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The machine that will not destroy earth

Philip Plait of badastronomy.com has a couple of posts about the LHC, the Large Hadron Collider (there’s also a podcast and here’s a link to a video about the LHC). The LHC is run by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (which is abbreviated CERN for historical reasons; CERN is short for Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire ) is the worlds largest particle accelerator and quite possibly the largest science experiment ever (you can find the LHC Homepage here).

The LHC is a ring with a circumference of 27 kilometres; it produces two beams of high enery protons that smash into one another. A number of instruments monitor the collision event and analyze the makeup of the resulting debris as the protons break up into smaller particles. The LHC looks for particles that have been predicted by theory (especially for a particle called the Higgs Boson) but have not been observed yet since smaller particle accelerators cannot mobilize enough energy to create the conditions necessary for those particles to exist (edit: I realize that this badly phrased. Make that “exist under observable conditions”).

The LHC is a much more powerful instrument; in fact it uses so much energy that some people think it will destroy the earth by creating a small black hole that will devour the planet. This is rather unlikely for two reasons.

Contrary to Hollywood lore a black hole is not necessarily some kind of all-devouring cosmic vacuum cleaner; how much damage it can actually do depends on it’s mass. A black hole that is created by the collision of some highly accelerated particles will have about the mass of, well, some higly accelerated particles which is not very much. Even if such a mini black hole would be stable – more likely it would evaporate due to the so called Hawking radiation – I guess it would be too small to interact much with the much more massive planet around it (being a singularity the black hole actually has no size; when somebody talks about the size of a black hole he means the size of it’s event horizon). However that’s just my laymens opinion and the possibility seemed real enough for CERN to study the possible danger – which brings us to the second, rather better reason to dismiss the idea that we are doomed due to the LHC: The people who came up with the theories on how and why black holes form are more or less the same people who tell us that it won’t happen in the LHC. I don’t see why anybody should believe them in the first case but not the second.

If there is no threat then why should we (as in “we laypersons”) care about the thing? Um, that’s a bit hard for me to explain; I read enough books  to give the impression that I know something about the matter (unless I accidently talk to an astronomer in which case I give the impresson of being a total twit), but I do not actually understand the stuff. Still…

There a a number of things that seem rather fundamental but cannot, at the moment, be explained very well – like, why is gravity so weak when compared to the other fundamental forces, or why do have some particles have mass in the first place. There are some hypotheses to answer these questions and they propose the exististance of certain particles (like the aforementioned Higgs boson). If the LHC produces these particles it promotes these hypotheses to theories and yet another gap will be closed in our understanding of the universe – well, not my understanding obviously, but on behalf of the laymans part of mankind I’m still proud that somebody gets it. If my choices are to go through life like through some kind of video game (you know, “the story sucks but the graphics are incredible”) or to at least try and make some sense from the world around me, and be it by beating the hell out of some innocent protons– well, you read this blog. I think you can guess how I feel about this.


    Yes, that’s us


    Just right now I can’t keep up


    1. I concede the point that some serious scientists actually believe a black hole can form in the LHC (even though that sounds like bad SciFi to me). However the “unlikely” part was supposed to refer to the idea that the earth would be destroyed.

      Your concers might be very well commendable, but I still do not agree with you. As far as i can tell http://lhcconcerns.com/ suggests that CERN is rushing into things and that a few months of further research would make a lot of difference in assessing potential dangers. My take is that the LHC has been planned for a long time and that the people behind it have given some thought to possible consequences. That they should discover in the last minute that they have constructed some kind of doomesday machine seems, as I’ve said, unlikely.

      Since neither you or me can stop the LHC this is a moot point anyway. If I’m right we can laugh together in a few months about this (how long will the LHC have to run before you consider it safe?) and if not – oh well. Moot point.

    2. “This is rather unlikely for two reasons…” Actually some very eminent scientists have concluded that the possibility may actually be likely…

      CERN predicts the creation of up to 1 micro black hole per second in the Large Hadron Collider and references the 1999 RHIC safety study as proof of safety.
      (Rebuttal: But the 1999 RHIC safety study only ruled out any possibility of colliders creating micro black holes based on knowledge at that time.)

      CERN’ predicts that micro black holes will evaporate.
      (Rebuttal: But Hawking Radiation has been disputed by no less than 3 peer reviewed studies that found no basis in science for such conclusions.)

      CERN’ and Steven Hawking state that much greater energy cosmic ray impacts with Earth prove safety.
      (Rebuttal: But higher energy cosmic ray impacts with stationary particles have net collision speeds less than the speed of light and send all particles created safely into space, while head-on collider collisions have net collision impact speeds at almost twice the speed of light and are designed to focus all the energy to a single point in space and particles created may be captured by Earth’s gravity.)

      CERN promised to create and release an new safety report before the end of 2007.
      (Rebuttal: CERN’s LHC Safety Assessment Group has concluded that particles created by cosmic ray impacts with Earth’s atmosphere are safely ejected into space and LSAG stated that they do not assume that micro black holes will evaporate, but CERN never released any safety reports created by their LHC Safety Assessment Group.)

      CERN asserts that there is no risk to the planet, even though the Large Hadron Collider will create conditions not seen in nature since the first fraction of a second after the big bang.
      (Rebuttal: But the legal action contends a 75% probability of risk with very high degree of uncertainty calculated by a scientist with a masters degree in statistics, and alleges that Chief Scientific Officer Mr. Engelen passed an internal memorandum to workers at CERN asking them regardless of personal opinion to affirm in all interviews that there were no risks involved in the experiments, changing CERN’s previous assertion of minimal risk.)

      Professor Otto Rossler calculates that a single micro black hole could accrete the Earth is as few as 50 months and Dr. Rossler is world recognized as one of the most prestigious, most eminent, award winning scientists alive.
      (Rebuttal?: But CERN has not scientifically refuted his calculations that I am aware of, CERN only promised Dr. Rossler that if they create stable micro black holes that they will stop the experiment. Will that be too late?)

      The World might prevent a catastrophy if we delay the experiment until the promised safety studies are completed and peer reviewed.
      (Rebuttal?: But then some scientists may not be the first to discover new science and some Nobel prizes may be lost.)


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