
Here, they can take us closer to the Big Bang, than anywhere else.
Hi! This looks very very 'Hollywood'.
We never really forget the kind of the kind of appearance you had on Star Trek.
Despite his past successes, Lederman's search for the fundamental nature of reality, is not yet over.
We have the outrageous ambition to understand the world.
How it works.
That's our objective.
We're confident, that what we're doing here, is something that is going to be valuable for human existence on this planet.
The reason the search goes on, is because not all is perfect with our understanding of the universe.
The Standard Model may explain much, but it's not complete.
Something fundamental is yet to be found.
There's something, spooky about this Standard Model.
It doesn't really work.
So we know that there is something sick in our theory.
The thing that is missing, is the thing that gives the fundamental particles substance.
That turns them into matter we can touch.
It's called 'mass'.
There's a big hole in our knowledge, appeared.
And the hole is related to, what mass is.
Why does the stuff that makes up you and me Well, why is it stuff? And why is it solid? Without mass, the fundamental particles would all travel at the speed of light.
The universe that we see, simply wouldn't have formed.
Well of course, there would be nothing there.
I mean, there would just be radiation.
The fact that matter can clump, relies on the fact that there's mass.
The masses that we see are essential to the nature of matter as we know it.
In order to solve this puzzle, to connect the discoveries of the Standard Model with the world we see around us, scientists had to come up with a new theory.
The best theory we have at the moment, for the origin of mass, for what makes stuff, stuff, is called, the Higgs Mechanism.
And the Higgs Mechanism works by filling the universe with, with'a thing'.
It's almost like treacle.
By 'the universe", I don't just mean the void between the stars and the planets.
I mean, the room in front of you.
Some particles move through the Higgs Field, and talk to the Higgs Field and slow down.
And they're the heavy particles.
So, all the particles that make up your body, are heavy, because they're talking to the Higgs Field.
Some other particles, like particles of light, photons, don't talk to the Higgs at all, and move through at the speed of light.
The Higgs Field is the missing piece in the Standard Model.
It can explain, how we can have a world of solid objects, from particles that appear to have no mass.
The Higgs, brings simplicity and beauty to a Nature which looks too complicated.
It introduces a kind of symmetry and a kind of beauty to Nature, which gives us an understanding of one of the most puzzling features of the Standard Model.
Lederman now believes that finding the Higgs is the key to his ultimate goal.
A complete theory of how the universe works.
If, in fact, we can get over the Higgs particle, it may be that we can go a long way, towards the horizon of a total understanding.
To prove the existence of the Higgs Field, scientists have to find the particle linked with it.
Yet in the 40 years since it was first thought of, no one has And none have tried harder than Lederman.
Now his hopes of ever seeing this particle, lie elsewhere.
With the LHC.
This is like a huge new microscope, that will bring us, visibility, to a different world.
It would be a tremendous discovery.
The LHC will generate 7 times the energy of any previous collider.
By doing so, it will take us closer to the Big Bang than we have ever been before.
Will we find the Higgs particle at the LHC? That, of course, is the question.
And the answer is Science is what we do when we don't know what we're doing.
And one reason to look for this thing is to see whether we find it or not.
So I don't know whether we will find it or not.
This is the other possibility.
That this elusive particle, one that scientists have been searching 40 years for, simply doesn't exist.
It can be argued that the most interesting discovery would be, that we can not find the Higgs, proving practically that it isn't there.
That would mean that we really haven't understood something.
That's a very good thing for science.
Revolutions sometime come, from the fact that you hit a wall and you realize that you truly haven't understood anything.
If the Higgs doesn't turn up, then the LHC has got so much energy, that, it has to uncover the origin of mass, one way or the other.
Whatever it is that gives substance to both ourselves and the world around us, the LHC promises to give us the answer.
And with that, we will be one step closer to understanding how our universe evolved, out of the first moment of time.
It may be there is no such thing as a theory of everything.
But it may also be, that there is such a thing, and, we're very close to it at the moment.
It might be within our grasp.
That's what I hope, you know.
I hope that my generation is a generation that finds that theory.