Tuesday, September 9, 2008


That's the Large Hadron Collider -- the world's largest particle accelerator, being turned on tomorrow -- and Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

The LHC, an international research facilities years and billions of euros in the making, may answer some of the big outstanding questions in modern physics. Like: why does matter have mass (looking for the hypothesized Higgs boson)? Like: what is dark matter?

In a few days or weeks or months, depending how long start-up takes, the LHC will smash relativistic protons into each other, producing energy densities not seen in the universe since moments after the Big Bang. That's how science learns things: doing what we haven't done before.

And FUD? The blogosphere is agog with hysteria that LHC will create an Earth-devouring black hole. Google LHC disaster, and find 500+ hits. Google LHC catastrophe for another 400+. Yes, some of those hits are for entries -- like this one -- hoping to calm the hysteria. The sad truth is that the debunking effort is necessary. And that mainstream press, discussing the LHC, often dignifies the hysteria by "some are concerned" paragraphs.

Any black hole created in an LHC collision will be smaller than an atom -- and atoms are mostly empty space. Any black hole radiates energy (and mass and energy are equivalent) -- black holes evaporate unless enough mass falls into them to compensate for the evaporation. So any black hole created at LHC, being too small to have a significant chance of hitting anything, will evaporate before it can be a risk.

And if high-energy collisions can create threatening black holes -- then natural cosmic rays, which are *always* present, would have done us in by now.

Take that, FUD.

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