Thursday, June 14, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #61 - Part 5

And Another Thing: Remains found of theater where Shakespeare's company performed; incredible precision of Large Hadron Collider experiments

And Another Thing is our occasional foray into things not really political, just interesting. This week, we have a two-fer: something old and something new.

First, the old. In the prologue to William Shakespeare's play Henry V, the chorus asks
can this cockpit hold The vasty fields of France? or may we cram Within this wooden O the very casques That did affright the air at Agincourt?
"This cockpit" and "this wooden O" refer to the theater in which the play was to be performed - a theater, that is, where some of Shakespeare's plays were first performed.

A theater whose remains archaeologists have now been discovered behind a pub in London on a site marked for redevelopment.

The theater was called The Curtain. It opened in 1577 and was used until about 1620. It was home to Shakespeare's company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, from 1597 until 1599, when they moved to the Globe.

Experts from the Museum of London have uncovered part of the gravel yard and gallery walls of the 435-year-old theater in an area called Shoreditch, just east of London's modern business district and about two miles north of where the old city walls would have stood in 1599. The site will be further excavated and the developer says he intends to preserve the site, which is good news.

Now, the new. The world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator is the Large Hadron Collider, a underground ring some 17 miles in circumference near Geneva, Switzerland. It has been nicknamed the “Big Bang machine,” because it is designed to simulate the conditions existing at the very beginning of our universe.

Recently, one of the scientists working there, Dr. Pauline Gagnon of the University of Indiana Bloomington, posted a blog entry describing a surprise she encountered during her work there. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until the end of her shift, when another scientist called in to report unexpected fluctuations, dips, in the data coming in.

She called the control room and was casually by the operator “That’s because the moon is nearly full and I periodically have to adjust the proton beam orbits.” In fact, they routinely had to be adjusted every couple of hours.

Here’s what was going on: One side of the accelerator was a little closer to the Moon - and so the Moon’s gravity was pulling more strongly on that side of the accelerator, every-so slightly deforming the tunnel through which the particle beams pass. And that shift would be enough to affect the results of experiments if it wasn't adjusted for.

This caused a fair bit of comment, some snarky, some amused, about how his powerful instrument was "no match for the Moon."

But this is what I wanted to point out: The average distance from the Earth to the Moon is a something under 239,000 miles, or about 385,000 kilometers. Even at that distance, the difference in gravitational force between two points no more than roughly 5.5 miles apart (opposite points on a circle about 17 miles around) - that's a bit over 2/1000th of one percent of the distance - that even at that distance, the difference in force over just 5.5 miles is enough to screw up the results of experiments.

I just want you to contemplate for a moment what that tells you about just how delicate, just how mind-bendingly precise, are the sorts of experiments being done by physicists today.


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