The Day The Earth Collided

fysikb1.jpgWednesday Sept 10th, 2008, marks the beginning of operations of the world’s largest super collider in Geneva, Switzerland. Known as LHC for Large Hadron Collider, this 17-mile long underground facility will start firing proton beams at each other to search and prove several postulated theories, create antimatter and perhaps even a black hole that could destroy the planet – a very small but plausible risk reported in a series of articles by Roger Highfield from the UK Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/09/05/scilhc105.xml). As the date approaches, scientists involved with the project have been deluged with calls and emails from people concerned that the experiment may trigger a cataclysm.

Fears of this end-of-the-world scenario have not been appeased with reassurance from the scientific community that “such collisions in the form of cosmic rays have been occurring on Earth and other planets for a long time. In fact these collisions pack much more of a punch than anything the LHC can produce.” The collider is designed to seek out new particles including the long-awaited and theorized Higgs boson responsible for making things weigh what they do, the possible source of gravity called dark matter, as well as probe the differences between matter and antimatter.

The LHC, the largest scientific project of all time so far, was created in a joint effort by The European Particle Physics Centre (CERN) at a cost of 4.85 billion Euros. Scientists have responded to those fears in a study titled ‘Review of the Safety of LHC Collisions’, published in the Journal of Physics G: Nuclear and Particle Physics. They claim the study “proves that if particle collisions at the LHC had the power to destroy the Earth, we would never have been given the chance to worry about the LHC in the first place, because regular interactions with more energetic cosmic rays would already have destroyed the Earth.”

The Safety Assessment Group adds, “Nature has already conducted the equivalent of about a hundred thousand LHC experimental programs on Earth – and the planet still exists.” Perhaps their risk assessment is sound, but history also teaches that nature has its own way of making sure things sort themselves out. Can scientists be so confident that they can contain and control forces that define nature in order to produce the same outcome?

In my humble, non-scientific opinion, I am not sure that this experiment will cause a black hole that sucks all earthly matter into its vortex or end the known universe in the process, but I do not buy into the scientists’ assurances either because all of it, including their rationale, sounds so unscientific.

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