Thursday, March 27, 2008

LHC doomsday scenarios raise fears, lead to lawsuit

From Cosmic Log:

The builders of the world's biggest particle collider are being sued in federal court over fears that the experiment might create globe-gobbling black holes or never-before-seen strains of matter that would destroy the planet.

Representatives at Fermilab in Illinois and at Europe's CERN laboratory, two of the defendants in the case, say there's no chance that the Large Hadron Collider would cause such cosmic catastrophes. Nevertheless, they're bracing to defend themselves in the courtroom as well as the court of public opinion.

Just to allay any fears out there, if Michio Kaku says there's a close to zero chance of the doomsday scenarios coming to be, you can be safely assured they probably won't. Dr. Kaku has been known not to rule out some pretty exotic ideas.

These are the scenarios:

Runaway black holes: Some physicists say the LHC could create microscopic black holes that would hang around for just a tiny fraction of a second and then decay. Sancho and Wagner worry that millions of black holes might somehow persist and coalesce into a compact gravitational mass that would draw in other matter and grow bigger. That's pure science fiction, said Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist at the City College of New York. "These black holes don't live very long, and they have microscopic energy, and so they are harmless," he told me.

Strangelets: Smashing protons together at high enough energies could create new combinations of quarks, the particles that protons are made of. Sancho and Wagner worry that a nasty combination known as a stable, negatively charged strangelet could theoretically turn everything it touches into strangelets as well. Kaku compared this to the ancient myth of the Midas touch. "We see no evidence of this bizarre theory," he said. "Once in a while, we trot it out to scare the pants off people. But it's not serious."

Magnetic monopoles:
One theory suggests that high-energy particle collisions might give rise to massive particles that have only one magnetic pole - only north, or only south, but not the north-south magnetism that dominates nature. Sancho and Wagner worry that such particles could be created in the LHC and start a runaway reaction that converts atoms into other forms of matter. But physicists have seen no evidence of such reactions, which should have occurred already as the result of more energetic cosmic-ray collisions in Earth's upper atmosphere.
For instance, the physicists would say that enough of the doomsday particles still should have been captured by neutron stars or cosmic gas clouds to have an impact. No such impact has ever been seen. Therefore, no doomsday.

Despite their reputation, physicists seem to be reluctant to say that a theoretical catastrophe has no chance of happening. Herein lies the rub. A spokesperson for CERN has stated that the doomsayers have "cynically distorted" that natural reluctance to rule out even the most outlandish theoretical possibilities.

In this case my eye is turned toward the plaintiffs. I'm wondering what their agenda is in the matter. This isn't the first time they have raised concerns with this type of issue. Are they purely motivated by a sense of social and scientific responsibility or is there some other angle to this?

via Slashdot

1 comment:

Alan Evil said...

If nothing else that's one of the coolest looking machines ever made. The first time I saw it on APOD (WARNING: very big picture:
I was just overwhelmed by how beautiful the symmetry of it was.