Monday, June 30, 2008

Fears That The Large Hadron Collider Could Doom Earth Purely Fiction

The most powerful atom-smasher ever built is expected to be switched on some time in August however several critics fear the Large Hadron Collider could exceed physicists' wildest conjectures potentially putting Earth in danger.

The European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), that has been working to finish the $5.8 billion collider, or LHC, says that its perfectly safe. The LHC Safety Assessment Group (LSAG) has issued a report (summary here), which addresses the key concerns surrounding the doomsday particle accelerator, due to fire up later this summer.

The findings back a similar 2003 probe into the possibility of the LHC provoking an apocalyptic event and concludes the device's collisions "present no danger and that there are no reasons for concern".

Specifically, the report addresses the key theoretical menaces posed by the LHC, including the formation of microscopic black holes, vacuum bubbles and strangelets.

Of black holes, the LSAG declares: "According to the well-established properties of gravity, described by Einstein’s relativity, it is impossible for microscopic black holes to be produced at the LHC. There are, however, some speculative theories that predict the production of such particles at the LHC. All these theories predict that these particles would disintegrate immediately. Black holes, therefore, would have no time to start accreting matter and to cause macroscopic effects."

Moving swiftly on to vaccum bubbles - described as the universe in "a more stable which we could not exist" - the report gives the theory short shrift: "Since such vacuum bubbles have not been produced anywhere in the visible Universe, they will not be made by the LHC."

Regarding your strangelet - a "hypothetical microscopic lump of ‘strange matter’ containing almost equal numbers of particles called up, down and strange quarks" which might "coalesce with ordinary matter and change it to strange matter" - the LSAG notes that the US's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider hasn't to date produced any and "experience there has already validated the arguments that strangelets cannot be produced".

The LHC, near Geneva, Switzerland, is expected to begin operations this summer. It will collide proton beams at levels of energy never before produced in a particle accelerator. Those results will then be studied for clues to new forces of nature, and possibly even extra dimensions of space. The first collision of beams is likely to be in September. The $8 billion project has taken 14 years.

Two men have filed a federal lawsuit in Hawaii in an attempt to halt the LHC due to their concerns about the safety of black holes. One of the plaintiffs, Walter L. Wagner, a physicist and lawyer, said CERN's safety report, "has several major flaws," and his views on the risks of using the particle accelerator had not changed.

More about the LHC:
CERN: LHC Homepage | LHC Machine Outreach
AOL News: Critics Fear Collider Could Doom Earth
Science Daily: If The Large Hadron Collider Produced A Microscopic Black Hole, It Probably Wouldn't Matter
Science News: Safe From Black Holes

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