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Another Way the LHC Could Self-Destruct 367

Posted by kdawson
from the no-physics-whatsoever dept.
KentuckyFC writes "Just when you thought it was safe to switch on the LHC (though it won't be for a while yet), another nightmare scenario has emerged that some critics worry could cause the particle accelerator to explode. The culprit this time is not an Earth-swallowing black hole but a 'Bose supernova' in the accelerator's superfluid helium bath. Physicists have been playing with Bose Einstein Condensate (BECs) for over 10 years now. But in 2001, one group discovered that placing them in a powerful magnetic field could cause the attractive forces between atoms to become repulsive. That caused their BEC to explode in a Bose supernova — which they called a 'Bosenova,' a name that fortunately did not catch on. This was little more than a curiosity when only a microscopic blob of cold matter was involved. But superfluid liquid helium is also BEC. And physicists have suddenly remembered that the LHC is swimming in 700,000 liters of the stuff while being zapped by some of the most powerful magnetic fields on the planet. So is the LHC a Bose supernova waiting to go off? Not according to the CERN theory division, which has published its calculations that show the LHC is safe (abstract). They also point out that no other superfluid helium handling facility has mysteriously blown itself to pieces."
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Another Way the LHC Could Self-Destruct

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  • by Digitus1337 (671442) <lk_digitusNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:09PM (#25199841) Homepage
    Let me assure you, there is nothing to be worried about. I'm watching a couple of guys fiddle with some of the magnets right now and they assure me that nothing can go wro
    • by RDW (41497) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:15PM (#25199885)

      You had me going there for a moment, but I just checked the webcams and everything seems fine:

      http://www.cyriak.co.uk/lhc/lhc-webcams.html [cyriak.co.uk]

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ILuvRamen (1026668)
      oh yeah, take a really sharp magnet and touch a helium balloon with it. KABOOM! Now imagine that except a million times bigger. Scary stuff! By the way, I'd feel better if that statement was from the CERN safety division not the CERN theory division, whose favorite saying is "we don't really know what's going to happen"
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:57PM (#25200217)

      While the LHC might be perfectly safe, the LHC I'm building in my basement will be extremely volatile.

      Dubbed the Large Hatred Collider, its function is to see what happens when enraged 'haters' are collided at speed.

      First into the test chamber are a Daily Mail [google.com] reader (who is also a confirmed supporter of the BNP [wikipedia.org]) and an enraged Digg user, who's just discovered that not everybody likes Macintosh compters as much as he does.

      It is expected that the two will cancel each other out when they collide. What is unknown is how much energy will be released when this happens. Does anyone on Slashdot have an equation for this?

      • by jd (1658) <imipak@yaCOLAhoo.com minus caffeine> on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @04:45AM (#25202393) Homepage Journal
        This is difficult, as you do not specify if this is a Daily Mail reader who also wants to be a Paperback Writer, where you have to add the equations for John, Paul, George and Ringo muse-ons. A member of the BNP will increase spin to twice the speed of light, causing space/time distortions. For DIGG readers, add together the DIGG value of all articles and posts submitted and multiply by the speed of light in a beer glass cubed. In terms of Macintosh usage, it is important to determine if these are old or new Macintoshes. Old Macintoshes would stop on removing the floppy disk, which means you have a probability (based on the Poisson distribution) of having instantaneous zero forward velocity and infinite resultant force.
      • by Sasayaki (1096761) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @07:27AM (#25202897)

        e=mc^2

        Where e = energy, m = the marketing power of Apple Corp. and c = the certainty of Apple fanboys exploding in a fiery rage whenever their platform choice is called into question.

        In short- a hell of a lot.

  • by SamMichaels (213605) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:09PM (#25199847)

    Does this mean we can just blame it on the Bosenova [wikipedia.org]?

    • by BluBrick (1924) <blubrick@@@gmail...com> on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:00PM (#25200977) Homepage

      BLAME IT ON THE BOSENOVA

      Blame it on the Bosenova,
      That blew up so well.
      Blame it in the Bosenova,
      That we're in hell.

      Super-cooled He and big magnets
      Turned attractive forces
      Right around.
      Blame it on the Bosenova,
      That CERN went boom!

      Blame it on the Bosenova,
      That blew up so well.
      Blame it in the Bosenova,
      That we're in hell.

      How we ended up as just a pile of ash,
      When the Large Hadron Collider
      Made a flash.
      Blame it on the Bosenova
      Pheno-omenon.

      (to the tune of... well, that should be obvious!)

  • About how big of a crater would 700,000 liters of liquid helium make?

    • Phase change (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:14PM (#25199875)
      It doesn't seem like there would be a sudden phase change in every part of the condensate. I bet there would be a tiny explosion here and there as little bits of it explode. It would manifest as a slight outgassing.
    • by Carnildo (712617)

      About how big of a crater would 700,000 liters of liquid helium make?

      I can't find any definite numbers, but the impression I get is that the explosion would wreck the accelerator, but wouldn't blow open the tunnel it's in.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kesuki (321456)

      well in the experiment in question 50% of the matter 'disappeared' or in other words was converted to energy. a standard fission reactor is converting ounces of matter into energy.

      in other words, we're talking about an explosion about 350,000 times larger than hiroshima. i think that's enough energy to crack the earth in half. on the plus side, they were working with rubidium-85, not super fluid liquid helium, oh yeah, and they got the temperature all the way down to 3 billionths of a degree above absolu

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ameline (771895)

        Lets look at a worst case then -- how bad could it get? Lets assume half of the liquid helium gets converted directly to energy -- just how bad could it be? As it turns out, pretty bad -- not bad like converting the entire universe into strange matter, but bad enough for us -- not any better than sucking the whole planet into a what would eventually be a pea sized black hole. (ok, ok -- black holes don't really have a size, but the event horizon would be pea sized.)

        The amount of liquid helium in question? 7

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Nazlfrag (1035012)

      Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instanteously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

    • Roughly speaking, it should expand by about a factor of 1000, so roughly it should expand to about 700 million liters, or 700,000 cubic meters. This is completely an unqualified guesstimate.
    • by Digital End (1305341) <<excommunicated> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @01:09AM (#25201669)

      About how big of a crater would 700,000 liters of liquid helium make?

      Depends which side you ask.

      None, because after careful analisis we've determined it won't happen
      -Science

      An explosion that would likely cause the END OF THE UNIVERSE AND KILL GOD! (add video clip of a van exploding)
      -Fox News (story at 11)

  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:16PM (#25199887)
    Isn't amazing that whenever a new technological breakthrough occurs, it's instantly assumed that the End Is Nigh? If anyone remembers, atomic bombs were originally estimated to have a 15% chance to cause complete atmospheric ignition on a planetary scale. Also, it was a "generally well known fact" when cars were invented that going above 50 mph would cause the driver's lungs to collapse from wind pressure, as well as tear off his face. Don't you just love all those nightmare scenarios that keep popping up? It takes all the challenge out of creating new science fiction apocalypse scenarios!
    • by tehniobium (1042240) <lukas@imf.[ ]dk ['au.' in gap]> on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:23PM (#25199953)
      I believe the LHC is perfectly safe...but your comparisons aren't that good...and here's why:

      When testing a car for the first time, the worst that could happen is the tester of the car dies.

      It is very easy to find one person who believes the science - and therefor is willing to test the car.

      We should not expect the entire planet to be happy to "test" the LHC and its physics. We know they are safe...and don't mind testing. But some people aren't, and you can't really complain about that.

      Oh and the bombs where made to end WWII, so there was obviously a very imminent need for the nuke...unlike the LHC physics...which are immensely interesting, but not really important for everyone.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by David Gerard (12369)

      With the "arrow", we have invented the weapon that makes war too terrible to wage!

    • If anyone remembers, atomic bombs were originally estimated to have a 15% chance to cause complete atmospheric ignition on a planetary scale.

      I believe the phrase you are looking for is "cascading exothermal inversion".

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kylemonger (686302)
      Diffidently I point out that while Cassandra was not believed, she was correct in her doom filled predictions.
    • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:12PM (#25200307) Journal

      That's the point of the myth: Apollo granted her the gift of prophesy, then cursed her by making it so nobody would ever believe her predictions.

      • That's the point of the myth: Apollo granted her the gift of prophesy, then cursed her by making it so nobody would ever believe her predictions.

        Mod. Parent. Up.

    • by Hao Wu (652581)
      Companies run by Yes-men and public relations are assumed to be greedy, reckless hazards to public health. Because they are.

      Does LHC ever say "no" to anything? Would they, even if they knew there were risks?
      • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:03PM (#25200607) Homepage

        the LHC is not a commercial corporation. it's not even an organization. it's a particle physics experiment/apparatus

        CERN is the organization that funds the LHC. and they are not a commercial corporation either. they're a particle physics laboratory and research institution. they're concerned with scientific & academic research, not making money. they're driven by the desire for knowledge, not the desire for profit.

    • Also, it was a "generally well known fact" when cars were invented that going above 50 mph would cause the driver's lungs to collapse from wind pressure, as well as tear off his face.

      I think you're confusing an idea popular when steam locomotives were first developed.

      Especially since by the time cars were invented, pretty much everyone had gone 50 mph or higher riding a train.

    • If they are right, they will never know.
  • by actionbastard (1206160) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:16PM (#25199895)
    "They also point out that no other superfluid helium handling facility has mysteriously blown itself to pieces."

    True, but, no other SFH2 facility was wielding a 1Tev particle beam like it was a toy light saber, either.
    • by timmarhy (659436)
      neither are they. if they can build it i'm betting they have a pretty good handle on what might occur.
  • by Goldsmith (561202) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:18PM (#25199905)

    An expanding BEC isn't anywhere close to a supernova. This would be similar to snapping the valve off of a liquid helium tank. The guys at CERN could blow themselves up with this, but that's about it. They could blow themselves up lots of ways.

    It was called a "bosenova" because it shrinks before it expands, not because it's super destructive.

  • by timmarhy (659436) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:24PM (#25199975)
    can we please stop grunting like frightened chimps every time we are on the verge of a new scientific break through?
    • by dpilot (134227) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:52PM (#25200523) Homepage Journal

      Moonwatcher said to ask you to please quite disparaging semi-simian anthropoids. After all, HE's not frightened, and he's got a big black (or clear, if you prefer the book) slab to back him up.

    • OOOOOO oooooooo aaaaaaaaaaaaa AAAAAAAAAH

      Stupid f%^%$* monolith...
  • by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:27PM (#25199985)
    Q: What's funnier than running the world's largest particle collider while the janitor is inside, cleaning the pipes?

    A: Nothing
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by RealGrouchy (943109)

      If he's cleaning the inside of it, then he's not a janitor, he's a vacuum cleaner.

      - RG>

  • At least it will have terrific stereo sound.

  • Worser (Score:5, Informative)

    by hcg50a (690062) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:33PM (#25200041) Journal

    Could it be worse than melting a 40-ton magnet, which actually happened?

  • First Law? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir Holo (531007) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:39PM (#25200093)
    Energy doesn't magically come from nowhere.

    In this (imaginary) case, the energy in would be that of the magnetic field. Trying to spin this as a possible supernova plays on ignorance, is scaremongering, and is just plain wrong.

    When did Slashdot turn into Fox News?
    • Re:First Law? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Scubaraf (1146565) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:49PM (#25200167)
      Excellent point. Add to that the fact that superfluid helium is not a uniform Bose-Einstein Condensate and you have full debunking.
      • Re:First Law? (Score:5, Informative)

        by sdpuppy (898535) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:25PM (#25200377)
        Exactly. Besides, isn't it rather difficult to make a Bose-Einstein Condensate - you need to be fractions of a degree close to absolute zero, the liquid helium used is hotter than that, like 1.9K.

        In addition, magnets have been run at that temperature before.

    • Not that I think this is likely to happen, but I think the idea is that there is energy inside the helium, lots of lots of quarks, quacks, glue-ons, thingies and pico-atomic dohickies. And when those dohickies do the Bosonova, then some of the atoms disappear, which means matter is being converted to energy. If there was a chain reaction that caused all of the 96 tonnes of liquid helium to be converted to energy, that would be a very big boom. Specifically, if 96 tonnes of He4 were to be fully converted
    • Energy doesn't magically come from nowhere.

      Well it DID at some point, or we wouldn't be here discussing it. Care chime in on the "Big Bang" theory?

      Who knows? Maybe the LHC sparks off another cosmic rebirth.

  • by Sj0 (472011) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:43PM (#25200133) Homepage Journal

    I know it's out of vogue, but I'd like to point out that if the LHC were to explode in a fireball whose energy exceeded the energy we put into it, it'd be a good thing for science -- imagine a new energy source we can use to power our further expansion into the universe?

    The law of conservation of energy makes for some very unsexy conclusions, like the lhc is probably fairly safe from destroying the universe.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      but I'd like to point out that if the LHC were to explode in a fireball whose energy exceeded the energy we put into it, it'd be a good thing for science

      Yes, ultimately the discovery would mean cheap energy for any remaining continents.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I know it's out of vogue, but I'd like to point out that if the LHC were to explode in a fireball whose energy exceeded the energy we put into it, it'd be a good thing for science -- imagine a new energy source we can use to power our further expansion into the universe?

      The law of conservation of energy makes for some very unsexy conclusions, like the lhc is probably fairly safe from destroying the universe.

      I take it you didn't read the article describing the first BEC "explosion". Assuming it is accurat

    • by camperdave (969942) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:09PM (#25200669) Journal
      I don't want the LHC to power our expansion into space. I quite like the planet where it is.
  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:49PM (#25200169)

    and we used to blow stuff up for fun when I was a kid. Now I work in an MRI research lab.

    This sounds like something I need to try tomorrow.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If perchance, the beams were improperly calibrated and they missed the normal intercept point and ended up crossing at another point in the collider.

    Crossing the streams, that would be bad.

  • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:37PM (#25200447)
    I thought this was tagged as "science"????
    .

    At best, this is one notch above voodoo....

  • Why is this news? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:42PM (#25200467)

    From the summary:

    "So is the LHC a Bose supernova waiting to go off? Not according to the CERN theory division, which has published its calculations that show the LHC is safe. They also point out that no other superfluid helium handling facility has mysteriously blown itself to pieces."

    So, a "Bosenova explosion" under LHC-like conditions (1) can't happen according to theory, and (2) hasn't happened according to experiment either. Sheesh. I can concoct LHC disaster scenarios that are impossible according to theory and experiment too. Can I get on the Slashdot front page?

  • What happens when I put the crystal in with the super fluid helium and the magnetic fields? Will the Combine show up and take over the world in less than 24 hours?
  • > So is the LHC a Bose supernova waiting to go off? Not according to the CERN theory division, which has published its calculations that show the LHC is safe (abstract). They also point out that no other superfluid helium handling facility has mysteriously blown itself to pieces."

    Yes, but did they account for a resonance cascade in the calculations? I know the chances of one occurring is extremely small, but I know I've seen one happen before.

  • by wonkavader (605434) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:07PM (#25200653)

    Does a bosanova put out more energy then you need to put in to cause the reaction? I'm assuming not.

    If it does then this a possible energy source, huh? Shouldn't we be looking at harnessing this ala fusion?

    If it doesn't, then I gather that no reaction the LHC could pour enough energy into to make happen would do much to the planet.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:59PM (#25200971) Homepage Journal

    I'm sure glad there's more certainty in economic and finance theory than physics; otherwise banks would be ....... we're fucked

  • Pun (Score:3, Interesting)

    by afabbro (33948) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:27PM (#25201113) Homepage

    which they called a 'Bosenova,' a name that fortunately did not catch on.

    Speak for yourself! I like it.

  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:36PM (#25201129)

    It went on line and the economy crashed.

    Coincidence? I think not. Clearly it takes unbalanced chaotic systems and collapses them into the state most likely to actualize. The cloud of dreams which has been our economy since Reagan began inflating it with voodoo has been begging to collapse for some time. Thank-you Higgs Boson! Clearly, the LHC is a kind of Probability Drive.

    I look forward to seeing what will happen next when they get it up and running again. If they run it in reverse, maybe it will turn missiles into potted plants and whales.

    -FL

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:53PM (#25201239)
    The probability is a lot lower than finding somebody like Spiderman stopping a train that was runaway due to being struck by lightning because Tesla rose from his grave to acknowledge the bottle-nose dolphins for saying "So long, and thanks for all the fish."
  • by Chas (5144) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:28AM (#25201445) Homepage Journal

    Holy shit! We really ARE all gonna die!
    DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

    Pardon my snark. We've had particle particle accelerators for HOW long now? This is simply a bigger and better one.

    Did we all die from those?

    Did we all die when trains got faster than 50Mph?

    Did we all die when we were finally able to surpass the sound barrier?

    Did we all die in an ignited atmosphere when the Trinity test went off?

    This stupid fucking technophobic bullshit is REALLY wearing on my nerves.

    If you don't like it, move to Mars already and set up a hunter-gatherer utopia there. Just stop yammering in my fucking ear about how we're going to all kill ourselves fiddling with low mass particle collisions.

  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @01:18AM (#25201709)

    Seriously, next think you know the secretary of state for the bush administration and the heads of the christian coalition and the mackinac conservative think tank are going to announce the LHC is developing weapons of mass destruction, and we're dispatching a carrier group to the area.

  • Bull (Score:3, Informative)

    by Liquid Len (739188) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @02:37AM (#25201995)
    FWIW, where I work, we operate a superconducting tokamak (Tore Supra) with Niobium-Titanium alloy coils, supercritical helium for cryogeny and pretty nasty magnetic fields everywhere. A quench occured when the machine was switched on the first time (in 1988), because of an identified defect in the superconducting wire. But since then, the magnet has been working flawlessly and the coolant, monitored in real time, never exhibited any kind of unexpected phenomenon.
    Also, people have been constantly working on this stuff since then, with even larger currents (hence larger magnetic fields) and I think it's pretty safe to assume that the LHC is gonna be fine (at least this part of the machine).
    • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @03:13AM (#25202137)
      Obviously you are BIASED because you work in the industry! Why should we believe YOU? Just because it WORKED? What kind of idiots do you take us for?

      The kind who actually understand science?

      Man... are you in for a surprise. Sorry, but we're just the general public, who can't be bothered to learn how our garbage disposal really works. Too gross.
  • by failedlogic (627314) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @02:51AM (#25202037)

    I admit that in not fully understanding as a whole the general science behind the LHC that I'm hesistant in having the experiment go on. I studied biology but particle physics lost me a long time ago. I think its neat that the technolgy, knowledge and scientists are available to have this experienment come to fruition. Moreover, the contruction of the LHC is amazing.

    The problem: The public sees the media as being the credible source of information. Not the physicists at CERN nor independent ones.

    I think that the public and media are hesitant to have the experiment go on because they really don't understand or remeber anything about science past 9th grade (if that even). Whether the reason (religion, education, moral, fear, end of the world, conspiracy theory, etc.) it seems that this is the same resistance to other science experiments of the past. Nuclear weapons had the same public reaction (and the world is definately not the same since then). But more comparatively 'simple' things in complexity either science-wise or the ability for the public to understand the science behing it like the Human Genome Project, Stem Cell research, Robotics have met the same media and public resistance. The world will end with Dolly the Sheep.

    Particle physics is tough to understand. I've read the articles in the AP and watched some slightly more detailed interviews with CERN scientists. The general public isn't buying it. I think the CERN guys should do a piece for a major magazine(s) or newspaper. PR is where it's at.

  • by mikej (84735) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @09:15AM (#25203625) Homepage

    It's impopssible for superfluid helium to 'go nova'. This impossibility is well understood by theory - It's not that there's a miniscule-but-nonzero chance, as there is that the LHC could spontaneously produce tiny dragons - In this case it's *impossible*.

    Here's the explanation:
    http://anticrackpot.blogspot.com/2008/09/there-will-be-no-bose-novae-at-lhc.html

    And a personal request: Take a second to look some of this stuff up before you post an article like this that fuels unfounded (indeed, indefensible) fears.

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." -- William James

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