The Large Hadron
Collider: Fiction vs. Fact
Most Common Fears
by Mark Hughes
The world's most expensive and sophisticated science experiment — the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) —was activated for the first time in September 2008. Prior to its activation, some people voiced concern
that it would destroy the world. Numerous safety reports have come to the
conclusion that the device is perfectly safe. The latest report from the
Safety Assessment Group writes, “Nature has already conducted the
equivalent of about a hundred thousand LHC experimental programs on
Earth—and the planet still exists.” This has not stopped some
critics from sending death threats to the scientists involved with the LHC,
Below are the five most common fears about the LHC and reasons
for why you should not be worried.
|Fear One: Magnetic monopoles, hypothetical
particles with a single magnetic charge
||The LHC will produce magnetic monopoles that will cause protons to
||The theories that magnetic monopoles can destroy protons are the
same theories that say such monopoles would be too heavy for the LHC
to create. If magnetic monopoles were lighter, then the LHC and the
Earth’s atmosphere would be able to make them, but since this
hasn’t occurred in nature there is no way it can be caused by
|Fear Two: Cosmic rays, particles originating in
outer space made of mostly protons, with smaller amounts of helium
nuclei and electrons (about 9% and 1%, respectively) mixed in
||Cosmic rays created in a laboratory could produce microscopic
||Nature creates cosmic rays all the time, and these rays collide
with any stellar body they encounter. Naturally occurring cosmic rays
are often accelerated to energies far beyond the capabilities of the
LHC. If they can create microscopic black holes, then they are doing
so all the time in nature. The fact that no astronomical body has been
consumed by a hungry microscopic black hole adds further weight to
such an occurrence never happening due to the LHC.
|Fear Three: Microscopic black holes
||When protons begin colliding in the LHC, microscopic black holes
could be created and exist long enough to become lodged in
Earth’s gravity well. This could give the black hole the time
and energy it would need to grow in size while consuming the planet
from the inside out.
||Real black holes are produced when a star collapses on itself.
This collapse concentrates a very large amount of matter into an
extremely small space. Since naturally occurring cosmic rays collide
all the time with Earth’s atmosphere and no black holes have
ever been created—shown by the fact that we are still
here—it is nearly impossible for such an anomaly to be produced
by the LHC.
|Fear Four: Strangelets, hypothetical
“strange matter” containing equal numbers of particles
||The fear is that the LHC has enough energy to form strangelets
whose properties would immediately begin changing ordinary matter into
||Another collider, in operation since 2000, called the Relativistic
Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), has been searching for strangelets without
success. Not once has it been able to detect or produce any
“strange matter” particles. The LHC is more powerful than
the RHIC, but that fact further reduces the chance the LHC could
produce strangelets. As energy levels and temperatures increase, so
does the inability of strangelets to maintain cohesion.
|Fear Five: Vacuum Bubbles
||The LHC could produce a vacuum bubble that could tip our unstable
universe into a more stable state, fundamentally changing the physical
laws of nature into a configuration in which life could not
||If the more numerous and powerful collisions in nature have not
produced universe-changing vacuum bubbles, than the less powerful LHC
could hardly do so.
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