The world might get destroyed today

Today, a super-particle accelerator will get turned on just outside of Geneva, Switzerland. Some people, though, are afraid it will generate black holes that will suck in all the matter of the earth. They are also afraid of “strangelets,” whatever those are, and no telling what they might do. The project is part of the search for a unified theory that accounts for both electro-magnetic forces and gravity. The hope is to find the “God particle.” (Which does not mean what it sounds like! Someone else had better explain it.) From Excitement and Fear Abound Over Super Collider:

The concerns are nothing less than a total doomsday scenario. The anti-LHC hysteria was started by Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho, who filed suit in U.S. and European courts to stop the LHC. Their theory is that the LHC will produce micro black holes and “stranglets” that may not decay as rapidly as mainstream physics predicts.

“Any miniature black hole created at rest in a collider would essentially be trapped in Earth’s gravitational field, and over seconds to hours, slowly interact and acquire more mass,” Wagner says on his LHCDefense.org Web site.

A number of safety studies conducted by CERN and independent physicists have concluded that the doomsday scenarios posited by Wagner and a few other researchers are fundamentally flawed, and there is virtually no chance the machine will produce matter-sucking phenomena.

Some are calling these fears “faith based science”–or F-BS–but I would venture to say that NO Christians believe the earth will be destroyed in this way. I suspect that the opponents are instead radical environmentalists, who currently oppose scientific research more than Christians ever do.

Another issue is whether such research, which has no practical application, is worth the expense. The liberal arts answer, which values knowing truth for its own sake, would be “yes.” The Christian liberal arts answer adds to that the great impetus for science in the West, the desire to know what God chose to create as a way of glorifying Him.

See you tomorrow. If there is a tomorrow.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Kirk

    Actually, today was just a beam alignment test. It’s the first time the magine has been fired up, but there will be no particle collisions for another month. If a stranglet (a theoretical super-heavy particle that has immense mass, and thefore gravitational pull. The theory is that one of these will form, begin attracting matter to itself and cause the world to get sucked into its mass, and compacted. A stranglet has never been observed) were to forum, it probably wouldn’t be till then.

  • Kirk

    *machine

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    According to the article I read, the alarmists expect nothing to happen for about 4 months, after which strange, light-emitting holes will start appearing all over the globe, as the teeny black holes start devouring matter, space and time like Pacmen.

    Cool!

  • WebMonk

    The stupidity about end-of-the world is just that – stupidity. It’s being promoted by two (and only two) certifiable whack jobs. Yes, scientists can be whack jobs too.

    For a complete investigation into what’s going on with the nuts, On-Screen Scientist did a nice summary of what’s happened. http://onscreen-scientist.com/?p=34

  • Kirk

    There’s a very fun, BBC docudrama presenting several scenerios in which the world could end. There’s the usual, like asteroids and plagues, but they also have the creation of a stranglet by a particle accelerator. It’s got all sorts of snazy CGI and is presented very convincingly. I know it’s on the interwebs somewhere. I’ll find it and link to it when I get home.

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  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Sometimes real life is better than science fiction. The strangelets are coming!
    In any case I kind of wondered about the expense on this too. And we complain about how much we spend in a month trying to stabilize a country in the middle east, which could spark WWIII if we were to withdraw overnight? But we have that kind of money to spend on toys? Oh well, I hope their research in beneficial.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I like your “liberal arts answer”, and your “Christian liberal arts answer” even more. Too often, people don’t understand scientific endeavors.

    To say that a particular experiment (or field!) “has no practical application” is to misunderstand what science is about. Most experiments have no immediate value (other than, you know, knowledge) at the time at which they are performed, although for funding reasons, modern scientists frequently dream up scenarios touting how their research could help things out. Sometimes it pans out, sometimes the scientist merely gets his funding.

    Would Watson, Crick, et al., have been able to explain the practical value of their DNA research at the time they were doing it? Do we think there’s any lack of practical application for it now?

    If anything, it’s the area of practical applications where science gets onto questionable moral ground.

  • http://www.lhcfacts.org JTankers

    The world will not be destroyed today or likely even in the next several years. But that does not mean the LHC may not be capable of doing similar.

    The safety opposition alleges CERN is misrepresenting the certainty of safety and did not properly address compelling safety rebuttal papers by credible senior scientists including visiting professor of Physics Dr. Otto Rössler and Physics PHD Dr. Rainer Plaga.

    Dr. Steven Hawking estimates a 1% chance that micro black holes will be created by the Large Hadron Collider, CERN estimated possible micro black hole creation at one per second, micro black hole evaporation and cosmic ray safety arguments are disputed.

    Dr. Rössler (of Chaos theory and Endophysics fame) calculates possible danger, senior Physics PHD Dr. Rainer Plaga (wrote one of the reports refuting CERN’s safety conclusions) calculates possible danger, former Nuclear Safety Officer Walter L. Wagner (cosmic ray researcher and California Math champion) calculates possible danger.

    To demand a safety conference before high energy collisions begin contact LHCDefense.org

    LHCFacts.org

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Also, Bror (@7), as to the expense, “we” aren’t paying for it — CERN is, and their member states are all European. As I remember, Europe has always funded particle physics better than the U.S. Anyone remember the Superconducting Supercollider, to be built in Texas? Funding for it was scrapped and put into the space station, likely because the latter had more obvious practical applications. Like next-generation Tang or Velcro or whatever, I guess.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    tODD,
    I get it. I realize it hasn’t come from American Taxpayer money. Of course, a conspiracy theorist might not have trouble showing how Americans are paying for some of it. But I am not one of those.
    I don’t know that the space station is anymore a worthwhile expense. I only hope the research teaches us something in both cases.
    I suppose though this is one of those things where you want to criticize your neighbor for spending his money, because he didn’t spend it the way you would. I tend to think there were better things for that kind of money. But it wasn’t mine. I’ll live with it. And hope they are right and it is worthwhile.

  • WebMonk

    JTanker – Rössler isn’t a theoretical physicist, particle physicist, black hole specialist, GR physicist or anything like it. He is an MD with a doctorate is in Behavior Psychology, and most of his academic career has been in Chemistry and Biochemistry.

    As far as I can tell, everything he has tried to suggest outside of his trained fields has been thoroughly laughed at and disproved by those more knowledgeable in the fields.

    The situation is even worse for “Dr.” Wagner who seems to be heading up the anti-LHC stupidity. He’s a lawyer – a Juris Doctorate, not a physicist or any sort of scientific doctorate. Not to say that non-experts can’t see something that experts have blind spots about, but Wagner has been found to be a faker on quite a number of different things (like claiming he’s a nuclear physicist), so it’s pretty safe to assume he’s standard crackpot material.

    Dr. Plaga at one time held a position with the Max Planck Institute, but I can’t find what his position was, why he left, what his doctorate was in, or anything. He has submitted papers, but none have ever been published in a scientific journal. He works at an Information Security position in Bonn.

    Considering that Wagner is claiming the title of “Dr.” because of his law degree, I have suspicions about where, when, and for what Plaga got his doctorate. From what I read, Wagner says the earth is doomed because the black holes won’t evaporate, while Plaga says the earth is doomed because they will evaporate with tons of energy. Make up your mind.

    If you happen to know where, when and what Plaga got his doctorate in (with a linked reference), I’d love to hear it.

  • Anon The First

    “It is the glory of God to hide a matter, and the glory of kings to seek it out” so says Proverbs. A picture of paedogogy if you will. Science is an excellent human enterprise that is part of our being made in the Image and likeness of God.

    Plenty of sf writers and scientists have been leery – or have had fun with pretending to be leery – about reaching big bang conditions, and according to theory (probably bad theory) setting off another big bang, which would sweep over this solar system at the speed of light. We wouldn’t feel a thing, and certainly wouldn’t hear a bang.

    Micro black holes are theorized to evaporate fairly rapidly. Cosmic rays are nicely soaked up with water, and the LHC is buried underground (it would otherwise make a great ABM defense weapon with an appropriate rasterizing beam director)

    Of course, as Susan Ivanova was known to mutter; “boom! It always ends in a boom!”

  • WebMonk

    AtF – I had thought of that, about the anti-missile defense! I don’t know if it would be able to shoot out the sustained or repeated stream of particles that would be needed to be an effective missile defense system, and it would be very strictly line-of-sight limited, but the general concept is absolutely kickin!

    At the energies that beam has, it would vaporize any missile it even brushed. Heck, depending on the atmosphere-beam interaction you might even be able to have proximity kills if the beam were to get close to the missile. (for various values of “close”)

  • Joe

    Steven Hawkins has set a 1% chance that a black hole will be created by this. While I agree that we should attempt to gain knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but at what point to do ethical concerns override the search for knowledge. In this case, the chances of something going wrong are extremely slight but the effects of something going wrong are pretty darn big.

    I am assuming we all agree that Hitler’s Third Reich crossed the line but other than that extreme example, where and how should we draw the line?

  • WebMonk

    Read Hawking’s quote and you’ll see he was speaking very “off the cuff” when he said 1%. That is one of the egregious examples of bad reporting that happens when non-expert reporters “report” science. Here’s what Hawking actually said:

    “If the LHC were to produce little black holes, I don’t think there is any doubt I would get a Nobel Prize if they showed the properties I predict. However I think the the probability that the LHC has enough energy to produce little black holes is less than 1 per cent – so I’m not holding my breath.”

    He wasn’t giving a specific probability, just saying that it was extremely unlikely. Even if it did make a black hole, the black hole wouldn’t bother anything. It would probably “evaporate”, but even if it didn’t evaporate it still wouldn’t destroy the world.

    It’s one of those stupid media things – they hear the words “black hole” and they freak out. We could drop a million black holes of the size the LHC might make on the earth and it wouldn’t do anything.

    *grumble grumble grumble* Stupid, idiotic, clueless, moronic, sensationalist “science” reporting is one of my pet peeves.

  • Joe

    Webmonk – thanks for the clarification but I still want an answer the question. How much risk is acceptable and who gets to decide that number?

    Here is an interesting article that makes the point that there is no standard and discusses some of the problems associated with the lack of a standard. It even suggests a standard, that the risk be less than the risk of the world being destroyed by an asteroid. I am interested in your thoughts:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/science/15risk.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

  • Kirk
  • Carl Vehse

    Even today’s Google’s home page logoused the LHC motif.

  • WebMonk

    Kirk, that would have been funny if it hadn’t been for the fact that it seems that the makers were serious. Oy! It made “Day After Tomorrow” look like an article from Nature. I couldn’t sit through the whole thing. I watched the first ten minutes, got fed up and jumped to the end. There’s only so much false science I can take in a concentrated dose like that.

    Joe, it’s funny that Dr. Kent should be one to call for realistic studies of dangers of experiments. His general ideas are good ones – apply concrete measurements to fantastically bizarre odds. It’s just that he used known bad science to come up with the odds, while calling for unbiased investigations.

    The figure he used (1 in 50 million) was based on a scientifically false paper. No, “paper” is too prestigious a term, it was a “report” that was highly speculative in its “odds” and was also wrong on some “basic” (at least for particle physicists) conceptions of strangelets.

    As to the risk that is “acceptable” in scientific research, I’d go with the idea of keeping it below the risk of a naturally occurring earth-ending disaster. For the LHC, even if strangelets and black holes are spewed out in the millions and the black holes don’t evaporate and the strangelets do their worst, the world won’t be harmed within the lifetime of the universe.

    The black holes are so insanely small, even by atomic standards, that they don’t interact with matter in a meaningful way, and they certainly wouldn’t “eat” 99.999999999999% of anything they did happen to hit, and the eating itself would have unknown effects, but the effects most likely would not be for the micro-black hole to grow in size. Start a few billion of them oscillating through the earth, and in 10 or 20 billion years they might finally accumulate enough mass that they finally “eat” the earth.

    Strangelets are even less harmful in some ways since they have limits on how “big” they get before they stop converting matter into strangelet matter. They would stop while they’re still in the atomic scale, if they actually exist.

  • Kirk

    Webmonk: I definitely didn’t mean present any of that as science. I meant to presemt it as awesome CG of NYC getting sucked into a heavy particle. Even if it is on shaky ground, it’s still awesome.

  • WebMonk

    Well, yeah. That was pretty cool. :-)

  • Joe

    I can accept the odds being tied to natural – earth ending disasters. Seems like a fairly rational place to put the limit. Your complete confidence in what we “know” about black holes and strangletes is a bit disturbing. It is all assumptions, conjecture, hypotheses, predictions and perhaps something raising to the level of an actual theory. I freely admit that the folks painting the doomsday picture have no better footing – but will you admit that we don’t actually “know” what is going to happen and that the percentages (either high or low) of doom are based on people like Hawkins’ (on the low side) predictions about the characteristics of black holes?

  • WebMonk

    Ok Joe, you asked for it! :^) You’ve gotten me started on some science!

    What I “know” about black holes is pretty small. However, what I do know is how to take the absolute worst case scenarios and see what they would do. I don’t know exactly what truly will happen – as you say it’s a lot of theory – but we can take the worst case scenario and see what would happen.

    So, take the worst case scenario – micro black holes (mBH) generated by the millions with each LHC collision and they don’t evaporate.

    These things are tiny. Comparing these things to an atomic nucleus is like comparing a marble to an elephant. In this case the elephant (atomic nucleus) is mostly space with three dust specks (quarks) floating around inside. Scatter these elephants miles apart from each other, and then shoot your marble black hole through. That’s the analogy of the mBH going through the earth.

    Mathematically I (and others) can calculate the odds of the mBH hitting one of those specks of dust. The density of iron (Earth) is 8000 kg/m^3 which means roughly 5×10^30 nucleons per m^3. The mBH’s Schwartzchild radius (size of effect) would be about 10^-18 m for a 1 Teravolt mBH (the estimated mBH that might be made from the LHC). That means its cross section is about 10^-36 sq m.

    Using those and some basic math, you can tell that on average the mBH will encounter a nucleus every 200 km (200 km travel distance × 10^-36 sq m cross section × density of nucleons of 5×10^30 nucleons per m^3 equals one nucleon). The nucleus is mostly empty space with some quarks floating around, and the odds are around 1 in 10^3 that the mBH will actually affect the nucleus even when it flies right through. (ratio of Schwartzchild radius to size of nucleus) So the mBH will need to travel around 200,000 km through the earth before affecting even a single atom. (earth is only 12,700 km in diameter)

    Most of the mBH, if they actually exist, would be generated with a velocity close to the speed of light and would fly away never to be seen again. I don’t know how to calculate the % that would be generated with a velocity less than Earth’s escape velocity, but others do and their numbers vary, but even the largest percentage is 1 in a hundred billion. Remember, most of them would have velocities of appreciable fractions of the speed of light (c) while Earth’s escape velocity is only 0.00004% of c. The probability distribution of mBH beam and transverse velocity is a typical bell curve, with the top of the curve around .01c to .2c (1% to 20% of c) and by the time the percentages of the bell curve get down to 0.00004% of c, the chances are 1 in a billion billions.

    So, in the worst case scenario of each LHC collision creating a million mBH that don’t evaporate, it would take millions of LHC collisions before even 1 would start orbiting the earth, passing through it every once in a while. (the LHC will only run thousands of collisions over its lifetime) Remember, one of the mBHs needs to pass through 15 Earths to interact with one quark, and most of the time the mBH would be orbiting earth in some sort of highly elliptical orbit that would mostly be through space, occasionally happening to pass through the earth.

    Now what happens when the mBH does interact with a quark in the 1 in 15 orbits? (saying each orbit took it directly through the earth, and remembering that each orbit takes days to years) No one knows for sure, but they can rule out some possibilities. The mBHs would be generated with MASSIVE spin; there’s no ifs about that – basic conservation of momentum. The behavior can be described with a sink drain analogy. The water going down the drain spins around and even something moving straight toward it gets spun off to the side with the water before it starts orbiting around the drain and finally going down. That’s with a drain that is standing still. With the mBH that is spinning and moving very quickly along, the quark would never be sucked in, rather it would be spun off to the side, and the mBH would pass on by without “eating” the quark. They don’t know what that would do to the atom, but at worst it might make the particular proton or neutron decay. At best, it makes the proton or neutron wiggle a bit. The mBH might lose a bit of speed – a REALLY tiny bit of speed. Give it a not-so-few trillion interactions and maybe it will slow down, but even if it were sitting at rest at the middle of the earth, it still wouldn’t be gobbling up anything because the atoms would still be rapidly moving in relation to the mBH.

    All that stuff was taking the absolutely WORST possible case, and even then the world can’t be destroyed. Scientists don’t really know for sure what will happen, but they can rule out things that can’t happen.

    Summary:
    One mBH generated that would orbit around and through the earth in millions of LHC runs. (there will only be thousands of runs) That mBH would only affect one atom in passing through the diameter of the earth 15 times. Even then it wouldn’t “eat” the atom. Let’s pretend it does eat one of the protons. It will need to eat 1,000,000 protons to grow to just the size of a proton, and even then it won’t start some sort of geometric growth to gobble up the earth.

    That’s why scientists and I can say with certainty that even though we don’t know what will happen, we can most certainly know what won’t happen. Even if the worst does happen, the universe will have long since vanished before some mBH can devour Earth.

    A couple of these calculations I ran myself, but most of them are found in various papers and textbooks. There are even some science blogs/articles out there who run through the same thing. If anyone wants to get into the nitty-gritty I can probably track some down again and you can verify what I’ve said.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    WebMonk (@24), I’m impressed. Can I assume that this falls in your line of training/work? Tell me this isn’t just a hobby of yours. :)

  • WebMonk

    I’m afraid it’s just a hobby. I REALLY like quantum physics and relativity, and I’m good at math as far as algebra and calculus go.

    But, I’m not in the field. I didn’t find my love of it until I had been out of college for a while, so while I’d love to work in the field, I’m not exactly able to pursue it as a living. So I just read everything on topic, annoy the heck out of my college science professors (with whom I only had one general science course), and work through text books on my own. My biggest lack is my higher math skills.

    Being a hobbyist has advantages though – I get to study exactly what I want and not just what will get me a job, and I can buy used textbooks instead of the pricey new textbooks that colleges require.

  • WebMonk

    Oh shoot! I’m sorry everyone. That post was done with mostly in-the-head calculations and I made one big mistake when I was figuring out the number of atoms in a cubic meter of iron, and several rounding errors which threw things off by quite a bit.

    The actual number of iron atoms (used as the estimate of the composition of the earth) is actually one hundredth what I said above. Instead of 5×10^30 atoms, there are only 9×10^28 atoms. That, combined with the other rounding errors means that instead of 15 trips through the earth to impact a single atom, it would take 7900 trips.

    Sorry. I’ll try to take more care if I post stuff like that again.

  • Joe

    So you obviously understand this at a high level, but can I ask another question:

    In your original and corrected posts you stated that would take X number of trips before the mBH would hit an atom. Isn’t that stated wrongly? We are talking about odds right? So wouldn’t it be more correct to state that we would expect it to hit an atom once in every X trips. It could be the first trip or it could be the X trip, but it would not actually require X trips before it could hit an atom. Or am I missing something?

    I am think in terms analogous to the lottery – while your odds of winning might be 1 in 1,000,000 you don’t actually have to by 1,000,000 tickets to win. You might buy one and win.

  • WebMonk

    You are correct Joe – a full and proper statement would be that the mBH would impact a nucleus, on average once every 7900 trips through the earth. Obviously it might win the roll of the dice and hit one on the first time through. It might also miss everything for 100,000 passes in a row. I was using shortcut statements. You are correct.

    Given the fact that even if it were “eating” every time it impacted a nucleus, it would have to “eat” a million times to grow a “significant” amount (significant only on an atomic scale). In the billions of passes that would take, the law of averages applies and it would consume a proton once every 7900 passes – on average.

  • Joe

    Thanks for the clarification

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