Holy S**t

Fact: There is a particle called the “Oh-My-God particle”.

You might have thought the God particle (otherwise known as the Higgs Boson) had a pretty cool name, but physicists can be a dramatic bunch sometimes – like when discovering something entirely unexpected.

The so-called “Oh-My-God” particle is named after the state of shock scientists found themselves in after discovering it. It’s special because of its speed – when detected it was travelling at a whopping 99.9999999999999999999995% of the speed of light. Before you go thinking this was a one-off or someone forgot to carry the one, at least 15 similar particles have been detected since the Oh-My-God particle was first seen in 1991, so we’re pretty sure they’re real.

As we know, light (along with other waves in the electromagnetic spectrum like UV rays, X rays and microwaves) travels at the speed of light – which is 299 792 458 m/s – but according to the laws of special relativity nothing with any mass can travel that fast without creating a black hole. While the Oh-My-God particle doesn’t break this rule, it does come closer than any particle ever detected before or since. For example, it was travelling around 40,000 times faster than anything we’ve got going on in the Large Hadron Collider, which is the biggest particle accelerator in the world. This means these particles are officially the fastest travelling matter ever measured on Earth. An appropriate name then.

Because it was travelling so fast, this particle contained an absolutely enormous amount of energy – equivalent to the energy of a baseball travelling at 90mph, but concentrated into the size of a singe atom. When they did the calculations, scientists realised that it actually contained more energy than they thought possible for a single atom. No one knows where it came from or how it was made, but the prevailing theory involves (as it always seems to) very large black holes doing strange things.

‘Another one of Mr Shaunak’s Little Bites of Science’
Image under Creative Commons license

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