Friday, July 27, 2007

Cue the R.E.M.

In May 2008, there is a slight chance that scientists in Switzerland may destroy the universe. Not on purpose, of course—the Swiss are neutral and wouldn’t start a war with anyone, let alone provoke all of creation by... well... blowing it up.

Physicists—OK, construction workers—are finishing up the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator in Geneva that will use magnetic fields to send exotic bits of matter rocketing toward each other for the purpose of seeing what happens. It’s a grand scientific tradition, blowing stuff up real good and sifting through the aftermath to figure out why it done blowed up.

These particular experiments will try to generate a Higgs boson, which has the somewhat intimidating nickname of "The God Particle." Among its deity-like features is, apparently, being a key part of why things have mass. Exciting stuff. But if things go slightly wrong....


While many have voiced concerns that the LHC will destroy the Universe, engineers close to the project claim that the possibility is infinitesimally small. As CERN has pointed out, if the Earth were in danger of any such fate, it would have happened billions of years ago from the bombardment of protons the planet receives that are millions of times more energetic than anything that could be produced by the LHC.[8]

As with the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), people both inside and outside of the physics community have voiced concern that the LHC might trigger one of several theoretical disasters capable of destroying the Earth or even our entire Universe. Each advance in particle accelerator technology exposes the stability of the very fabric of the universe to more stringent tests.[citation needed] RHIC has been running since 2000 and has generated no major problems; however the Large Hadron Collider is set to create an environment significantly more alien to nature than the RHIC has ever created, and therefore the probability of catastrophe is greater.

Theoretical disasters include:

-Creation of a stable black hole[9] inside the earth
-Creation of strange matter that is more stable than ordinary matter
-Creation of magnetic monopoles that could catalyze proton decay
-Triggering a transition into a different quantum mechanical vacuum (see False vacuum)

The Large Hadron Collider is expected to create tiny black holes within the Earth [10]. However, some physicists expect that Hawking Radiation will cause these black holes to dissipate. The primary cause for concern is the fact that Hawking Radiation, the only means by which these black holes could be dissipated, is entirely theoretical.

Good times, indeed. So that’s the bad news, that we all might wink out of existence when some PhD flips a switch next spring. The good news is that it probably won’t hurt much, and "America’s Funniest Home Videos" will be off the air forever.


Bobby Love said...

Geez, news like this just makes me want to down a large mojito, pronto! Now I know where some of these NASA astronauts are comin' from! BTW, nice SCTV reference.

Gerry said...

maybe you already HAD that mojito, seeing as how you commented on the wrong item... hmmm....

Bobby Love said...

Actually I attempted to comment on both posts in one swoop of the keyboard! Hence the kudos on the SCTV reference and the info on the NASA alcoholics. In the future I will treat each post as separate, but equal. Are you offering to buy me a mojito?

Gerry said...

I pretty much have a standing offer to buy any of my friends a mojito at any time. you know that.