2008-09-09

Nice Knowing You...? [ G PI T ]

The LHC - or Large Hadron Collider - goes online tomorrow, around 9AM EST.

For those who do not know it, the LHC - summarizing Wikipedia - is the world's largest and highest-energy particle accelerator. The collider is contained in an underground circular tunnel with a circumference of 17 miles. It crosses the border between Switzerland and France.

The LHC - as part of particle physics study - accelerates protons to 450 GeV (GigaElectronVolts) to 7 TeV (TeraElectronVolts - that's a lotta volts); at this energy the protons (also called Hadrons, hence the name) move at about 99.999999% of light speed.

However, there are those who theorize the LHC could create micro black holes, strangelets, magnetic monopoles, magnetars, or even vacuum bubbles which which could lead to the doomsday scenario of the destruction of our planet.

Keeping in mind that during the test of the first H-Bomb, Teller thought it might actually ignite the atmosphere, turning the Nitrogen and Oxygen into poisonous NO2. Thankfully this didn't happen.

However, there are those doomsayers who postulate that the dearth of radio signals from more advanced civilizations is simply that there just aren't any. Once a civilization reaches a certain technological prowess, they invent their own version of an LHC, turn it on, and simply wink out of existence.

The LHC is due to fully power up at around 9 AM EST in the US, and I will be watching with guarded optimism. I do plan to kiss my wife a bit more tenderly, and hug my kids a bit tighter before leaving for work. I leave you with these thoughts:

First of all, given the relatively large mass of the earth, the relatively slow growth (w-a-a-a-y less than lightspeed, but still freakin' fast) of a black hole's event horizon, and the fact that electric signals travel at the speed of light, we should be able to see 2-10 seconds of the beginning of the end, if we are watching a webcam in Paris, for example.

Secondly, if it does indeed destroy the earth, France will be the first to go, so I supppose that every cloud (or black hole in this case) has a silver lining.

And lastly, when one realizes what 'hadron' is an anagram for, at least we'll all go out laughing!

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UPDATE 9/10/08 @ 12:02 PM EST - I'm here, you're here; even the French are still here. I guess I should've read the LHC safety report ahead of time. Although when you read dismissive sentence like this "Black holes, therefore, would have no time to start accreting matter and to cause macroscopic effects" when we have never made a black hole ourselves, one has to wonder what was the basis for the conclusions it is 100% safe. And apparently if micro black holes are created, it may take years or decades to feel the full effects.

1 comment:

John Witzell said...

Hi Mark,

As always you have a unique way of mixing science with practical and humorous thoughts. Not having your background and having a very limited education in physcics nothwithstanding, I do not believe we are capable of creating a black hole large enough to do any damage. This would serve as a reminder of just how big the Universe actually is. I am sure that your family did enjoy the extra affection heaped upon them in your "just in case" scenario.

John Witzell