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The Sciences

LHC: go for injection!

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitSeptember 10, 2008 6:30 AM


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Tonight, at 03:30 Eastern (US) time, the world will not end. That's when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) turns on. The world won't end for two reasons. Well three. The first is it didn't end the night before, or the night before that, and so on for several billion nights past, so odds are pretty good it won't end tonight. Historically, it's the way to bet. The second reason is that the LHC cannot -- C A N N O T -- do anything to destroy the world. It can't make eensy black holes, or quark nuggets, or anything like that. If someone tells you otherwise, they're wrong. We've been over this. Don't make me turn this thing around. The third reason is that what's going to happen tonight is that protons will be injected into the accelerator proper for the first time. They will be constrained and accelerated by fierce magnetic fields, and will zoom around the LHC's 27 kilometer circumference... in one direction only. Got that? Those protons will be moving at just a hair under the speed of light, but they'll all be moving in the same direction. That whole "C" thing in the LHC? That stands for Collider, and if all the protons are going the same way, they won't collide. So even if you cling tenaciously to your antiscientific beliefs despite overwhelming evidence against them, you still can't destroy the planet with a collider if nothing is colliding. So if you hear someone saying they're worried/terrified/plotzing themselves over the LHC turning on tonight, you can point them here and tell them that there's nothing to worry about. There won't be anything to worry about later in the year, when protons are injected into the other beam moving the other way, so that they can actually, y'know, collide. But there's really nothing to be concerned about for tonight. And if I sound a little snarky, well, I've been through about a dozen major doomsday scares in the past decade, and I can't help but notice that every day I still get up and brush my teeth, just as if the Earth hasn't been destroyed. I also can't help but notice that these claims of doom and gloom and boom always seem to come from people who just don't get the science. People who do get the science say there's no worry. And y'know what? They're right. We're still here. We'll still be here tomorrow, and we'll still be here during, after, and long after the LHC goes to its full power proton smashing sciencey goodness. Sleep tight. Tomorrow will come (and for a lot of you, you're reading this after the LHC is already up to speed, so there you go), and the next, and the next. And eventually, when the LHC is working at capacity, there will come a tomorrow when we understand the Universe just a little bit better. Maybe even a lot better. And you know why? Because it's science. And science tends to work. Arrogance? Nope. Confidence.

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