Thursday, September 15, 2011

Early breakfast on a planet made of diamond

The Large Hadron Collider has been at it again.

Yes, the world’s biggest, baddest particle accelerator, which has always held an unnatural fascination for this writer, has only gone and created the Densest Matter Ever Observed.

Denser than lead, denser than a neutron star, denser than last Sunday’s collapsed sponge pudding, denser even than Denny Denson, Professor of Density at St Dennis’s College, Densebridge, quark-gluon plasma is so downright stodgy that if you had a matchbox full, it would weigh more than the entire universe.

(All right, that may be something of an exaggeration, but you get the general idea.)

Quark-gluon plasma, as its name suggests, is made out of a combination of quarks and gluons. And now that’s sorted out, we can move on.

Because dense things aren’t confined to the coils of the LHC. Spinning round a pulsar the size of Cologne, just 4,000 light years from Earth, is a planet made of diamond.

How it got that way is a matter of conjecture, but to put it into layman’s terms, a big star full of carbon bumped into a little star full of pulses, one thing led to another and you can guess the rest.

Now all that remains is to find a name for this new wonder of nature.

Suggestions have ranged from the romantic – Planet Tiffany – to the commercial – Planet Ernest Jones.

One thing’s for sure though: you’re not going to make a fortune by heading out there in a rocket and digging up some diamonds. You’d either be frazzled by the radio waves kicked out by Pulsar J1719-1438 as it spins through the firmament at 10,000 rpm, or squished by the gravity of Planet Bling.

Speaking of radio waves (and coming back down to Earth with a bang), the BBC has seriously messed up Radio 3 in the mornings.

Until this week, the start to the Dixon day ran as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. Alarm at 5.42 precisely. Leap up. Empty dishwasher. Make Mrs D’s tea. Back to bed to doze for an hour to the soothing strains of Through the Night. Up, shave and dress just in time for the news headlines at 7am. Three Breakfast with the muesli.

Not any more. As of last Monday, Radio 3’s breakfast show has moved to 6.30, when all right-thinking people are still dozing. The format’s changed, too. The news headlines at 6.30 are followed by the presenter (Petroc Trelawny at his far-too-cheeriest) reading them again at 6.45, followed by the newsreader again at 7am. Followed by Trelawny reading the weather.

Instead of gentle music, we’ve got the aural equivalent of Spongebob Squarepants.

There’s not much alternative, either. Radio 4 is too depressing. Classic FM is too full of adverts. Radio 2 has too much Chris Evans. Radio 1 has too much Chris Moyles.

All right, Radio 3 listeners are notoriously resistant to change, and that bit about Spongebob is the second exaggeration in 500 words.

But if you detect increased levels of grumpiness from Dixon Towers over the coming weeks, you’ll have a pretty good idea why.

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