Man made blackholes
Earth 'not at risk' from collider
By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News
Our planet is not at risk from the world's most powerful particle physics
experiment, a report has concluded.
The document addresses fears that the Large Hadron Collider is so
energetic, it could have unforeseen consequences.
Critics are worried that mini-black holes made at the soon-to-open
facility on the French-Swiss border might threaten the Earth's very
But the report, issued the European Organization for Nuclear Research,
says there is "no conceivable danger".
The organization - known better by its French acronym, Cern - will operate
the collider underground in a 27km-long tunnel near Geneva.
This Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a powerful and complicated machine,
which will smash together protons at super-fast speeds in a bid to unlock
the secrets of the Universe.
Six "detectors" - individual experiments - will count, trace and analyse
the particles that emerge from the collisions.
Most physicists believe the risk of a cataclysm lies in the realms of
science fiction. But there have been fears about the possibility of a
mini-black hole - produced in the collider - swelling so that it gobbles
up the Earth.
Critics have previously raised concerns that the production of weird
hypothetical particles called strangelets in the LHC could trigger the
mass conversion of nuclei in ordinary atoms into more strange matter -
transforming the Earth into a hot, dead lump.
The lay language summary of the report, which has been written by Cern's
top theorists, states: "Over the past billions of years, nature has
already generated on Earth as many collisions as about a million LHC
experiments - and the planet still exists."
The report added: "There is no basis for any concerns about the
consequences of new particles or forms of matter that could possibly be
produced by the LHC."
The new document is an update of the analysis carried out in 2003 into the
safety of the collider by an independent team of scientists.
The authors of the latest report, including theoretical physicist John
Ellis, confirmed that black holes could be made by the collider. But they
said: "If microscopic black holes were to be singly produced by colliding
the quarks and gluons inside protons, they would also be able to decay
into the same types of particles that produced them."
The report added: "The expected lifetime [of a mini-black hole] would be
On the strangelet issue, the report says that these particles are even
less likely to be produced at the LHC than in the lower-energy
Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in New York, which has been
operating since 2000.
A previous battle over particle accelerator safety was fought over the US
The scientific consensus appears to be on the side of Cern's theorists.
But in 2003, Dr Adrian Kent, a theoretical physicist at the University of
Cambridge, wrote a paper in which he argued that scientists had not
adequately calculated the risks of a "killer strangelet" catastrophe
He also expressed concern that a fundamental question (how improbable does
a cataclysm have to be to warrant proceeding with an experiment?) had
never been seriously inspected.
The LHC was due to switch on in 26 November 2007. The start-up has been
postponed several times, however, and is currently scheduled for later
The first delay was precipitated by an accident in March 2007 during
stress testing of one of the LHC's "quadrupole" magnets.
A statement carried on the Cern website from the US laboratory that
provided the magnet stated that the equipment had experienced a "failure"
when supporting structures "broke".
It later emerged that the magnet had exploded in the tunnel, close to one
of the LHC's most important detectors, prompting the the facility to be
In March, a complaint requesting an injunction against the LHC's switch-on
was filed before the United States District Court for the District of
Hawaii by seven plaintiffs.
One of the plaintiffs had previously attempted to bring a similar
injunction against the RHIC over safety concerns.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/06/23 16:58:38 GMT
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