September 10, 2008

Today's Front Pages Analysis

Big Bang Experiment Is Big Story in Europe

Early this morning, around 2:30 a.m. EST, scientists in Europe launched a hugely ambitious and controversial experiment. Today’s European newspapers announce the project’s start with front-page stories.

The Large Hadron Collider is the biggest particle accelerator ever constructed. Located in a 27-kilometer-long tunnel beneath the earth’s surface at the France-Switzerland border, the LHC is designed to smash together atomic particles and simulate the Big Bang that created our universe. About a month from now, particles like those test-fired today will begin colliding and scientists hope to start learning about how the universe developed. La Repubblica in Rome notes the news with the headline, “Oggi il Big Bang in un tunnel di 27 chilometri, così nacque l’universo,” which translates roughly as, “Today the Big Bang in a 27-kilometer tunnel, like this the universe was born.” (Please pardon my Italian, Roman friends. Mi scusi.) In Spain, Madrid’s Público features a photo of the LHC, along with the time it was set to launch, and “Europa inicia la búsqueda del origen del universe” (or, “Europe begins the search for the origin of the universe”).

The LHC has been in construction for 14 years, has cost about $9 billion, and has involved the work of more than 10,000 scientists. Nuernberger Nachrichten, a paper published in Nurnberg, Germany, carries the headline, “Gigantisches Forschungsprojekt startet” (or, “Giant Research Project launches”). Two Romanian papers — the Jurnal Aradean, published in Arad, and Cluj-Napoca’s Informatia de Cluj — have impressive photos showing the size of the LHC. Look for the hardhat-wearing men dwarfed by the collider.

Also in Madrid, El Pais notes that the project is “En busca de la ‘partícula Dios,’” or, “In search of the ‘God particle.’” “God particle” is the nickname given to the Higgs boson, a theoretical particle that could unlock the secret of why matter has mass.

Deus ex machina indeed.

As excitement has grown in the scientific community, doomsday theories have arisen outside of it. Critics of the project have argued it might create black holes capable of swallowing the Earth. Il Tirreno in Livorno, Italy, profiles the “Big Bang in laboratorio” and has a sub-headline that reads, “Tranquilli, non sarà la fine del mondo” (“Don’t worry, it won’t be the end of the world”). In recent interviews renowned British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, like the editors at Il Tirreno, has sought to ease worries. London’s The Daily Telegraph kids the doomsday notion by placing the headline, “If it’s 8.31 and you’re still reading this …” above a photo of the LHC. Below the photo: “… then Professor Hawking was right.”

Hicks Wogan is a staff assistant at the Newseum.

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