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LHC Keeps Bruising 'Difficult to Kill' Supersymmetry

In a new blow for the futuristic 'supersymmetry' theory of the universe's basic anatomy, experts reported fresh evidence Monday of subatomic activity consistent with the mainstream Standard Model of particle physics.

In a new blow for the futuristic "supersymmetry" theory of the universe's basic anatomy, experts reported fresh evidence Monday of subatomic activity consistent with the mainstream Standard Model of particle physics.

New data from ultra high-speed proton collisions at Europe's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) showed an exotic particle dubbed the "beauty quark" behaves as predicted by the Standard Model, said a paper in the journal Nature Physics.

Previous attempts at measuring the beauty quark's rare transformation into a so-called "up quark" had yielded conflicting results. That prompted scientists to propose an explanation beyond the Standard Model -- possibly supersymmetry.

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But the latest observations were "entirely consistent with the Standard Model and removes the need for this hypothesis" of an alternative theory, Guy Wilkinson, leader of LHC's "beauty experiment" told AFP.

"It would of course have been very exciting if we could show that there was something wrong with the Standard Model -- I cannot deny that would have been sensational," he said.

The Standard Model is the mainstream theory of all the fundamental particles that make up matter, and the forces that govern them.

But the model has weaknesses: it doesn't explain dark matter or dark energy, which jointly make up 95 percent of the universe. Nor is it compatible with Einstein's theory of general relativity -- the force of gravity as we know it does not seem to work at the subatomic quantum scale.

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Supersymmetry, SUSY for short, is one of the alternatives proposed for explaining these inconsistencies, postulating the existence of a heavier "sibling" for every particle in the universe.

This may also explain dark matter and dark energy.

'Many-Headed Monster' But no proof of supersymmetric twins has been found at the LHC, which has observed all the particles postulated by the Standard Model -- including the long-sought Higgs boson, which confers mass to matter.

Supersymmetry predicts the existence of at least five types of Higgs boson, but only one, believed to be the Standard Model Higgs, has so far been found.

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Wilkinson said it was "too soon" to write off supersymmetry.

"It is very difficult to kill supersymmetry: it is a many-headed monster," he said.

But "if nothing is seen in the next couple of years, supersymmetry would be in a much harder situation. The number of true believers would drop."

Quarks are the most basic particles, building blocks of protons and neutrons, which in turn are found in atoms.

There are six types of quarks -- the most common are the "up" and "down" quarks, while the others are called "charm", "strange", "beauty" and "top."

The beauty quark, heavier than up and down quarks, can shift shape, and usually takes the form of a charm quark when it does.

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Much more rarely, it morphs into an up quark. Wilkinson's team have now measured -- for the first time -- how often that happens.

"We are delighted because it is the sort of measurement nobody thought was possible at the LHC," he said. It had been thought that an even more powerful machine would be needed.

The revamped LHC, a facility of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), was restarted in April after a two-year revamp to boost its power from eight to 13, potentially 14, teraelectronvolts (TeV).

"If you expect Earth-shattering news from the new run, it's a bit early," CERN director-general Rolf Heuer told journalists in Vienna Monday at a conference of the European Physical Society.

"The main harvest will come in the years to come, so you have to stay tuned."

So far, the new run at 13 TeV has re-detected all the Standard Model particles except for the Higgs boson, but Heuer insisted: "We are sure that it is there."

Computer visualization of proton collisions inside the LHC's CMS detector.

Introduction

Did you own a toy race-car track as a child? Ever crash your model trains into one another just to see what happened? If you did, then congratulations, you already know some of the basic principles behind the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the 27-kilometer tunnel buried in the Swiss countryside exists to smash particle beams into each other at velocities approaching the speed of light. The idea is to use the resulting data to better understand the structure and origins of the universe. We're talking heavy questions and even heavier answers. Perhaps it's understandable that some critics, conspiracy theorists, crackpots and (alleged) time travelers might fear something more substantial than the Higgs boson particle. In this article, we'll run through some of the more popular misconceptions about the LHC and how little you have to fear about it causing the end of the world as we know it.

5. CERN Is Making an Antimatter Bomb

The Dan Brown detective novel (and movie adaptation) "Angels and Demons" centers on a plot to steal an antimatter bomb from CERN and blow up the Vatican with it. While the blockbuster delivered its share of action and intrigue, it fell short on facts. Two of the film's biggest mistakes revolved around antimatter's potential use as both an energy source and a weapon. Yes, when an antimatter particle comes in contact with normal matter, the two particles destroy each other and release energy. But CERN is quick to point out that the energy payoff simply isn't there. In fact, the transaction is so inefficient that scientists only get a tenth of a billionth of their invested energy back when an antimatter particle meets its matter counterpart. As for developing an antimatter bomb, the same principles apply. CERN points out that, at current production rates, it would take billions of years for the organization to produce enough antimatter to generate an explosion equal to an atomic blast.

4. Fun-sized Black Holes

Some concepts don't become tamer when you tack a "micro-" or a "mini-" prefix in front of them. For example, a mini-stroke is still an excellent reason to visit the hospital, and you'd certainly be ill advised to question the power of a minigun. So when CERN scientists mention that they might create microscopic black holes in the midst of their particle smashing, it's easy to understand some of the ensuing panic. Based on Einstein's theory of relativity, a few speculative theories lend a sheen of possibility to micro-black hole creation. The good news is that these theories also predict the micro-black holes would disintegrate immediately. If these black hole welterweights did hang around a little longer, it would take billions of years to consume the mass of a tiny grain of sand. That means no reducing the European countryside to a singularity and certainly no destroying the planet "Star Trek" style.

3. Attack of the Strangelets

Read enough space publications and your perception of the universe changes pretty fast. Once you get beyond the absurd vastness of the cosmos, you encounter such mind-rending notions as black holes, antimatter and dark matter. After you've swallowed the notion of a gigantic star collapsing into something smaller than a pinhead, it's easy to get bowled over by the idea of universe-destroying strangelets. Strange matter is presumed to be 10 million times denser than lead and was birthed during the Big Bang from the hearts of dense stars. The fear, which originated with the start-up of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in 2000, is that the LHC will inadvertently produce strangelets -- tiny particles of strange matter -- and that these particles will swiftly convert surrounding normal matter into even more strange matter. It only takes a thousand-millionth of a second for the chain reaction to convert the entire planet. Strangelets, however, are purely speculative, and haven't surfaced in over eight years of RHIC operation. CERN says that the RHIC was far more likely to produce the theoretical matter than the LHC, so there's really no chance of it consuming the planet.

2. Time Travelers Hate It

In "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," the titular slacker duo wields time travel with the logic of a 12-year-old. When Bill and Ted need a cell key to bust a few historical figures out of a modern California jail, they simply make a mental note for their future selves to travel back in time and plant the key where they can find it. While the 1989 buddy comedy is pretty much the antithesis of hard science fiction, its view of time-travel logic is shockingly similar to a 2009 theory regarding the LHC. Danish string theory pioneer Holger Bech Nielsen and Japanese physicist Masao Ninomiya, in a series of posted physics articles, laid out their theory that the Higgs boson particle is so abhorrent to nature that its future creation will send a ripple back through time to keep it from being made. Naturally, this theory summons images of T-800s, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Hermione Granger all galloping back through time to prevent future disasters, but not everyone is busy cracking jokes and reminiscing about time-travel movies. The two scientists aren't even talking about shadowy strangers from the future, but merely "something" looping back through the fourth dimension. Imagine a poorly designed bomb that, upon creation, destroys half the bomb factory. Now expand that example out from the confines of linear time.

1. Gateway to Hell

Black holes, antimatter explosions and even strangelets all originate from scientific fact and theory (albeit with a bit of imagination thrown in). Forget all that for the moment and consider the "Satan's Stargate" theory, proposed by Chris Constantine, better known on the Internet as YouTube user gorilla199. Constantine charges that the LHC exists "to disrupt a hole in the Van Allen belt that surrounds the Earth" and "to allow the return of the Annunaki from the planet Nibiru in order that they can come here, corrupt the rest of the Earth and do battle with God at Armageddon." There's also some stuff in there about freemasonry, cosmic rays and the Old Testament offspring of humans and fallen angels. According to BBC News, Constantine received a suspended sentence for DVD pirating after his defense attorney charged that Constantine suffered from a serious psychiatric condition. The Antichrist could not be reached for comment.