Could hadron collider devour the Earth?

June 28, 2008

Particle colliders creating black holes that could devour the Earth. Sounds like a great Hollywood script. But, according to UC Santa Barbara Physics Professor Steve Giddings, it's pure fiction.

Giddings has co-authored a paper, "Astrophysical implications of hypothetical stable TeV-scale black holes," that has been accepted for publication in an upcoming edition of the peer-reviewed journal Physical Review D, documenting his study of the safety of microscopic black holes that might possibly be produced by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is nearing completion in Europe. The paper, co-authored by Michelangelo Mangano of the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), which is building the world's largest particle collider, investigates hypothesized behavior of tiny black holes that might be created by high-energy collisions in the CERN particle accelerator.

If they appear at all, these black holes would exist for "about a nano-nano-nanosecond," Giddings said, adding that they would have no effect of consequence. However, the paper studies whether there could be any large-scale effects in an extremely hypothetical situation where the black holes don't evaporate.

The Giddings/Mangano study concludes that such microscopic black holes would be harmless. In fact, he added, nature is continuously creating LHC-like collisions when much higher-energy cosmic rays collide with the Earth's atmosphere, with the Sun, and with other objects such as white dwarfs and neutron stars. If such collisions posed a danger, the consequences for Earth or these astronomical objects would have become evident already, Giddings said.

"The future health of our planet and the safety of its people are of paramount concern to us all," Giddings said. "There were already very strong physics arguments that there is no risk from hypothetical micro black holes, and we've provided additional arguments ruling out risk even under very bizarre hypotheses."

The LHC, near Geneva, Switzerland, is expected to begin operations this summer. It
will collide proton beams at levels of energy never before produced in a particle accelerator. Those results will then be studied for clues to new forces of nature, and possibly even extra dimensions of space. The first collision of beams is likely to be in September. The $8 billion project has taken 14 years.

Two men have filed a federal lawsuit in Hawaii in an attempt to halt the LHC due to their concerns about the safety of black holes. Giddings' study has been cited by CERN as evidence of the safety of the LHC.

Giddings is a recognized expert in high-energy and gravitational physics. In 2001, he coauthored the first paper investigating black hole production at the LHC and he has authored many other papers on the subject, including an article for Scientific American. Mangano is also recognized as an expert in high-energy physics and, in particular, hadron collisions. This project, Giddings said, greatly benefited from contributions and advice of other members of UCSB's top-rated Physics Department.

Source: University of California - Santa Barbara

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2.2 / 5 (15) Jun 28, 2008
If you've worked with scientists on a regular basis, you'll know that many have little regard for risks. They make statements such as "We don't want to impede the careers of young scientists," and "How else are we going to know?" Another favorite is "That could never happen".

That any questioning is going on is a healthy sign.

It's not widely publicized, but when the first atomic reactions were done, the US president was told there was a very small possibility the chain reaction would get out of control to an unknown extent. America was so intent on winning WWII economically, it was decided to go ahead.
3.4 / 5 (9) Jun 28, 2008
If you frame it differently, Oppenheimer & Co. made an educated guess about the risks they were taking. After their calculations revealed that the atmosphere was unlikely to burn, they DEALT WITH the risk. Since black holes evaporate into Hawking radiation at a rate inverse proportionate to their size, any small black hole will quickly wink out.
4.1 / 5 (15) Jun 28, 2008
as the article quite clearly states, these sort of high energy collisions occur with great frequency and even greater magnitude within the sun. If such a phenomenon was a viable possibility, we would have observed it regularly in the cosmos.
2.3 / 5 (10) Jun 28, 2008
We should consider the formation of charged black After all, the black hole isn't so difficult to prepare in LHC, as many people are believing. We were rather close to it before years already.
2.4 / 5 (11) Jun 28, 2008
The problem is, most of safety analysis have neglected the trivial phenomena, for example the surface tension, which will stabilize dense clusters of metastable particles by the simmilar way, like the gravity stabilizes neutrons inside od neutron stars.

If we don't consider these phenomena, then we can say nothing about true probability of the worst possible scenario.
1.2 / 5 (10) Jun 28, 2008
...we would have observed it regularly in the cosmos...
For example the Tunguska event is sometimes intepreted as the result of strangellet collision with Earth atmosphere. No crater or the rest of meteorite was found. Such event is too small to be observed at distance by telescopes, but it's sufficiently large to cause damage of civilization.
3.8 / 5 (9) Jun 28, 2008
Ragtime: If it were as you told.. It is irrelevant to proceed with the experiment. It can happen anyway without LHC. This is not an argument I'd bet everything I've got that Earth won't be devoured.
3.3 / 5 (11) Jun 28, 2008
Actually SmartK8, we *are* betting everything we've got.
1.7 / 5 (10) Jun 28, 2008
It can happen anyway without LHC
The probability of spontaneous strangelet formation near Earth with zero speed with respect Earth is way, way lower, then during LHC experiments. The later one is quite artificially created situation.
3.4 / 5 (10) Jun 28, 2008
I think it will be fine. Power it up.
3.1 / 5 (8) Jun 28, 2008
gmurphy has it right. Ultra high energy collisions have happened an infinite number of times in the past even in our neighborhood yet we are still here. There is no substitute for mass when talking about long lived destructive black holes. I'll bet my farm on that.
3.6 / 5 (7) Jun 28, 2008
xen_uno also most of these collisions appear in nature but are not in an controlled environment to witness them. Fire up the machine already so we can move on with our lives and go on to the next conspiracy theory.
1.4 / 5 (10) Jun 28, 2008
Echos of Michio Kakakau and plutonium death raining from the skies.
2.8 / 5 (12) Jun 28, 2008
We can not reach the energies with which cosmic particles hit the atmosphere. Ergo, if you want to moisten your britches over fear about the creation of black holes, look up. This is like worrying about your kids going on a class nature hike out of fear of shark attacks.
2.5 / 5 (11) Jun 29, 2008
I'm sorry, but Giddings' statements have the ring of "Famous Last Words". If it wasnt RHIC, it will be the LHC, if its not the LHC, it will be the next superconducting supercollider. Sooner or later, they will get to an energy level at which Bad Things Happen. And, just before they switch it on, all the same niceities will be uttered, to becalm the public. The fact that no real science has come from any of these Big Science Machines for many years doesnt percolate up to the elected representatives who fund them with our money. Keep banging the rocks together and you get finer and finer shards of rubbish; it hasnt led to a Grand Unified Theory of Everything because there is no Truth in finer shards of rubbish. String Theory is like aerosol String Cheese out of a can; its not as satisfying as the real thing, and never will be.
1.7 / 5 (9) Jun 29, 2008
.. String Theory is like aerosol String Cheese out of a can...
Technically, Ed Witten, the main co-author of string theory was first, who revealed the strangelet danger. This doesn't say indeed, how closely the strangelet concept is related to string theory (if at all).

What we know is: the black hole behavior was observed already.

So those, who are hoping in the black hole formation in collider are on to sure thing.

Therefore here's no apology for occasional accident here, everything is planned carefully and such people should be treated as a public enemies of civilization with full responsibility.

Personally I'd prefer to forget the most dangerous experiments at all (especially the ALICE experiment, involving a heavy metal nuclei collisions, planed in 2009) and wait for further advance in theories (which can predict the possible risks more reliably) and technology (the building of accelerator in free space, as it saves the costs of shake isolation, vacuum, cooling, and energy lost due the synchrotron radiation, because such accelerator can be a much larger).

Here's no real reason/apology for building such dangerous equipment beneath Earth surface. Our civilization can live without these experiments and Higgs boson quite well for years - now we have a much more substantial problems to solve, like the GW and cold fusion.

My understanding is, the scientists are behaving like lunatic people out of control: they're want to carry out the most needless, expensive & dangerous experiments in human history without public control - while they're not willing JUST TO ATTEMPT to reproduce the cold fusion even in most trivial/cheap arrangement. It's apparent, the contemporary generation of scientists has reversed its priority levels completely - they're behaving like little children.


Here's something rotten in the kingdom of Science.
3 / 5 (11) Jun 29, 2008
The only people behaving like lunatics are those that claim all scientists are behaving like lunatics.
2.9 / 5 (9) Jun 29, 2008
When you can get hundreds and thousands of heavy atoms to collide at exactly the same point at exactly the same time then there may be cause to worry. We're not there yet and are never likely to be.
2.1 / 5 (9) Jun 29, 2008
The only people behaving like lunatics are those that claim all scientists are behaving like lunatics.
We are risking global warming and WW III just because of delays in cold fusion research. If is it possible to generate heat just by adding a deuterium to finely dispersed palladium, how is it possible, the scientists are developing this process 18 years? The nuclear bomb was developed in three years of intensive research (Manhattan project).
2.9 / 5 (10) Jun 29, 2008
Actually, I see the odds of earth being devoured by a relentlessly replicating nanobot as vastly more likely than it being the victim of a vicious black hole or strangelet. If you want to worry about the end of the world worry about that.
1.4 / 5 (8) Jun 29, 2008
The ultimate argument is that cosmic ray collisions have not created black holes that destroyed the earth, regardless of incomplete understanding of the physics involved. There's a possibility that a different type of reaction will take place in the colliers than in the upper atmosphere. The P-P collision products will be close to the walls of the accelerator and collision products might strike heavier nuclei at a much higher rate than upper atmosphere collisions. Those products will strike even more heavy nuclei in the accelerator walls also. Some reactions are possible that are much less prevalent or not existant at all in cosmic ray collisions. There is a very small probability that the experiments might cause a black hole to end the Earth's existence.
2.8 / 5 (8) Jun 29, 2008
The collision products should loose a lot of energy after the initial impact. Worst case is that they would cleave the heavy atoms, leaving unstable radioactive isotopes behind. I still like my chances at hitting the Powerball 10 times in a row much better than being eaten by a raging micro black hole.
3.1 / 5 (9) Jun 29, 2008
We are all going to die anyway so fire it up already.
3.9 / 5 (9) Jun 29, 2008
The cosmic ray argument works best. Lots of protons at energies far exceeding LHC TeV, in all directions. These should at least create lots of black holes and strangelets speeding in all directions - cumulative effect should be as bad as one slow one.
1.4 / 5 (9) Jun 30, 2008
I think its crazy to have someone tell me its perfectly safe based on theory. What is the rush to turn it on other than delaying some physicist getting famous? I think the safety report is completely biased. It really pisses me off that we have to let a group of clowns run this machine. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE, SHUT IT DOWN. I love science and technology but not this mad scientist shit where there is no guarantee of safety. Have people really gotten to the point where they have that much faith in scientists that they can do no wrong? MORONS, this cannot be taken lightly, I dont think people have realized there is no going back if these so called experts make a mistake. And it may not happen immediately; the damage could be done but could take years to take affect because we have no way of seeing the full effects of this machine. All I can say is they predict the LHC could be making about 1 black hole a second and the hawking radiation, which has yet to be proven, will evaporate each one produced. What is the worst that could happen? Andrew your article is typical. You just gloss everything over and say everything is going to be alright. WELL THAT IS BS, we are talking about something that should not be taken so lightly. And why are you letting a few particle physicists run an experiment that gives them the right to disregard safety to everyone and everything%u2026? This machine does not scare me, its just the lax CERN politics and glossed over safety issues as well as the rush to run this BS experiments..for what? proving or disproving some stupid GOD particle theory at the expense of destroying earth? Nice. Yeah lets go for stupid particle scientists. And you don%u2019t have to be a particle physicist to have common sense that the whole thing is wrong.

The only people behaving like lunatics are those that claim that all scientists cannot behave like lunatics.

YOUTUBE search:

LHC may cause mini black hole and swallow earth

Parts 1-4
3.6 / 5 (9) Jun 30, 2008
A black hole is merely a point of infinite density. Density is Mass divided by volume. Astronomical black holes swallow stars because their mass is so great. A synthetic black hole with the mass of two subatomic particles is more of a mathematical construct than a tangible entity. Is my logic flawed or are suggestions that it could be "dangerous" designed to wind up the media community, create a story out of nothing and excite the gullible/ignorant?
1.9 / 5 (8) Jun 30, 2008
SineQuaNon, it's not that there isn't solid theory backing the experiments, and practical experience with similar experiments. It's that very few scientists are trained in risk assessment. And of those who are aware of the some risk, in my long experience working with them, many (not all) will say that significant risk is acceptable "for the sake of science". Whatever that means. It's like a holy symbol that no one is allowed to question. They can shoot themselves in the arm with a new serum, no problem, but they don't have a right to take risks that millions of people won't agree with -- given the facts. This isn't hysteria, it's questioning a facility which has already had problems, and lied about an accident.
3.3 / 5 (8) Jun 30, 2008
The Tevatron has already been operating for more than 20 years, and operates about 1/7 the projected energy of LHC (2 TeV instead of 14 TeV energy from collision). I think something should have happened by now.
2.5 / 5 (6) Jun 30, 2008
This 2 particle Black hole won't have enough gravitational pull to grow in size so we should be fine. However, if the experiment creates a portal to some alien existence similar to Half-Life the game, we better call Freeman ;-O
1.8 / 5 (6) Jun 30, 2008
You guys expressing an opinion doesn't make it true. That fact that you, untrained in risk analysis, don't think it's likely, doesn't actually make it the slightest bit less possible. You just don't seem to understand this. It isn't a "community decision". I'm not giving you the right to take my life, any more than you would give me the right to risk yours on an idea you don't care about.
3.2 / 5 (5) Jun 30, 2008
Actually CERN was already using 33 TeV lead beams (much more powerful than LHC). They found what was generated was not black holes or strangelets but "normal" quark-gluon plasma. It makes sense otherwise black holes or strangelets would have dominated some time during the history of the universe.

not rated yet Jul 04, 2008
Hawking radiating yes the black hole will evaporate... but... no one has ever seen a black hole.. and studied it. So cross your fingers.

It would take 5 months for the black hole to consume the earth and in the end our satellites would be orbiting a black star long into their lonely future.
1 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2008
2 particle Black hole won't have enough gravitational pull
A charged black hole can appear w't problem. Such BH would attract & consume matter by much faster way. Furthemore, an avalanche-like fragmentation and propagation of BH condensation could occur. We simply don't know, what can really happen.
1 / 5 (2) Jul 06, 2008
...they found what was generated was not black holes or strangelets but "normal" quark-gluon plasma
By this article they've found exactly the opposite...;-) And RHIC is much more weaker, then LHC. Do you believe in science?
not rated yet Sep 10, 2008
i am very new to this stuff so if i sound like i dont know what im talking about its probably because i dont! but i am very curious and eager to learn as much as possible and i am hoping someone can help me to understand despite my obvious ignorance lol

with that said my question is ..

how can a comparison be made to the conditions of and what goes on in space v.s. the conditions of and what goes on here on earth?.. it would seem to me that the natural occurrences that take place out there would differ than from here on earth!.. i.e. the atmosphere, temperature, matter, density and stuff like that.

would the outcome be the same and if so why?
1 / 5 (1) Sep 10, 2008
i am very new to this stuff so if i sound like i dont know what im talking about its probably because i dont! but i am very curious and eager to learn as much as possible and i am hoping someone can help me to understand despite my obvious ignorance lol

with that said my question is ..

how can a comparison be made to the conditions of and what goes on in space v.s. the conditions of and what goes on here on earth?.. it would seem to me that the natural occurrences that take place out there would differ than from here on earth!.. i.e. the atmosphere, temperature, matter, density and stuff like that.

would the outcome be the same and if so why?

All comes down to probability. With the amount of possible similar, same, or higher energy collisions that take place every second in our atmosphere, if it were to happen in the LHC it would have already happened, and any doomsday scenario would preclude us from having this very conversation.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2008
It is unfortunate that the greater community haven't easy access to basic science research. As a result, we experience fear and hysteria due to pure ignorance. Having studied science for most of my life, I can honestly say to those of us who are so afraid of science, you give way way too much capability what scientists can achieve. At this point, we are merely infants in terms of how much we understand the world around us. But it isn't science itself that has created some of the nasty technological products in our times. It is pure ignorance and fear. Monsters in our heads based on fear created the atom bomb, science was just a tool used. So if we are going to make decisions based on these monsters created by our ignorance, there will not be much hope for any of us.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2008
velanarris... thank you for response!

i see what your saying. it just seems the extrapolation of the same or somewhat same results would be impossible without the exact same type of conditions. like maybe something else unknown to us missing that enables these activities to safely occur.

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