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By the way, it’s going to eat the earth, too

The brainchild of particle physicists the world over, the Large Hadron Collider is up and running. It is the world’s largest particle accelerator complex with a diameter of 17 miles and was created to test the limits of what is known as the Standard Model, the theory between fundamental interactions of particles.

Apparently, quite a few people are afraid that using the collider will bring about a doomsday scenario. The old stand by; Nostradamus is even having “prophecies” trotted out. The premise for the paranoia is that the potential micro black holes which may be created as a result of particle collisions will swallow the world. The more informed objectioner may point to the theoretical particle called the strangelet, which will also in its own way, swallow the world. Cue REM theme music.

As a result of these fears, CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) created a group of independent scientists to investigate. They, in turn, came back with, “…no basis for any conceivable threat.” So the collider powered up, has been online for a few days now, still a month or so from being fully operational, and fears are hardly thoroughly allayed. Since it has opened (and even prior) , the physicists have been getting death and bomb threats from all over the globe for the same reasons mentioned above.



The fact that similar experiments were carried out at other colliders does not allay these doomsday worries. The whole man-made black-hole eating the planet argument seems to be particularly horrifying. But one only has to do a tiny pit of introductory research to learn that it might be a bit of paranoia. If micro black holes created by the Hadron Collider are dangerous, then the same phenomena would have been created by cosmic rays hitting the earth, in which case we would be long gone.

Besides explaining that it is not about to kill all life on earth, it also has been the target of a number of legal motions. When logic fails, by all means, sue. A complaint was filed in March that requested an injunction to halt the startup of the LHC, which appears to have failed. But, just this past month another suit was brought against CERN, which was summarily rejected.



As for the one the other doomsday scenario, that is more difficult to explain. It pertains to a phenomena called a “strangelet”. Strangelets are (via Wikipedia), “..a hypothetical form of dark matter…and are more stable than ordinary nuclei.” So this one doesn’t even exist as far as we know, but scientists have strong suspicion that it does. The scary hypothetical? “If strangelets can actually exist, and if they were produced at LHC, they could conceivably initiate a runaway fusion process in which all the nuclei in the planet were converted to strange matter, similar to a strange star.”

All of this sounds so oddly bizarre that one wonders why this isn’t talked about more frequently, or at least not introducing the public to it with a tagline of: by the way, it’s going to eat the earth, too. The fact is that since the LHC has been built, we are now less likely than ever to theoretically produce theoretic particles capable of creating a chain reaction like the aforementioned. With previous particle accelerators, (this isn’t their first time) there was a much greater chance of “strangelets” being formed in previous collisions that happened at a lower rate of power. The LHC will collide particles at 14TeV (teravolts) whereas “strangelets” are only supposedly able to remain stable (and thereby somehow fulfill Nostradamus’ last prediction) at much, much weaker voltage.

Is it just me or is there always some new doomsday on the horizon? I hear the Mayan Long Count calendar ending in 2012 is the next one. I think most of us survived unscathed through the “millennium doomsday” despite initial dire warnings of being sent back to the “stone age” because of a computer glitch. Here’s to the Large Hadron Collider helping push humanity a step forward into our understanding of the universe, rather than constrained by paranoia.

Excellent research into this matter (LHC) can be found on the arXiv archive on the net.

Christopher Mullally welcomes comments to: christophermullally@gmail.com


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