Inside Giant Atom Smasher, Physicists See the Impossible

In case you didn’t realize it, photons are tiny little bits of light.

When you turn on a lamp, gigantic numbers of photons spring from that bulb and slam into your eyes, where they are absorbed by your retina and turned into an electrical signal so that you can see what you are doing.

Even your own body generates photons, but all the way down in infrared energies, so you need night vision goggles to see them.

In a new experiment inside the world’s most powerful atom smasher, researchers got a glimpse of the impossible: photons bumping into each other.

The catch? These photons were a little off their game, meaning they weren’t acting like themselves and instead had temporarily become “Virtual.” By studying these super-rare interactions, physicists hope to reveal some of the fundamental properties of light and possibly even discover new high-energy physics, like grand unified theories and supersymmetry.

Usually, it’s a good thing that photons don’t interact with each other or bounce off each other, because that would be a total madhouse with photons never going anywhere in any sort of straight line.

Every once in a while – extremely, incredibly rarely – one of those photons would briefly turn into a pair composed of a positron and an electron; then, another photon would see one of those positrons or electrons and talk to it.

This article was summarized automatically with AI / Article-Σ ™/ BuildR BOT™.

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