Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Discover Magazine reassures us about the Large Hadron Collider and the safety of Earth (and maybe the Universe)
The August 2008 issue of Discover Magazine has a blog-like entry or editorial on p 45 reassuring us that the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland don’t threaten Earth (and perhaps the entire Universe) with the ultimate mega-disaster. The same could go for other colliders in Illinois and Texas.
In print, the article is called “The Menace of Mini Black” and online it is called “The extremely long odds against the destruction of Earth; don’t be too concerned that the world’s largest particle accelerator is about to go online.” The link is here, , and it is authored by “The Editors”. We really don't have to worry about the ultimate "purification," perhaps on the Mayan Calendar doomsday date on December 21, 2012.
The basic concern has to do with black holes being created inside the accelerator. Although such an object usually results from the explosion of a supernova (and there are several ways this happens, well documented on the History Channel’s Universe series), on a micro scale it might happens because of the concentration of mass-equivalent energy. The editors translate the explanation into consideration of the graviton, and postulate that in other dimensions (yeah, like the name of the horror film movie studio) unseen to us (accessible through mathematical objects called “branes”) these pseudobox-particles might be a lot more energetic and temporarily “massive”. We don’t know if that’s really true, but it might be. Nevertheless, since the black holes would be small, they would be hot and emit Hawking Radiation and evaporate almost instantaneously. That is, unless there is some sort of Buckeyball structure that could hold onto them, like in unusual isotopes (that is a postulate for one of my sci-fi script proposals).
The editors describe the risk in quantum terms. The probability of a mega destruction of Earth is like the probability of suffocating because suddenly all the air in the room concentrates on one side.
Nevertheless, there are some naysayers, such as James Blodgett, who emailed me one time. A site that discusses him is here. Another example is Sir Martin Rees, who raises concerns about runaway strangelets from colliders in a book called “Our Final Hour.” Perhaps our one-in-a-universe civilization would self-destruct by starting "The Big Rip"!
Discover Magazine has always had interesting, prospective articles. In 1983, it presented the work of Stanley Prusiner and the prion, long before mad cow disease was well known. There was even a brief period when some people speculated that this agent could have something to do with AIDS.
Even given all this, sometimes I wonder if Krysztof Kieslowski, director of "The Decalogue" (1987), is right in questioning the "god" of science or "Wissenschaft" (as depicted in Richard Strauss's famous orchestral tone poem "Also Sprach Zarathustra"), particularly in his film on the First Commandment.
Update: August 6, 2008
Fq(x) provides a story by Kevin Black, to the effect that the Hadron project could be nullified by particles from the future, a kind of "The 4400" effect.