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Good news: We’re not doomed!

Well, this is a relief.

The most powerful atom-smasher ever built could make some bizarre discoveries, such as invisible matter or extra dimensions in space, after it is switched on in August.

But some critics fear the Large Hadron Collider could exceed physicists’ wildest conjectures: Will it spawn a black hole that could swallow Earth? Or spit out particles that could turn the planet into a hot dead clump?

Ridiculous, say scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French initials CERN — some of whom have been working for a generation on the $5.8 billion collider, or LHC.

“Obviously, the world will not end when the LHC switches on,” said project leader Lyn Evans.

David Francis, a physicist on the collider’s huge ATLAS particle detector, smiled when asked whether he worried about black holes and hypothetical killer particles known as strangelets.

“If I thought that this was going to happen, I would be well away from here,” he said.

Of course, that’s exactly what they’d want you to think, isn’t it? It’s all fun and games until someone activates the doomsday machine.

Critics of the LHC filed a lawsuit in a Hawaiian court in March seeking to block its startup, alleging that there was “a significant risk that … operation of the Collider may have unintended consequences which could ultimately result in the destruction of our planet.”

One of the plaintiffs, Walter L. Wagner, a physicist and lawyer, said Wednesday CERN’s safety report, released June 20, “has several major flaws,” and his views on the risks of using the particle accelerator had not changed.

On Tuesday, U.S. Justice Department lawyers representing the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation filed a motion to dismiss the case.

The two agencies have contributed $531 million to building the collider, and the NSF has agreed to pay $87 million of its annual operating costs. Hundreds of American scientists will participate in the research.

The lawyers called the plaintiffs’ allegations “extraordinarily speculative,” and said “there is no basis for any conceivable threat” from black holes or other objects the LHC might produce. A hearing on the motion is expected in late July or August.

In rebutting doomsday scenarios, CERN scientists point out that cosmic rays have been bombarding the earth, and triggering collisions similar to those planned for the collider, since the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago.

And so far, Earth has survived.

“The LHC is only going to reproduce what nature does every second, what it has been doing for billions of years,” said John Ellis, a British theoretical physicist at CERN.

The guys who filed that suit strike me as being nuts, but I’d still kind of like to see the matter go forward, if only to see how a non-scientist judge deals with it. There’s a lot of entertainment potential in that.

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2 Comments

  1. Patrick says:

    A while back a sent a note to my nephew who is studying for his PhD in Theorhetical Particle Physics at Michigan asking him slightly tongue in cheek if they were trying to kill us all with the LHC.

    His response was “In reality, they have this debate every time they open up a new detector. The calculate the probability that we will destroy the earth and all future generations, and weigh it against the probability of some other catastrophic event, like a really large asteroid or a gamma ray burst hitting us. If it is much much less, we go ahead with it.

    Hopefully your rest better at night knowing this.”

    Cheeky little bugger.

  2. mcblogger says:

    Damnit, Charles! I had this screen open all day to blog this tonight and make fun of the “black holes will kill us all. And eat the Earth” people.

    You are EVIL!