The Sciences

Breaking: LHC still will not destroy the Earth

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJun 24, 2008 9:15 PM


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O noes! We're safe! Um. Wait a sec. OK, here's the deal: some people are claiming the Large Hadron Collider in Europe will destroy the Earth because it might create little black holes or quantum strangelets which will gobble us down in an orgiastic feast of quantum gormandery. Pretty much every real scientist on the planet then said, nope, won't happen. Prominent bloggers wrote about it. Late-night talk shows made jokes about it. Still, people fretted and worried. So CERN went back, looked over its older safety assessment (which initially concluded that everything was cool), and published a revised safety estimate. Surprise! We're still safe. Here's the good stuff:

Having reviewed the theoretical and experimental developments since the previous safety report was published, we confirm its findings. 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.

This was an exhaustive review of all the physics and potential problems, and they have found that the LHC won't kill us all. I hate to disappoint the doomcriers, but reality has a way of disappointing them time and again. The fact that we're still here is pretty good evidence of that. My thanks to Brian Cox -- yes, that Brian Cox -- for sending me this info. As he pointed out in his email to me:

Please pay particular attention to a key point that is often missed in these "discussions". The argument based on cosmic ray collisions is not limited only to cosmic rays impacting on the Earth, but on every astronomical body in the observable Universe, including very dense ones such as neutron stars. It is estimated that the Universe conducts of order 10^13 complete lifetime runs of the LHC every second, with no observable consequences at all. This is on top of very sound theoretical arguments that IF micro black holes can be created, then they must also decay. This statement is based not on speculative stuff like extra dimension theories, but on pretty basic quantum mechanics.

That's pretty much what I've been saying all along. Not that I expect it will even slow down the End-of-the-World crowd. Once you've stepped away from reality, things tend to go awry. There's only one way to be right, but there are infinite ways to be wrong.

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