It is said that scientists involved in the Manhattan Project to engineer and implement the first nuclear bombs seriously considered the possibility that such a bomb could initiate a chain reaction that would destroy the Earth. Now it is being claimed that the production of miniature black holes by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland could do the same. The LHC is scheduled to go on line in June.
This thought occurred to me the first time I heard that the LHC might be able to produce tiny black holes.
Apparently someone else had the same thought. Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho have filed a law suit in federal court in Hawaii to stop the LHC scientists from goofing up and ruining everything.
Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho contend that scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, have played down the chances that the collider could produce, among other horrors, a tiny black hole, which, they say, could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a “strangelet” that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called “strange matter.” Their suit also says CERN has failed to provide an environmental impact statement as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Although it sounds bizarre, the case touches on a serious issue that has bothered scholars and scientists in recent years — namely how to estimate the risk of new groundbreaking experiments and who gets to decide whether or not to go ahead.
CERN scientists claim that they have considered this possibility and that it is not going to happen.
People who seem to know about this stuff claim that this law suit is not likely to go anywhere.
Phil Plait, at Bad Astronomy, has this to say:
…off the bat, this sounds nuts, but really it’s not so nuts that we shouldn’t look into it. There are two causes for some concern: one is that LHC might create a black hole which would eat the Earth, and the other is that a very odd quantum entity called a strangelet might be created, with equally devastating results.
However, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about. I want to make that clear up front….
…If two subatomic particles collide at high enough speed, it’s possible that they will collapse into a black hole. If that happens, it would fall through the Earth and, well, you can guess what bad things would happen then*.
However, studies done by CERN show that the energies generated will be too low to make black holes. Also, due to a weird effect called Hawking radiation, the tiny black holes would evaporate instantly. The two litigants, however, say that Hawking radiation is not an established fact, and therefore we should be more careful. While that’s technically true, they forgot something important: the same rules of quantum physics that make a black hole in a subatomic collision also indicate they would evaporate. So if you’re worried they won’t evaporate, then you shouldn’t be worried they’d be created in the first place.
This issue comes to mind because of an email I recieved today from Haanuddin, stating:
I want you to have a look at the new model I am advancing. If correct it is nothing short of revolutionary. But there is no time for resting on laurels. The model’s most ominous implication is that it predicts that mini black holes will be stable, which is of immediate concern because of CERN’s hopes to generate man’s first mini black hole.
The model was written in more lay-language than is usual because once the implication of stable mini black holes was identified, the need to foment politic change was seen as only coming from the masses.
His model is outlined in a PDF file available here, and is being discussed on his Scientific American blog, here. This is a Theory of Everything, which is always a bit suspicious. Hasanuddin’s model …
…deductively presents seamless explanation for all major cosmological events from Big Bang to the present. The model continues to project how … situations will align to produce the next Big Bang. … The new model has undergone significant review on this blogspace. Detractors have been understandably vehement (their life’s work is being called into question.) However, despite their best efforts, these detractors have not been able to supply any evidence against the new model, instead three of them ultimately supplied new evidence supporting the new Dominium model. The frontier of Physics is transforming before our very eyes. …
The new Dominium model … calls into question the risk analysis done by CERN to justify CERN’s own current practice and direction with regards to the LHC machine. The new model deductively shows that mini and micro black-holes are expected to be “stable.” This conclusion is contrary to the core safety assurances that CERN has used to justify the inherent risk of LHC. If mini black-holes are “stable,” they will not harmlessly evaporate away as CERN cheerleaders would like us to believe. If mini black-holes are stable, then it is probable that the entire planet would ultimately be consumed over the course of several decades. Political, financial, and societal institutions would unravel. The expected sequence of events that would tightly mirror the omens forecast by both the Bible and the Quran. Is this newsworthy?
Well, OK, so you might think that Mr. Hasanuddin is crazy. Could be. But this is an interesting situation where the costs of being wrong are very high, even if the chance of being wrong is very small. Go back and read Phil’s comments above: The best argument we have that nothing will go wrong is that if the black holes form, they will evaporate, but that the science predicting either is both a) uncertain and b) the same. So if the uncertain model of black hole formation is correct, they will evaporate. But since it is an uncertain model, how do we know?
Now, there is an empirical test of the black hole model, and I think we should get working on it right away.
It starts with the Sagan calculation. There are billions and billions of galaxies each with billions and billions of stars etc. etc. so the chance that intelligent life with advanced technology has evolved and developed elsewhere in the visible universe is pretty good. Now, we add one more step to the equation: Some of these intelligent life forms would have build a particle accelerator much like that at CERN, and by now would have carried out the activities pursuant to making these tiny black holes that are supposed to evaporate.
If they did not evaporate and instead became real, lasting black holes, then we should be able to see them, right? So look! Most black holes, as I understand it, occur near the central regions of large galaxies. But the stars most likely to support life occur medium distances out from these centers, not to near the middle of the galaxy, not too far out on the edges. They would be in the “just right” zone.
But the “just right for life zone” (JRLZ) would not be the same zone as the most likely zone for the formation of black holes. So we look in the JRLZs for evidence of excessive black holes.
If we see too many black holes in the JRLZ, we have two important likely results:
1) Don’t fire up the black hole experiment because things may go very badly; and
2) We can now, for the first time, put an end-value on the Sagan equation, which would be cool (if not too informative).
OK, let’s get to work on this, shall we?
UPDATE: Read more about it here.
UPDATE: For a completely different perspective on the large hardon collider, see this.