Posted by: Beth Pariseau
Around the water cooler
I’m sure any number of you can come up with witty figurative responses to that, but I actually mean it literally.
Back in August I did a case study on CERN, the world’s largest physics laboratory, in Switzerland, and the petabytes of data storage that are going to support research on its Large Hadron Collider (LHC). LHC is a 12-story-high, 10-mile-wide underground system of tunnels, magnets and sensors that’s designed to do no less than recreate atomic conditions at the creation of the universe and capture particles that until now have been only theoretical.
Having spoken with CERN about their research and the way the whole system is set up, I was surprised when I logged in to my personal email this morning and got a friend request from a profile titled STOP CERN. According to the profile:
This space has been set up to spread awareness of the risks a project due to be launched at CERN next year poses to our planet. For the first time in many decades someone has built a machine that exceeds all our powers of prediction, and although they estimate the possibility of accidentally destroying the planet as extremely low, the LHC propaganda machine that ‘everything is safe’ is well funded by your tax dollars, paying large salaries to thousands of people who have much to lose financially should the LHC be unable to prove its safety. As most of them perceive the risk to be small, they are willing to take that ‘small risk’ at our expense. The actual risk cannot presently be calculated, and a Large Hadron Collider [LHC] legal defense fund has even been set up to challenge CERN on the project.
I don’t have any kind of physics background, so I don’t know if the criticisms are legit, but I was doubly surprised to find that the MySpace profile is only the tip of the iceberg of people questioning CERN. In addition to some other critical websites, an LHC Legal Defense Fund has been started with the goal of legally intervening to stop CERN from turning on LHC this May, creating a black hole within the collider and accidentally destroying the planet.
By the way, isn’t that really every geek’s dream? To be working on a machine that even theoretically could accidentally destroy the planet?
Anyway, the debate seems to be whether or not something called “Hawking evaporation” (presumably named after physicist Stephen Hawking) will neutralize the microscopic black holes that could be created by the particle collisions in LHC, or if they’ll continue to grow and, well, eat France.
According to another anti-CERN site:
If MBH’s [microscopic black holes] are created, there is a likelyhood [sic] that some could fall unimpeded to the centre of the Earth under gravity…Scientists have estimated that a stable black hole at the center of the earth could consume not only France but the whole planet in the very short time span of between 4 minutes and 30 seconds and 7 minutes.
I’m a little more inclined to believe the multiple accredited physics organizations around the world involved in the LHC project know what they’re doing than I am to believe some people I’ve never heard of from the Internet, but what do I know? The criticism has at least been strong enough to prompt CERN to post a kind of FAQ page about black holes, strangelets, and all manner of interesting potential doomsday scenarios that have been envisioned for LHC.
Despite the impressive power of the LHC in comparison with other accelerators, the energies produced in its collisions are greatly exceeded by those found in some cosmic rays. Since the much higher-energy collisions provided by Nature for billions of years have not harmed the Earth, there is no reason to think that any phenomenon produced by the LHC will do so.
Wouldn’t it just be something, though, if after centuries of war and pollution and all the other things mankind has done to compromise the planet, Armageddon was actually brought about by a bunch of guys in a physics lab?