Will the LHC Destroy the World?

An opinion piece in The New York Times is one of many places the fear in the title of this entry has appeared. “And now it turns out that there’s a giant particle accelerator in Switzerland that critics say could create a black hole that would swallow up the Earth.”

Multiple attempts have been made to allay these fears. Prof. Frank Taylor of MIT posted an interesting article online. He reminds us that the existence of black holes at the masses accessible to the LHC is entirely speculative at this point. We do not know if the LHC could produce black holes, and there is only one way to find out.

My colleague Dr. Sekula has a blog entry showing, with precise calculations and cited sources, that such black holes would have extremely short lifetimes. In order for them to be dangerous they would have to be much more stable than thermodynamics allows them to be. The laws of thermodynamics have been well tested for centuries. He suggests that the plaintiffs in this case be invited onto the LHC safety committees so they can see for themselves that the LHC will not destroy Earth.

Similar fears were raised about an accelerator on Long Island called the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). We forget that such accelerators are not the only sources of high-energy collisions in the Universe. Our planet and other bodies in our Solar System are constantly bombarded by high-energy particles (mostly protons, the same particles in the LHC) from space. Physicists from MIT, Yale, and Princeton showed that these collisions would have produced the disaster scenarios feared at RHIC long ago, if they were possible (Jaffe). Prof. Taylor performs the same calculations for the LHC. If such destructive black holes could be produced, they would have destroyed this planet already.

However, my favorite response comes from the character Raj in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory. As far as I can tell, Raj is a theoretical astrophysicist; when informed of these concerns about the LHC, he responds, “What a bunch of crybabies! No guts, no glory, man!”

R. Jaffe et al., Rev. Mod. Phys. 72, 1125–1140 (2000).

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