Friday, November 9, 2007

Cosmic Rays on the Tennis Court

Perhaps someone can explain the logic of this NY Times article on Cosmic Rays to me. Maybe I'm just revealing my ignorance of physics, but it seems like there's a pretty gross typo in here (aside from the obvious one that I marked). From the article:

Each of the cosmic rays studied had energy in excess of 57 billion billion electron volts, about the energy of a nicely hit tennis ball. By comparison, the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, near Geneva, will accelerate protons to a mere 7 trillion electron bolts [sic] when it turns on next summer.

“Such energies are so extreme that they could arise in only the most violent places in the universe,” the authors of the report wrote.

Okay, so a "nicely hit tennis ball" has 57 billion billion electron volts of energy in it, but the world's largest particle accelerator only produces 7 trillion electron volts? Apparently the energy found in cosmic rays can only originate from black holes or the tennis court -- "the most violent places in the universe."


Stephen Parrish said...

It depends on what they mean by "billion billion." Do they mean a billion (ten to the ninth) squared? If so it would be a million times more than a trillion (ten to the twelfth).

The momentum of a "nicely hit" tennis ball, when transferred to a much-smaller-mass subatomic particle, would in fact be enormous.

Here's what I don't like. Just as in the late nineteenth century everyone bought off on the "ether" because light had to have a medium to travel through, nowadays everytime something ferocious goes streaking through the cosmos it has to come from a black hole, because scientists don't know where else it could come from.

Christopher M. Park said...

I'm presuming they mean billion^2, yeah. I can see where that makes sense, if you take the cumulative energy of a tennis ball and compress it all into a single proton -- yeah, that is making more sense. It was poorly explained at best in the article, though.

You also make a great point in your comparison of black holes to ether. Makes you wonder what modern theories of ours people in the future will laugh about.