Is That a Large Hadron Collector in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Glad to See Me?

Recently I’ve been asked two questions:

1. Where have you been, since you haven’t been posting on Tor.Com the last week or so?

2. Will the activation of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider next Wednesday doom us all to a horrible and very science fictional death by black hole?

The answers, in order:

1. Fighting crime.

2. No.

Sadly, my NDA with certain authorities prevents me from going into any further detail about the crime fighting thing, but I can go into more detail about the Large Hadron Collider.

First, for those of you not in the know: The Large Hadron Collider does not, in fact, collect large hadrons; hadrons are sub-atomic particles, so none of them are particularly large in the grand scheme of things. The reason it’s called the “Large Hadron Collector” is because the collector itself is huge: it’s situated in a circular tunnel, 27 kilometers in circumference, on the border of Switzerland and France. The collider itself is a particle accelerator, shooting these sub-atomic bits of matter as close to the speed of light as we can get them, and then ramming them into each other. Why? Because it’s fun —and it’s fun because there’s science to be had from it, namely, insight into the fundamental nature of the universe. Among other things, it’s hoped that ramming all these particles together at amazing speeds will precipitate the creation of a Higgs Boson, a particle we’ve not yet observed but which, if observed (or more accurately, its presence inferred through analysis), will pretty much confirm the Standard Model of physics. Which, you know, will be one more Big Thing About the Universe dealt with. Go us.

Yes, yes, you say. That’s all very nice. But what’s this about the end of the world by black hole? That doesn’t sound very pleasant. Well, and it wouldn’t be. Thing is, there are some folks out there who are convinced that smashing sub-atomic particles together at very high speeds will create miniature black holes, whose terrible gaping maws will then eat all matter in front of them, including, well, the earth. Which, as we all know, is where we all keep our stuff. People are concerned enough about this that the scientists working at CERN have been getting death threats. The headlines for this news, at least, have been amusing: “End the World and We’ll Kill You Scientists,” reads one headline, apparently written by a copy editor who didn’t think the sequence of events all the way through.

This is what the folks at CERN have to say about the idea of Large Hadron Collider-created black holes consuming our planet and all who dwell on, in or near it:

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.

Short form: Won’t happen, and even if it did, the black holes would evaporate before they could eat us all. Or as scientist (and former pop star—yes, really) Brian Cox pungently put it: “Anyone who thinks the Large Hadron Collider will destroy the world is a t***.” Um, “twit?” “Tart?” “Toga?” I’m sure I don’t know what that word asterisked out there really is. But it can’t be good for whoever gets called it.

What does this mean? It means that you can go ahead and make plans for Thursday. It also mean I still have a book deadline at the end of October. Nuts. That is, unless I get an extension for fighting crime. I’ll have to check.

[Image copyright by CERN, which assuredly takes no responsibility for its LOLcatting.]


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