All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again. –Peter Pan
Much like any new venture where the outcome is uncertain, there are a lot of fears surrounding the LHC. And I know, because it occasionally shows up in my comment threads, in my inbox, or in my office.
Could it form a black hole and destroy Earth? Could we somehow do something in the future that would destroy the past? Or is it just generally unsafe?
The answers to these questions are no, no, and no. The first question — about creating a black hole and destroying Earth — requires that we apply the laws of physics and work out just what will happen in different physical scenarios. It’s a good scientific question, because we can answer it scientifically. I did this myself, and have concluded that there is no chance of the Earth being destroyed.
But the other two questions really fail to appreciate how science works, in my opinion. We have collided literally many trillions of particles at very high energies at particle accelerators over the past 100 years. Moreover, we are constantly bombarded by cosmic rays from space. Many of these have energies far in excess of (at least 10,000,000 times greater than) anything we will be capable of doing at the LHC. In other words, the LHC will not create anything that has not been created on Earth many times before.
But the new thing is that we will create it in a controlled environment where we can measure and study it. In other words, we get to do science on it. Instead of things merely happening around us (and to us) by chance, we can determine when and where they happen, and learn about it.
Yes, we will be studying energies that we haven’t been able to study before, but we have a long way to go before we get up past energies that commonly occur on Earth. It’s exciting to probe this new realm of physical reality, but it isn’t threatening. We will not be unlocking new forms of hungry energy, time-anomalies, or other doomsday phenomena. The Universe makes things far more powerful and energetic all the time than we ever have, or than we ever have plans to do.
But when we pass that, when energies reach about a factor of 100 stronger than the LHC can, then these will be legitimate questions to ask. But there are no worries now. And if you have them, you can leave them in the comments, and if there are any that are legitimate, I’ll write about them! Until then, the storage of all that liquid helium is far more dangerous than anything that will come of collisions taking place at the LHC.