(Cosmological) Soup: If you've ever heard the phrase
"primordial soup" used, it was probably in the context of the makeup of
earth's seas and atmosphere at the time that the famous lightning bolt
struck that (theoretically) ignited life on our small planet by fusing
elementary atoms into organic molecules. But cosmologists use the phase
differently. When they talk about the soup, they are referring to what
existed immediately after the Big Bang -- when everything was so hot that
even standard-theory atomic particles could not exist. To cosmologists,
primordial soup was made up of quarks and gluons. As things cooled off,
according to quark theory, gluons somehow bound together the various kinds
of quarks into electrons, protons, neutrons, and various "anti" particles.
Almost immediately most of the original particles and antiparticles annihilated
each other, and the residue congealed into atoms, then molecules, etc.
and finally resulted in the material universe we see around us.
A nice theory, but no real evidence
-- at least until, in recent weeks, CERN scientists announce that they
had succeeded in using their brand new Super Proton Synchrotron to bash
a very high energy beam of lead ions into clusters of target atoms. They
made a batch of soup of their own, and it matched the characteristics of
the quark-gluon mix that their theories predicted. For the press release,
go to the CERN Press Office Internet site at http://www.cern.ch/Press/Releases00/01-QuarkGluonMatter.en.html.
Click on the title line for details of the experiments. The CERN facility
had "just enough" energy to make and identify the soup, but study of the
characteristics of the "new state of matter" will have to wait for more
powerful equipment in the US and at the CERN facilities in Switzerland.