By Patricia Daukantas
The clock is ticking down to the launch of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the massive international particle-physics experiment in Europe. The collider’s host, CERN, has its hands full with debunking rumors that the LHC is going to cause the end of the world.
Seems as if a small but vocal crowd believes that LHC will generate a tiny black hole that will keep sucking matter inward until it devours the entire planet Earth (mass: 6 × 1024 kg). Court cases have been filed on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean to try to stop the LHC research; two Nobel laureates sided with the government to continue the experiments in one such lawsuit.
LHC defenders argue that there is no such physical theory that actually predicts the growth of microscopic black holes into macroscopic, planet-guzzling monsters. In a column called “Inside Science Research,” the American Institute of Physics (AIP) points out that if black holes really do evaporate as predicted by Cambridge University's Stephen Hawking, an attometer-sized black hole would survive for only a billionth of an attosecond – such a brief time period that there isn’t even a standard SI prefix to describe it.
In a more technical article written for scientists, Michael Peskin of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center reviews a Physical Review D paper that found no evidence that black holes on the scale of 1012 electron volts (TeV) could create damage over time scales shorter than the lifespan of Earth. Since our planet has already been around for 4.5 billion years and the Sun has enough nuclear fuel to last at least another 5 billion years, I’m not worried that the world as I know it will vanish while I’m sleeping tonight.
The “first beam” of the LHC – analogous to “first light” for a telescope – is set for early Wednesday at 3:30 a.m. EDT in the United States or 9:30 a.m. CET for most of Europe.
To celebrate the arrival of the LHC, the Boston Globe published a stunning Web photo essay showing off the various component instruments. And some young scientists at CERN assembled this “Large Hadron Rap” song that’s garnered more than 1.6 million YouTube downloads already.
2008-09 September, Miscellaneous Optics