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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 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 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:That would be bad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kesuki (321456) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:47PM (#25200157) Journal

    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 absolute zero. the abstract does say that liquid helium doesn't have a chance in hell of becoming attractive, as well.

    also, in order for half of it to 'disappear' all of the liquid helium would have to become attractive, so i doubt that even if the condition became favorable that enough helium would become attractive to make any big bang... we got a 2 month extension in case the scientist at cert are wrong about helium, and enough of it could become active for enough of it to to convert to energy to create a big enough of an explosion.

  • 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?

  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:02PM (#25200605)

    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 accurate, the BEC boom would be a nuclear effect, involving ~50% of the matter involved being converted to energy. The magnetic field would be nothing more than a trigger.

    Got to admit, though, that it would be a pretty neat new power source, if it were reasonably harnessable. Which, frankly, it sounds like it is.

  • 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 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.

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