Sunday, Sept 7, 2008
Cancel your plans for next Wednesday, it could be your last day on Earth. Or could it?
If you believe a vocal lobby of doomsayers, at the flick of a switch on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) next week the world will be consumed from the inside out and turned to a pile of grey goo. Yesterday their apocalyptic warnings were challenged by a report from the scientists behind the project outlining just how safe it is to recreate the Big Bang under the France-Switzerland border.
The Large Hadron Collider – the atom-smashing machine built underneath the Alps – has sent more internet-based harbingers of doom into a spin than it will have atomic particles whizzing around its 17-mile circumference when it is put into action next week. They fear that the energies released will be so powerful that a runaway black hole will be created that will engulf the planet or produce “quantum strangelets” transforming the Earth into a dead lump of “strange matter”.
So worried are they about the impending end of the Universe that they have been to court to try to stop it.
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Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho in Hawaii sought a temporary restraining order on scientists at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or CERN, who they say have played down the chances that the collider could produce a tiny black hole, which could eat the Earth. They say that CERN has failed to provide an environmental impact statement as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Their objections have been so vehement that the scientists behind the LHC have published a report to allay their fears and convince them that the world will carry on as normal after the biggest and most powerful atom collider ever built is turned on in Geneva.
“Nature has already conducted the equivalent of about a hundred thousand LHC experimental programmes on Earth – and the planet still exists,” the report says.
Just outside Geneva, 300ft below ground, the LHC will blast atomic particles around its circumference approximately 11,200 times every second, before smashing them headlong into one another.
Scientists have been using particle collision devices for 30 years without incident but concerns have arisen over the LHC because of its size and power.
The report was written by five CERN physicists, who were told to review a safety assessment written by colleagues in 2003 that also gave the project the green light.
The LHC is to start unleashing a beam of protons in the first stage of its commissioning process on Wednesday. Two parallel beams of particles, pulsing around the underground ring in opposite directions, will be bent by superconducting magnets at four points to cause them to collide. Detectors in the giant chamber will record the resulting sub-atomic debris.
This article was posted: Sunday, September 7, 2008 at 3:47 am