Physics Experiment Won’t Destroy Earth

By Eliza Strickland | June 23, 2008 9:23 am

Large Hadron ColliderWell, that’s a relief. After a long safety review, physicists have declared that the enormous atom smasher that’s expected to go online this fall won’t create tiny black holes that will “eat” our planet. So that’s one less thing to worry about.

The Large Hadron Collider, which is being built near Geneva, Switzerland, will do things with subatomic particles that humans have never done before, causing some people to worry that scientists might be unwittingly building a doomsday devise. The $8 billion machine is designed to accelerate protons, the building blocks of ordinary matter, to energies of 7 trillion electron volts and then bang them together to produce tiny primordial fireballs, miniature versions of the Big Bang. Physicists will comb the detritus from those fireballs in search of forces and particles and even new laws of nature that might have prevailed during the first trillionth of a second of time [The New York Times].

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is building the particle accelerator, and is therefore responsible for making sure it won’t wipe out the planet. While the agency’s scientists have conducted numerous safety audits, some skeptics have maintained that researchers can’t predict what will happen when they flip the switch.

In March, two men filed a lawsuit in federal court in Hawaii asking that the construction be halted until CERN produced a new safety report and environmental assessment. The plaintiffs say that CERN’s researchers have played down the chances that the collider could produce, among other horrors, a tiny black hole, which, they say, could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a “strangelet” that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called “strange matter” [The New York Times]. The lawsuit is unlikely to stop the experiment, however, as experts say the federal court doesn’t have jurisdiction over an international agency based in Europe.

The new safety report examines the possibility that the particle collisions could create microscopic black holes, a hypothesis based on the weird physics of string theory. But the report states that even if black holes are created when the particles smash into each other (a phenomenon that the report says is “not expected in theory”), they will pose “no risk of any significance whatsoever.”

The report’s argument follows the basic line used in past reports: Even the most energetic collisions planned for the [Large Hadron Collider] are far less powerful than cosmic-ray collisions that have been going on for billions of years. “Nature has already generated on Earth as many collisions as about a million LHC experiments – and the planet still exists,” CERN said [MSNBC].

Image: Courtesy of CERN

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math
  • Shannon Davis

    Perhaps scientists might not be creating a black hole, but what about the opposite? At the start of the Big Bang, there was nothing and then BAM, something! Scientists might actually be creating a tear for matter to enter our universe. Let there be light: and there was light (1:3).

    QUOTE: “Nature has already generated on Earth as many collisions as about a million LHC experiments – and the planet still exists,” CERN said.

    “To err is Human, not Mother Nature,” Shannon Davis said.

  • Philip Welsby

    I am not reassured. Something totally bizarre and unknown happened 13.7 billion years ago. Scientists will never know exactly what because there is no evidence – there may be theories based on what happened immediately afterwards but,again, there is no evidence, especially if, as scientists believe, the Universe was created out of nothing. So there is no way that anyone can reassure us about what might happen (and the word might is important – after all they are doing the experiment to find out what they do not know). Still no one will know that the reassurers were wrong. My views were publoished as aletter in New Scientist 19th April 2008..
    Suppose, after a Big Bang it takes 13.7 billion years before sufficient intelligence develops to investigate what happened at their Big Bang, and this intelligence then tries to simulate conditions that constituted the Big Bang (as we are doing with CERN) which, not entirely unpredictably, risks causing another Big Bang. The outermost bits of the previous universe, because of inflation, would have spread beyond the reach of the destructive effect of the following Big Bang. So we have continual creation, an explanation why we might be the most advanced civilization in our universe (any more advanced civilization would have blown us away), and thus why we have not been visited by a more advanced civilization. Perhaps the Pope was right for two reasons when he told Stephen Hawking that we should not investigate the moment of creation. Firstly, we would destroy ourselves. Secondly, if we initiated a new Universe in which intelligence could develop, we would by our own destruction become their creator, Gods then. What a way to go.

    Philip D Welsby

  • http://www.coolkiwi.com Steve Prentice

    I agree with the view that these scientists cannot possibly know for sure what to expect when they “do things with subatomic particles that humans have never done before…creating miniture verisons of the big bang…”

    Remember that the scientist’s own theories predict that the original “big bang” itself started off at microscopic proportions and then expanded out to form the (still expanding) universe which exists today. In this context, just what is meant by a “miniture” big-bang anyway, when the “big” big bang itself also started out in miniture??!!

    These reckless individuals are playing dice with our lives and possibly with our entire universe and for what? Just to satisfy their curiosity. They are like children playing with fire-they think they have it under control, but they just might get burned one day.

  • John Lizard

    Well I am not attacking you people’s knowledge of theoretical physics, because it is an intense area of science to understand. But the fact of the matter is these scientist do have a good deal of understanding on what they are doing. The study of elementary particle physics basically came into play because of Dirac’s formulation of relativistic quantum mechanics. His equations predicted the existence of an antiparticle, which was later confirmed by experiment. Every elementary particle that has been predicted by mathematics, has been later proven to exist by these kind of experiments, and the mathematics do not predict that the experiments will destroy the universe. Yes scientists cannot predict everything that will come out of LHC, and it is possible that some new discoveries may be made in which nature reveals herself to be even more exotic.
    Personally I am not going to lose a second of sleep over the LHC experiments, I am actually quite excited for it to come online.
    If you are a skeptic of the LHC, all I have to say is do not respond to this article. Just simply throw your laptop out of your window, bash your cell phone with a hammer, and destroy every piece of electronic equipment you have in your possession. Because the study of subatomic particles has yielded everything technological that you own.

  • Anand GT

    I believe we should just apply logic to this scenario. What are the risks and benefits of carrying out this experiment? Is there solid evidence to show that there is something worth obtaining from this? Or is it just a ‘let’s flip the switch and see what happens’ kind of pursuit. Playground science is about being curious but real science is about being curious with responsibility.

    If satisfying this curiosity has the potential risk of destroying the Earth and possibly everything around it, why do it? What can possibly be worth so much? I don’t think anyone with a sound mind can say it’s a risk worth taking.

    We all know that as much as we try to predict reactions with our knowledge of physics and mathematics, there is still the possibility of something completely unexpected happening. This is an undeniable and universal constant in any scientific experiment.

    You might say that it’s your own money, your own land, your own property and that no one has a right to interfere. But do remember, if there’s a disaster, it may not be yours alone.

    Why don’t these scientists spend their time, effort and funding on more useful and practical endeavours like fine tuning desalination or devising renewable energy measures for vehicles?

    Please, don’t meddle with risky exotics of dubious usefulness. Let’s try and get our basics right.

  • anotamothafer

    to live on faith alone is to be blind to the truthful unknown

  • anotamothafer

    to live on blind faith alone is to be blind to the truthful unknown

  • Brian S.

    How can you ask these scientists to spend their time on something “more useful?” What could be more useful than discovering that which makes up our entire reality? These experiments will yield even more elementary particles, which is crucial in order to create a Grand Unified Theory, or a Theory of Everything, whatever you make call it. If these physicists are eventually succesful in creating this theory, we will have a blueprint or set of equations which will enable us to understand and possibly manipulate all matter in the universe. Do you know what that means? It would most likely yield the necessary information to solve both of those problems which you listed. I am not sure about desalination, but nuclear fusion, the most powerful of all renewable energies is directly related to quantum physics, and thus directly related to the experiments being performed at the LHC. Excuse my poor writing skills.

  • http://www.discovermagazine.com Eliza Strickland

    I believe that the benefits of the Large Hadron Collider far outweigh its risks, and I’m very excited to see what researchers find out about life, the universe, and everything!

    FYI: One of the men who is suing to stop the completion of the LHC, Walter Wagner, has tried something similar before. From the New York Times: “He filed similar suits in 1999 and 2000 to prevent the Brookhaven National Laboratory from operating the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. That suit was dismissed in 2001. The collider, which smashes together gold ions in the hopes of creating what is called a ‘quark-gluon plasma,’ has been operating without incident since 2000.”

  • Eric Beverly

    Its interesting to find that The Pope would acknowledge the “Big Bang” as the moment of creature to begin with, but that aside, its one thing to investigate the occurance… it’s quite another to re-create it. It is not our place as beings to try to mess with theoretical creation no matter how “scientific” it may appear to be.

  • Eric Beverly

    “creature” was supposed to be “creation”… it seems sometimes no matter how many times one reads through something there can still be a mistake… and what does this say about the discussion itself I wonder?

  • Buster

    For those who fear the unknown, please review the last paragraph of the article: “Even the most energetic collisions planned for the [Large Hadron Collider] are far less powerful than cosmic-ray collisions that have been going on for billions of years. ?Nature has already generated on Earth as many collisions as about a million LHC experiments ? and the planet still exists,? CERN said. Is this not the most reasonable argument?

  • http://www.discovermagazine.com Eliza Strickland

    Breaking news on the court case, from The New York Times:

    “Calling its claims ‘overly speculative and not credible,’ and saying that it is too late anyway, lawyers for the federal government argued this week that a so-called ‘doomsday suit’ intended to prevent the startup of a the world’s most powerful particle accelerator should be thrown out of court.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/27/science/27collider.html

  • Anand GT

    With regards to the LHC collisions being far less powerful than cosmic-ray collisions that have been harmlessly going on for billions of years, who is to know for sure that the particles used/created as part of the experiment are exactly and will behave exactly like cosmic rays?

    The safety report on the LHC makes this assumption in many paragraphs and it is one of the points they use to reject the idea that it’s a doomsday device.

    Also, if the assumption was proven to be true, the LHC is a far cry from our atmospheric shielding (and maybe manipulation?) of cosmic rays. Reactions within metal shielding could yield very different results.

  • ashley obrien

    I cant belive how stupid all you alarmist’s are out there! You cling to the absurd idea that its a bad idea to poke around on this ultra femto-scopic level of creation! the truth is: the particle physicists know a hell of a lot more about it than you do! even I know that whatever they do, as soon as the experiment is over, IF, and IF, i repeat, an “event” happens, it is going to be on the atomic level,NOT sub-atomic, because the accelerated particles are now converted to incident particles with far less energy, the upshot of this is that we KNOW the laws that govern what comes next….energy is equal to the mass of these particles times the aquare root of c (light speed)…. energy is therefor a lot less, oh to hell with it just do some basic particle physics , laws of energy conservation,etc etc, exotic particles dont gobble up planets, maybe the odd brain here and there..thats all..

  • http://expertss.objectis.net Norman Costa

    Ashley,

    Should the formula be the square of c, not the square root of c?

  • d.burr

    After the hit look for a small hole in the floor….weldor

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  • Wil

    To make it all worth while I just hope we last just long enough to hear the… “ut oh”

  • http://www.LHCFacts.org JTankers

    Quote: “Nature has already generated on Earth as many collisions as about a million LHC experiments – and the planet still exists”.

    That statement coming from CERN or any physicist that should know better should scare the hell out of anyone who understands what was just said. CERN just gave you their best proof of safety which initially sounds compelling even to a physicist, but is actually fundamentally flawed, scientifically meaningless and no proof at all.

    Why? The same simple explaination that Nuclear Physicist Walter L. Wagner told CERN in 2007 that prompted creation of the 2008 LHC Safety report. To answer why…

    High energy collisions with Earth’s atmosphere produce results traveling at relativistic speeds (near the speed of light) and results will travel through Earth without causing harm. Cosmic ray collisions with Earth prove… not safety.

    Colliders smash particles head on (particles travel in opposite directions and collide head on). Some results will be captured by Earth’s gravity. If micro black holes are created and grow quickly as the eminent and world famous Professor Dr. Otto Rossler warns, then people will ask “why didn’t we verify safety before we experimented?”

    Common sense. Demand safety verification BEFORE collisions begin.

    LHCFacts.org
    LHCDefense.org

  • Ross

    I’m pretty sure it’s gonna open a time warp that will connect us to the time of the dinosaurs. That’s gonna be awesome!!!!
    Wooohooo!!!!

  • siobhan

    what a crock of utter sh*t!!!!!!

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  • Jeanne

    I can’t believe the cave-man mentality of some of the comments on such a potentially devastating experiment! How many watched the TV show on the Science channel that CERN put on? It was obvious that they didn’t even know what would happen-for certain! I say, it is obvious that there is lacking a great deal of common sense about this experiment, which is usually the case with overly intelligent types. I truly appreciate science and how far it has taken us so far, but we have to be realistic as to the strong possibility of evaporating our humanity, or causing disastorous results, and do these physists at CERN have the answers to rectify the problems they may create? Have they thought that far even? I have emailed CERN a couple of times asking such questions with no response. I think that common sense is telling all of the people that wrote their comments above, that is is wrong. That in thier rush (CERN), to get a Nobel prize out of this experiment, they are foregoing common sense. Why do we need this experiment? What possible unseen/undiscovered particles might be affected by this expeirment, in their tube, and what can anyone really do about the bad results? This is a very serious situation! I truly hope that the right people step in and stop it before it is to late. Thank you. Jeanne

  • Jojo

    Dateline Sept 11, 2008
    NY Times

    BLACK HOLE CONTINUE TO GROW
    Big hole in the Earth where Europe used to be!

    =================
    Anyway, shouldn’t the scientists send out some sort of signal to the universe saying what they are about to? Just in case, of course [lol].

  • Vincent Forendec

    If history repeats itself, then maybe our ever growing universe too will repeat itself again. What i mean is, what if the black holes that we have somewhat confirmed to exist, pull all the light and matter into immense gravitational pockets throughout space that will eventually be compressed into something subatomic. As stated by Steve Prentice, the Big Bang itself was ounce subatomic. If history does repeat itself, then everything inside this pocket of matter and gravity will eventually heat up and create another Big Bang.

  • Theoriesarescary

    Theoretical, its all that it is. We don`t know much its all about theories, calculated from observations and theories from many scientific minds.
    In this case we can`t afford to be wrong, one of the first things that came to my mind was the law of relativity.
    The gravitational force of a black hole, even on a small scale.
    We have heard about gravity waves as from Einstein@home, we can`t even be sure that time is constant. Because we are always in the moment, we don`t know if time is slow or fast we are all on earth in it.
    Think about the effect from black holes, bending of time that is chilling.
    If a black hole is formed, even on a microscopic scale.
    Could that cause a time warp effect?
    If that would happen, would that cause the black hole to stay open longer than predicted?
    If such a time warp effect would occur then the event would have more time to accumulate, and perhaps even grow.
    The thing is, we can`t be certain as it all is based on theories.
    We also don`t know what other effect might appear when it comes to spacial dimensions and what effect that might have on such event.

    Well, this is a theory like all others. But it makes us think, what might happen.
    And is it safe to gamble on such a big scale?

  • RickRoll

    Correct me if I’m wrong but as far as I remember, Big Crunch only eats the same amount of matter produced by big bang.

  • RickRoll

    Uh.. I got this from searching:

    A black hole is caused by the collapse of a star at the end of its life (The star must be at least three times more massive than the Sun). The core of the collapsed star becomes so dense and the gravitational forces so great that nothing, not even light, can escape. A black hole is not a tunnel. Any object that enters the edge or event horizon of the black hole falls into it. The gravitational forces inside would rip any matter apart.

    One misconception about black holes is that they suck everything nearby into them like a huge vacuum cleaner. This is not necessarily true; only objects that fall within the event horizon go into the black hole. They will attract objects by virtue of their mass and gravity just as the star that bore them did (remember that the black hole has the same mass as the star, just more compact, or dense). If the Sun were to instantly become a black hole, many people think that it would suck the Earth into it (Although the Sun does not have enough mass to become a black hole). But if you examine Newton’s law of gravity above, neither the mass of the Sun nor the Earth changes, and neither does the distance between them. So, the Earth would experience the same gravitational attraction to the Sun if it became a black hole as it does now. The Earth would merely orbit the black hole, just as it orbits the Sun now (The loss of sunlight would cause severe problems for life on Earth, however).

    http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/sci-fi2.htm
    I’m not really a physicist so please correct me if I’m wrong.

  • RickRoll

    To make all my previous posts simpler, I think the size of big bang to be produced is only proportional to the amount of energy used by the accelerator. This is basic conservation of energy. Second, to produce a black hole, the mass required should be higher than the mass of the sun as suggested by the guy in the link I gave you. In other words, let’s stop fooling ourselves. The particle accelerator is too small to produce a black hole.

  • jimmy

    what is being experimented could possibly corrupt the magnetic forces of this planet an create a new weather pattern that will affect the whole planet.
    if the protons that created most of life are collided at such speed at a tempreture that created most of life it could cause an inbalance within the atoms around it and unbalance the dark matter wich holds the whole universe together.
    if you then upset the electrons around the atoms you could create temperatures beyond human or plant tollerance.
    experimenting under ground with this is dangerouse to the planet and life,even if you do it in space.
    the possible way of doing this is within an atmosphere that has its own forcefield and its own atmosphere and is totaly secluded from the earth and human life

  • HecO

    The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is building the particle accelerator, and is therefore responsible for making sure it won’t wipe out the planet. OH OK so thats supose to make people feel better that their lives are in someone elses hands lol. Bottom line a black hole is only as big as its mass so it wouldnt suck earth up but if this think blew it would still kill many innocent people. Some things are better not known. i dont understand why money is being spent on this when the world is suffering right now. We cant find a cure for aids but we can create the big bang?

  • Mythbuster

    Hi there jimmy. I just wanna ask something. Where on Earth did you learn that kind of nonsense?

    At HecO: The fact is that NASA assured us that this particle accelerator is not enough to produce a major catastrophe. Why? Because it can’t. Period.

    At RickRoll: That’s true. To produce a black hole, the mass should be greater than the mass of the sun. And so far, not even this particle accelerator is enough to hold that kind of mass. And so far as well, our energy sources aren’t even enough to supply the energy required to produce that mass.

    It is true that a miniature big bang can create matter and antimatter, yet it is not enough to produce a miniature universe that would hold miniature stars or even miniature black holes. God, we haven’t even produced huge amounts of antimatter!

    So please science newbies, before you comment, do some God damn real research.

  • Steve Williams

    That CERN completely lied about the safety of the LHC is, of course, cannot in anyway being considered the slightest bit important.

    But, what is truly important, is suicidal insanity. And personal opinions and conflicts of interest and vested interests completely replacing anything that could be considered mental health.

    The Titanic is the safest ship afloat! Full speed ahead!

    And it should be remembered that CERN isn’t the only lab engaging in hyper-compression technology. Other labs are doing it as well in their own respective ways. And any one of them could completely screw up at any time.

  • carmen oliver

    when stephan hawkings starts to worry watch out.!!!! untill then blast away.

  • http://garciala.blogia.com JoseAngel

    Stephan. Untill. Oh my God. “Blast away”; mindless faith indeed…

  • Sam

    Curiousity is at the core of our nature. We would not have achieved what we have today if it was not for people taking risks and stepping out of their confort zone. We are all afraid of something. Keep in mind that the same things said about the LHC today have been said about other accelerators in the past. Yet, we are still here pondering the next doomsday technology.

  • Biggest Beau Lil

    There once was a boy named Andrew, he stared at his screen curious about the nature of this article. He learned of a riddle while fumbling his fiddle its written under moniker ‘biggest beau little”. For hours he read till he peed in his bed, when he should have reached for that bottle. His brain was dead..

  • Biggest Beau Lil

    ka BLAAAMEY?!

  • http://www.landkeepers.ca/member/72866/ Emmaline Hartle

    Hello there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

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