Sep 8 2008 7:19pm

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

Things you will not find at the LHCRecently 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.]

Mike Brotherton
1. mikebrotherton
Preach on brother. Everything you've said is right on, complimentary to hadr-on, I guess...moreover, it should be appreciated that in the cosmic scheme of things, collisions much more energetic than those at the LHC happen regularly when high-energy particles strike the upper atmosphere. If this black hole production thing were all that likely, planets would not exist. Period. The end -- literally.

Moreover, the people issuing the death threats are unlikely to be fringe scientists pushing these alternative, destructive theories. They are dim-witted t***s who are easily manipulated by fear and who unlikely have any understanding of physics whatsoever. It's sad, but fear works on people regardless of reason.

Oh, and by the way, if you don't buy and read my novels and John's, there will be a rain of fire the likes of which the Earth may not survive! I calculated it with my slide rule.
Soon Lee
2. SoonLee
Maybe we could continue this discussion Thursday...
3. jskacik
It seems that some folks confuse science fiction with scientific fact. Sometimes they even find a way to explain why “intelligent design” is based on scientific fact. I like my science from folks with degrees in Physics not Theology. Anyway, I will be waiting with arms wide open on Thursday for science to shine.
Mary Robinette Kowal
4. MaryRobinette
By far my favorite quote has been, "Look, it's a 10^-19 chance, and you've got a 10^-11 chance of suddenly evaporating while shaving."
Jeffrey Richard
5. neutronjockey
By far my favorite quote has been, "Look, it's a 10^-19 chance, and you've got a 10^-11 chance of suddenly evaporating while shaving."

6. critter42
OK, we've heard what Brian Cox has to say, but what does arena rock superstar AND astrophysicist Brian May have to say?

(prediction: the exact same bloody thing :))
Arachne Jericho
7. arachnejericho
I still wonder about t***. Twat? ??

(confers with Australia's 4-letter word list)

OH. It's t***. That clears it up for me.
Pablo Defendini
8. pablodefendini
I'm having a 'Welcome Higgs-Boson Particle' party (I refuse to call it the 'god particle') at my local bar on Thursday night. Who's with me?

Of course, things could turn out slightly different.
9. Matt Austern
ObPhysicsPedantry: it's Large Hadron Collider, not Large Hadron Collector. That's because it collides hadrons. (Protons, specifically.) It has two beams of hadrons, moving at equal speed, colliding with each other, so that the center of mass of the collision is at rest relative to the lab. That's in contrast with the other kind of accelerator, where you have a single beam of particles smashing against a fixed target.

"There can be no cheap solutions, neither straight nor synchroclash..."
John Scalzi
10. Scalzi

That's just bad editing on my part. I'll fix it soon.
Matthew Ernest
11. radarskiy
This eschaton doesn't seem to be getting very immanentized so far.
Dave Bell
12. DaveBell
I think the LHC is more likely to produce zombies.
Eric Picholle
13. Eric_Picholle
New collisioner, same tired old fantasies !

I remember how making fun of the exact same silly "predictions" about black holes & Co was a favourite topic around CERN mailing lists (and bars) in 1989, when they were about to fire up the LEP, LHC's older brother.

But, as a bystander, what really awed me was the images that (slooooowly) circulated on these networks : this was my very first contact with the web concept. So it's kind of funny to see how the internet remains faithful to both traditions, on a fabulously expanded scale...
14. Liana
I'd be amused if the LHC produced zombies -or- a black hole. But I have an odd sense of humor ;o)
William S. Higgins
15. higgins
Pablodefendini at 8: Here in Illinois, Fermilab has built a control room for running the Compact Muon Solenoid detector at the LHC while everyone is asleep in Switzerland.

Tomorrow CERN will attempt to send protons to circumnavigate the machine for the first time. The press will be invited to witness the event.

Since this will begin in the wee hours, Illinois time, Fermilab is holding a pajama party in the new CMS control room. At 2 AM. Should be interesting.

Matt Austern at 9: Colliders are the cutting edge, and they have been for decades. Nevertheless, I am an old-fashioned guy, and fixed-target beams remain my first love. I started out tending beams in the Neutrino Area. They still haven't invented a collider that can bang neutrinos together!
Matthew Jarpe
16. mjarpe
I think the important point is that this is an experiment, and if they knew what was going to happen they wouldn't have to do the experiment. Anything could happen. And I'll bet that if the scientists were gathered around the control room watching a giant black hole chew its way out of the equipment and start munching on Switzerland, one of them would turn to another and say "You owe me a hundred euros, dude."

But if anything could happen, we might as well imagine something more fun. If decades of reading comic books has taught me nothing else it's that bursts of strange energy + humans with personality disorders = supervillians. So you might want to keep your crime fighting gear handy.
Debbie Moorhouse
18. GUDsqrl
Switzerland isn't in the European Union, although I suppose that wouldn't stop the scientists betting in euros.
Greg Morrow
19. gpmorrow
Higgins at 15: My doctoral experiment was also fixed-target (at FNAL). But for everyone else, I'll just mention that the reason you go to colliders is that the available energy is much, much higher.

This is because you actually care about the energy in the center-of-mass rest frame, not the energy in the lab frame. If your center-of-mass is not stationary, then a lot of your experiment's energy is already spoken for because it's tied to the momentum of the center-of-mass. In a fixed-target exeriment, the COM is moving at a large fraction of the speed of light.

Colliders are brilliant, because their center of mass is stationary in the lab frame. So all of the energy you pump into the colliding particles is available to make top quarks and Higgses and any other exoticon you're looking for.

This moment in pedantry brought to you by Newtons, the Cookie of Science.
20. Matt Austern
Yep, that's kind of the reason I included that Arthur Roberts snippet. Even in the 40s it was obvious (it's basic kinematics, after all) that colliders would have to be the "cheap solution" if you were dealing with energies much higher than a proton mass.
Scott Taylor
21. izzylobo

Allyn Edgar Hughes
22. allynh
I don't see what all the fuss is about, Black holes are impossible. Here is a great site that goes into detail.

The Black Hole, the Big Bang, and Modern Physics

There has been a deliberate suppression of important scientific papers by the community of physicists and astronomers concerning the black hole, beginning with the original paper by Karl Schwarzschild of 1916, evidently for vainglory, money and self-aggrandisement. I bring you free access to those papers, and others of relevance, in the hope that this fraud can be exposed and physics restored to a rational search for knowledge. The black hole has no foundation in theory whatsoever. Neither Newton's theory nor Einstein's theory predict it. In fact, both theories preclude it, contrary to what the orthodox relativists claim.

The so-called "Schwarzschild" solution is not due to Karl Schwarzschild at all. The experts have either not read Schwarzschild's 1916 memoir or have otherwise ignored it. Go here to get Schwarzschild's original paper, in English. The so-called "Schwarzschild" solution is due to David Hilbert, itself a corruption of a solution first derived by Johannes Droste in May 1916, whose paper has also been buried or ignored at the convenience of the experts. It appears that the experts have not read Hilbert either. Go here to get a copy of Hilbert's erroneous derivation, in English. Hilbert's mistake spawned the black hole and the community of theoretical physicists continues to elaborate on this falsehood, with a hostile shouting down of any and all voices challenging them. Schwarzschild's solution has no black hole, and neither does Droste's solution. Schwarzschild's paper is a piece of flawless mathematical physics, but Hilbert's is a poor show. And while you're at it you might as well go here to get a copy of Marcel Brillouin's 1923 paper, in English, in which he gives another valid solution and also simply and dramatically demonstrates that the black hole is nonsense. Brillouin's paper has also been ignored.

The experts are always quick to conveniently brand anyone who questions the black hole as a crackpot. Unfortunately for the experts that does not alter the facts. The experts must also include Schwarzschild himself as a crank since his paper invalidates the black hole outright, as does Brillouin's, and Droste's. They must also label Einstein a crackpot, because Einstein always rejected the idea of the black hole, claiming in his research papers and other writings that it is not physical, and that singularities in the field nullify the theory of General Relativity.


If you can get past the math it's all fun stuff.

As always, read the links and make up your own mind.

Have fun.
24. JamesB
I heard someone talking about this (very briefly) as I was going up in the elevator to work this morning. Alas, I hadn't been paying attention to why people were worried, so I thought the concern was about collapsing the Higgs field and destroying all our mass, or something of the sort... it's so depressingly silly to think that people are worried about mundane impossibilities like quantum black holes eating the planet.
Linden Wolfe
25. Lilith
Zombies being created would be so cool!

HAAADRONS...nom nom nom...
Allyn Edgar Hughes
26. allynh
This is what they are saying about the LHC farce over at the Electric Universe.

The $6 billion LHC Circus

Have fun.


Great sites explaining Plasma cosmology/Electric Universe and Growing Earth Theory are at:

The Electric Universe - website

Thunderbolts - website

Plasma Cosmology - Los Alamos National Laboratory

Growing Earth Theory - website

All the videos - New Model of the Universe
27. DrPaisley
The real issue is which new particle will be Tuckerized by being the First Beam's Choice.
28. DrPaisley
Said particle will, of course, be called the "Smooooooothon."

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