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New Heavy Ion Collider could "destroy the earth" 413

Posted by Hemos
from the honey-i-destroyed-the-earth dept.
Sith Lord Jesus writes "According to an article in the London Sunday Times, a new nuclear accelerator designed to recreate the Big Bang might possibly--*possibly*--cause the earth to "disappear in the twinkling of an eye." Oops. " This reminds me of the some the fears that the folks in the Manhatten Project had-almost zero chance of anything occuring, but the notion of creating a black hole on the surface of the Earth is a strangely appealing one, from a sheer comedic value POV.
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New Heavy Ion Collider could "destroy the earth"

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    So I think I know what I'm talking about.

    Who is General Failure, and why is he reading my hard drive?

    Take anything that a physicist named "Bob" says with a grain of salt. If the guy thinks that there is actually some General named "Failure" reading his hard drive and doesn't recognize it as an ERROR CODE then he is NOT a physicist. Maybe a wannabe like the majority of the people on this newsgroup but definately not a real one.

    I, however, am a REAL physicist and I know lots of things about strange corks. They infect anything that comes into contact with them much like a virus. The infected corks in turn infect others until ALL of the stuff in the universe is strange. This has all happened before and it will all happen again. Ever been to SanFransisco or Puyallup? If so then you know what I'm talking about.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I seem to remember that quarks don't even exist except in groups of twos or threes. Whenever you seperate a group of them (proton, etc), each seperate quark will create another one to latch on to it (bad oversimplistic terms, probably). So an isolated quark won't really be isolated.

    If that's the case, I'd assume that the new mass comes from the energy that was put into seperating them in the first place, but it's been a while, and I really don't remember for sure. Anyone who knows their stuff want to clear this up?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Anyone who's played Half-Life knows exactly what playing with strange particles can cause.

    Guess I'd better dig out the old crowbar.
  • The whole thing is based on quite an esoteric theory by Witten in 1984. (Probably, everyone regards it as esoteric, including Witten.)
    The assumption is that "our" world is not the real ground state of hadronic matter; it might be something else where strange quarks are just as light as the other quarks; this vast increase in phase space would effectively lower ground state energy. Just kinda the same effect that happens when you open an undercooled bottle of mineral water: it instantly freezes all through.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The first time I heard this theory was in 1983,
    when I was starting as a graduate student in
    physics. I got such a kick out of it I told
    everybody I thought I could scare. Since then,
    I've seen demonstrators picketing just about
    every particle accelerator I've been to, in two
    continents. The mechanism keeps changing to apply
    to the lab being picketed, but the outcome is
    always the same: the Universe is doomed!

    I remember about 6-7 years ago, some guy was
    camping outside Fermilab, distributing leaflets
    to cars entering the site, trying to warn the
    world how the proton-antiproton collider would
    create a black hole that would swallow everything
    (now, what does this remind me of?) The world
    failed to pay sufficient attention, the
    temperature hit 100 F that summer in Illinois,
    and he left in disgust ("Go ahead, destroy the
    Universe - see if I care"). There are limits to
    what one can do to save the world in spite of

    It looks like the tabloids are running out of
    royal scandals - everybody is dead, divorced,
    or behaving themselves. Time to branch out into
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 18, 1999 @10:32AM (#1796711)
    No, there is not a better use of money.

    First of all, far, far money is spent on finding cures for horrible diseases than on high energy physics. For twenty years, the fight against horrible diseases like AIDS has soaked up research money like you wouln't believe (I think it may have been nealy 1/2 the NIH budget at one point). Personally, I don't see that we are too much better off.

    As for what is learned as a result of these high energy experiments, just in the last few years we have learned that the neutrino has mass, the standard model is insufficient, we are beginning to study asymetries such as CP violation (which will explain why the universe exists), why things have mass (or at least we will have found this in the next few years with the discovery of the Higgs bosons). We know that Einstein's theories of gravitation are incomplete. I could give you an incredible list of what these experiments have and will bring to mathematics, physics and astronomy in the future.

    If however, you are not interested in any of that, surely these things are important for their technological spinoffs. High energy experiments...

    brought us the world wide web. Web commerce soon will exceed the money spent on high energy physics.

    is the largest application of superconducting technology anywhere. Were it not for such experiments, we would not currently have superconductor based products, like MRIs.

    Particle accelerators are now often used as treatment for certain cancers and blindness. Funny to think it, but these days every major hospital in the country has a particle accelerator.

    Particle accelerators and storage rings are currently used as a source for x-ray or neutron studies of materials. They are used by virtually every company that makes something, from GM to Intel.

    High energy physics pushes the limits of computation, finds better algorithms, expands clustering and distributed computing technologies. The fastest computer in the world is currently used for nuclear computations.

    The demands of detectors push the limits of silicon and nano technologies. Curretly they are building silicon devices many times smaller than places like Intel even have the technology to do. They pioneer the use of other materials such as synthetic diamond for semiconductor devices (which are functional at far higher temperatures than silicon).

    These are just the examples that come to mind off of the top of my head.

    In short, in addition to their value to science, these high energy experiments push the envelope of every technology they use. The spin offs of these experiments alone are many times greater than their cost.

    Answers to pressing scientific questions. Big, big, big technological spinoffs. You would be very hard pressed to find any better use of the money or manpower. I'd say that the fight against "horrible diseases" is a bigger waste of everyone's resources, but who knows, one day it might produce results, or at least make some progress that would make it worth the time and money.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 18, 1999 @08:41AM (#1796712)
    So they won't say it "can't" happen, since you can't say that about anything. If you solve the quantum mechanics of picking my nose there is a nonzero probability that I will create Dark Matter which will cause the subsequent distintigration of my nose, me, and the alpha quadrant. That is what our probibalistic universe means. There is just about a nonzero probability of anything.

    Back in the 70s when the first recombinant DNA experiments were taking place, there was a public outcry, mainly a result of politicians stirring up people for political reasons. They dragged a bunch of biologists into court and asked them the probability of creating dangerous organisms, as some scientists had suggested. Of course, the biologists who were about to do the experiments had carefully researched this possibility and come to the conclusion that it was extraordinary- but of course, not nonzero. When they testified, they were repeatedly asked if such a thing could never happen. They had to answer no, of course not, there is always a probability of anything happening.

    Well, the experiments were banned for several years. No one in the world had any problems with inadvertant creation of dangerous organisms, and now recombinant dna experiements are commenplace. But think of the progress that was lost!

    Remember that scientists are people too, and don't want the earth to collapse any more than you do. Saying that something has a small probability is about the safest assurance you can hope for, at least from a real scientist. Articles like this that attempt to use scare-mongering to whip up readership, at the expense of science, are very dangerous for everyone.
  • I can only agree with you. Abouth 4 years ago the problem was with child porn and neo nazism on the internet, and now in Europe it is genetically altered plants.

    I guess there will always be men in power who knows next to nothing about science. But who will try to halt the advancement of mankind to serve their own ends.

    But alas so far they have all failed.
  • I guess if you lived in the stone age you would be opposed to fire ?

    If someone had asked 70 years ago what quantum teory was good for. No one could probably give him an answer. But look now we have computers.
  • No this is the one known as the worst movie ever made. Created by Ed Wood.

    It was about grave robbers from outher space, who resurrected the dead.
  • Yes, but the grave robbers from space were coming to stop us from developing soem weapon which could ignite the entire universe...
  • Nukes are fairly clean ; you can live in a place a few hundred years after you nuked it, and it doesn't affect places on the other side of the planet mcuh.

    Not so with dust.

  • Nonsense. This project could well prove to destroy not just humanity, but the world!
  • Yeah. Except it wasn't funny.
  • I thought Plan 9 was from Bell Labs.
  • by dmd (404)
    For those of you who've read Dan Simmons' Hyperion...

    Great. We're gonna get the earth sucked into a black hole, and we don't even have the Hawking drive yet.

  • The capitalization is part of their style. The first little bit of each article is capitalized. Read some more articles at the site.
  • In this modern age, leading causes of premature death still include poor sanitation, bad nutrition and diseases with cures. We know how to fix them. Just provide decent sewage systems, better diets and basic medicine. Those tasks do not constitute interesting puzzles, however, and they do not help the wealthy, lazy, fat Westerners who already have easy access to good water, good food and good medicine.

    Someone brought up medical research. It gets big money. The push for making older tried and proven treatments widely available is small, though.

  • Hmm maybe we are listening on the wrong band totally with SETI. Any sufficiently advanced civilisation might be communicating/broadcasting using modulated gravity waves. Therefore we should be submitting any results from that detector to SETI@Home to analyze...
  • Posted by SmashPHASE:

    Maybe a couple of million years ago, a scientist
    made the same mistake... who knows
  • Posted by SmashPHASE:

    "Trust me, I know what I'm doing..."
  • Posted by alanut:

    Ah - the so called unexexplained Gamma Ray Events are whole civilizations flashing from existence when they tried the same experiment. Unfortunately , the twinkling of an eye leaves little time for an escape plan like Jor-el provided for his son on Krypton.
  • Reminds me of a quote from some field commander in the US civil war:
    "At this range they couldn't hit an elephant!" Those were his last words. :)

    I like this one:
    "The world is not going to explode. The pacific ocean is not going to evaporate. I am not an atomic playboy."
    --Some high-rank naval officer, on the nuclear tests on a US-depopulated island.

    I'd LOVE a .wav of that quote...

  • Gravity is not polar and there is no (known) means of shielding it.

    I thought two particles, gravitons and anti-gravitons, are expected to exist, each with an opposite gravitational "pole". The existence of these quantum particles is vital for exotic matter (and consequently, fun things like exploiting wormholes and warp drives). Right?
  • I think it would be quite a nice death. Should be quite fast.

    Actually, entering a black hole would be anything but a fast death. Time slows as you approach the singularity. I think it's possible you'd just be falling for an eternity (or so it would seem to you).
  • by nitsuj (966) on Sunday July 18, 1999 @12:31PM (#1796731)
    He's really not far off.
    The agricultural industry is pretty messed up. There is not any good control over Monsanto and the like who are cramming new genes into plants as fast as they can.

    The genes in the altered plants cross with wild-types. The recommendation is to keep a "buffer" zone of empty land around the modified plants. Yeah, like any farmer is going to leave several fields clear because it might have an impact on surrounding wild-types.

    That really bad part, however, is things like:
    1. All those genetic crops have some kind of antibiotic resistance gene (used in the laboratory to select for transgenics). Eat enough of the crop and eventually you're going to get bacteria in your gut with the resistance, too.
    2. They're inserting genes which cause constitutive expression of pesticides. This will breed resistance in under 5 years. It's just idiotic. And, of course, these pesticides they're inserting are natural pesticides (various enzymes) which are the kind used by organic farmers. Organic farmers will not have viable pesticides for much longer. There are other options, such as breeding insects to eat the problem insects, but it's complicated and expensive.

    Summary: The agricultural industry is short-sighted, dangerous, and not under any real governmental regulation. The USDA is a joke, and the FDA usually doesn't get involved (too busy with the drugs).

    The whole industry is running on the assumption that science will fix the problems they're creating faster than the farmers can make new problems. It will collapse eventually.
  • Joe Haldeman (who also wrote Forever War) wrote a book Forever Peace, which had the premise that scientists were building a huge collider in the orbit of Jupiter to study and recreate the big bang, but, as it turns out, would actually create a new big bang, destroying life, the universe and everything.

    Anyways, I find it interesting that the news story and a recent sci fi novel have the same premise.
  • s/foolhearty/foolhardy/

    Also, I haven't read the article yet, but this sounds highly theoretical to me. Do you know what a black hole is? It's a tightly-packed core of super-dense matter that becomes a massive gravity well, sucking in matter because of its extremely strong gravitational field. However, the only way I've ever heard of to create a REAL black hole is the collapse of a star. Maybe it's just me... but I'm not going to get too worked up over this.

    Besides, I know I'd rather know that we were trying to learn and improve ourselves, rather than hide our heads in the dirt and chalk all the mysteries of our world/galaxy/universe/whatever to religious things.
  • Sorry, but I have a hard time believing that some guy in the sky magically made things. I tend to believe in things that can be proven (i.e., science). And, at least scientific theories have some basis in fact.

    Besides, if religion is so sacred, how come it's been changed with the passage of time to accomodate what were (at the time) non-Christian beliefs? At least when scientific views change, it's an attempt to make things make more sense.

    "Religion is the opiate of the masses." -- Karl Marx

    "... the Bible is a ... [work of] fiction ..." -- Janeane Garafolo (paraphrased)
  • There is a nonzero chance that YOU do not exist.

    Well, there goes "cogito, ergo sum", I guess. If I don't exist, I guess that would explain a lot of things... and at least make the fucked-up-edness of this world a little easier to believe. :)
  • Well, every atom in the known universe is nuclear in nature. Each one has a nucleus with electrons in perpetual orbit around it. Maybe for the clueless masses it strikes fear, but for me, it's just like, gee, ya don't say?
  • by crayz (1056)
    that was pretty funny, though I'm not sure you meant it as a joke(sounded like it). If you want "real" news, watch some CBN. Yeah, right.
  • by Fastolfe (1470)
    Damn that was funny.

    You were joking, right?
  • by SEGV (1677)
    Dig that funky chain reaction shit.
  • If you're thinking of the Tunguska explosion, it's been known for a while now that it was an asteroid that exploded entering the atmosphere, not a black hole or anything that rare. And it wasn't shit size of a weak nuke, it knocked down hundreds of square miles of trees and the shock wave set off seismographs on the oposite side of the earth.
  • Gregory Benford's Cosm (published 1998) involved the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider's creation of a micro-universe. A pretty good novel, if you like hard-SF. I wouldn't expect of cinematic version, though.
  • by rofa (2358)
    The Vogons will beat them to it.
  • Just because its in "The Science of Star Trek" or whatever that silly book is, doesn't mean its scientific fact.

    There is no good quantum theory of gravity, at least there wasn't a few years ago, and I'd think I would've read something about that. Gravity still isn't well understood.

    Either way the original premise of this thread was just plain wrong too, that the size of a black hole would affect its ability to "suck" in matter. AFAIK there's no theory that they'd be charged entities, so you'd have gravity pulling stuff towards it, and nothing pushing it away. The only hope in that case was that it for some unknown reason passed out of the range of the matter in the earth quickly, or it evaporated faster than it was initially able to suck in the energy.

    I mentioned in another post the book Cosm, which is a fictional story on this exact topic. One idea in there was that the mass of the object in question kept growing because they didn't realize it was there and shut the collider down immediately. There's no reason that wouldn't be the case.

    The point, however, is that the science that predicts that a black hole could occur is the bad science.
  • by tgd (2822) on Sunday July 18, 1999 @01:23PM (#1796744)
    This story has been reported over and over and over in the last few years, all having to do with the accellerator on Long Island. Its bad science, no better than other bad science like the breast implant issues, cancer from high-tension power lines or any other anti-science drivel that seems to be produced in such mass quantities. Reactions more powerful than the ones they're talking about happen all the time in the upper atmosphere. If the possibility was anything more than infintesimal, we wouldn't exist. The fact that we DO exist is proof that even should such a reaction happen, its probably not stable, or is quickly counteracted by some other reaction.

    On a side note though, there was a book that came out a year or two ago, Cosm that dealt specifically with these issues at that specific accellerator I think. Its sci-fi, but I thought it was entertaining. Worth reading if you can get it at the library. Hell, its Gregory Benford, so you can't go THAT wrong.
  • If I understand correctly, we are talking about a potentially really really small (mass of a few atoms) black hole, but if somehow we were dealing with a large (massive) one, the first it would do is fall to the center of the Earth.

    So we might not even notice for a long time. The total effect of gravity at the surface of the Earth would still be 1G. This would decrease slowly as the core was consumed because our distance from that matter would be increasing a little bit.

  • by PG13 (3024)
    The problem with your argument is that there are some types of research companies just won't do. No company will try to discover the laws which govern electrons or strange matter because their is no economic advantage here. Any significant applications will be so far down the line that patents would expire and it is doubtful that you could patent a law of nature.

    Hence any research done in fundamental physics by a company is dollar for dollar research done for their competitors. Hence EVERY company would freeload and no research would be done. Even IBM once doing far more basic research than almost every other company has realized it isn't paying off and is requiring their vaunted scientists to become engineers and make useful products.

    Only the government through mandatory taxation can resolve the defection problem. Hence fundamental physics is something which MUST be government funded.

  • Articles like this that attempt to use scare-mongering to whip up readership, at the expense of science, are very dangerous for everyone.

    Saying that the accelerator could destroy the Earth is a bit of sensationalism--I agree there. But it grabs your attention, didn't it? If it doesn't this story never get printed.

    So maybe they sell a few more papers. But maybe too a kid finds this interesting enough that he's steered into science rather than law school.

    That's not a bad trade, is it?

  • It's called "Hole Man" (as someone else already pointed out) and he won a Hugo for it, which he found suprising:

    Out of five Hugo awards, this is the only one that surprised me. I always think I earned it; I'm always half-sure I'll take it home; except this once. "The Hole Man" is a straightforward crime story rendered distinctive only by an unusual murder weapon.

    That's from a collection of short stories of his called N-Space--highly recommended.

  • Notice how the journalist capitalizes NUCLEAR. Just meant to stir up fear with those not in-the-know. All particle accelerators deal with some sort of nuclear particle.

  • You're just afriad of what you don't know. Speaking of, they aren't trying to create a universe...
  • The money put into scientific research is miniscule, compared to everything else, especially offensive/defensive forces (echelon, the military, etc) Last time I checked, US gov't funding of scientific research was shrinking.
  • I think we should be safe as long as nobody discovers a switch on the accelerator labeled "magic" & "more magic", decides it's a silly joke, and flips the switch... :-)
  • by pirkka (4031)
    Powerlines do cause cancer. Or at least it's not clear whether they do.

    There was a study comparing people living beneath powerlines and people living away from power lines and the first group had more cancer. A little more (like 1%) but more still.

    So what happened because of this? Nothing! Smoking is still a lot more dangerous and living in a city with smog is more dangerous..

    But not everything is "bad science".

    BTW. what breast cancer issues?

  • How do collisions with an energy greater than the equivalent of two gold nuclei bumping into each other at 99.9% of the speed of light at an angle of 180 degrees occur naturally? Please enlighten me, as I know very little about cosmic radiation.
  • Well it's not _solaroid bomb_ but i guess that well be seeing a sqare space ship land on the earth. They will start raising the dead and march them at us and then rot them in front of our eyez to prove their awsome powers then they will try to tell us that this research will have to stop or we will destroy the whole universe. In the end some people find their sqare ship and go inside. There they find a table with some old radio equipment and two aliens. The aliens boast about their tecnological superiority... BLAM! they shoot the aliens then there is some moral crap in the end.
    We all saw that movie didin't we? |)
  • I'll pay upp i promise! |)
  • Sounds like a good way to make people more interested sub-atomic physics to me..

    'There is a small possibility we'll destory the earth in the blink of an eye.' makes for a pretty amazing press release... The fact that it's technically true makes it even better.

    I often wonder why they don't take a 'lead into gold' angle with this stuff.. It's 'possible' isn't it? Bet you'd get some funding for your behind then..

  • Never!! Prepare the escape pod, Maximillian!
  • yes please -don't screw up MY universe,ok? go nuke some other universe
  • Perhaps this is because Ozone if ignited will detonate.

    It turns out that the concetration in the atmosphere is not sufficient to do this.
  • Bob wrote:
    So I think I know what I'm talking about.

    Who is General Failure, and why is he reading my hard drive?

    An AC wrote:
    Take anything that a physicist named "Bob" says with a grain of salt. If the guy thinks that there is actually some General named "Failure" reading his hard drive and doesn't recognize it as an ERROR CODE then he is NOT a physicist. Maybe a wannabe like the majority of the people on this newsgroup but definately not a real one.

    humor, n, 2: the trait of appreciating (and being able to express) the humorous; "she didn't appreciate my humor;" "you can't survive in the army without a sense of humor" [syn: humour, sense of humor, sense of humour]

    sarcasm, n: witty language used to convey insults or scorn; "he used sarcasm to upset his opponent;" "irony is wasted on the stupid" [syn: irony, satire, caustic remark]

    Read these definitions. It might help you understand. Next, this is a forum, not a newsgroup. Newsgroups are kept on NNTP news servers.

    Why must a physicist be computer literate? I realize it's a stretch to say no computing skills are required, but not all physicists write their own analysys tools, y'know.

    Y'know, I think the last example in sarcasm's definition is quite fitting here. :)
  • Obviously there's no danger of anything catastrophic happening.

    The controversey certainly did bring a lot of attention to the project, though, didn't it? I wonder if they have a really slick publicist, or just lucked out.

    With threats of science funding cuts, this sort of thing is getting more frequent.
  • Burning nitrogen requires more energy than it gives (the triple bond is pretty strong). IIRC, the question was whether a nitrogen fusion reaction was sustainable in the atmosphere. It turned out not to be, so we had the nuclear arms race instead.
  • Don't get me wrong, I'm not against this sort of research, but couldn't all this money and manpower be better used???

    No, not really. That's 350 million pounds. Million, not billion or trillion. With the world population just having passed 6 billion--on friday, IIRC--that's not enough money to achieve anything significant. If this money were devoted to social causes, it would effectively disappear. It would make no measurable difference. Being used where it is, it is moving us further along the path to understanding the universe. What we understand, we can manipulate beneficially. The potential benefit to every human is much greater this way.
  • For those on the Western side of the Pond, you should know that British newspapers are not exactly attentive to accuracy. Credible British journalists usually end up working for the BBC, leaving the Sunday Times and other papers with a beggar's choice of researchers.

    This is the same British newspaper that published the Israeli "ethnic bullet" story because they found one such story in Hebrew and apparently didn't know the Hebrew phrase for "science fiction".
    See here. []
  • sounds like someone read gregory benford's recent book, cosm, and got scared. in cosm, they didn't make a black hole with RHIC, though, but a mini-universe. the only person who got fragged was a grad student who stood too close when the mini-universe underwent recombination.

  • I believe the concern was that the tremendous heat could bring atmospheric nitrogen to it's burning point. Since the atmosphere is only 25% oxygen, a nitrogen fire could consume all oxygen fairly quickly. However, i don't know if burning nitrogen produces enough heat to keep the reaction going, which may explain why it hasn't happened.

    But hey, if it did, would it make nitrous oxide? We'd all die laughing our fool heads off.

    I just read "On the Beach", which is about how people face the extinction of the species, in an event that is still far more likely to occur (an atmosphere full of radioactive dust after full-on nuclear war). In this book, i think Albania starts the last war, and the Chinese and the Russians both used Cobalt bombs.


    If God had not given us sticky tape, it would have been necessary to invent it.
  • And he was telling *me* to obtain a clue... yesh.

  • You know, the thing that has always facinating me about nature is it's incredible logic. The most facinating thing to me, is that the world functions at all. Now, I don't know what these physicists are arguing about, or how it could destroy the planet, but I find the entire idea foolhearty, and I'll tell you why -

    (as I recall), in quantum physics, the probability of *anything* simply vanishing without a trace, for no known reason is a non-zero percentage. It's admittedly very small, but not non-zero. It's the same here. I could fart, and rearrange the quarks around me into some heretofore unknown configuration, and oblitherate the planet.So the solution is that I should never fart (and neither should anybody else!). Heh.

    Seriously, we're in far more danger of our government deciding to do some "nuclear testing" on foreign soil and starting WWIII (thus ending the world), than we are of a bunch of physicists doing it.

    Besides... it's the job of evil overlords and certain north-american based governments to cause the destruction of mankind - not a bunch of physicists. Everybody who reads comic books knows that. ;)

  • So let's build an infinite improbability drive
    before and go to the restaurant at the end of
    the universe ;-)
  • by mcelrath (8027) on Sunday July 18, 1999 @09:10AM (#1796774) Homepage
    Folks, this is patently ridiculous. Strange quarks have been produced in accelerators since the fifties. The notion that strange quarks could start a chain reaction converting things into strange matter is absolutely absurd. For the curious, I direct you to the Particle Adventure [], and the RHIC Homepage [] which will hopefully be more enlightening than the drivel that the Sunday Times spouts.

    Just to make things clear, I'm a grad student in physics, working on the BaBar experiment (at SLAC in SanFran). My analysis involves kaons, which are bound states of strange quarks and up/down quarks. And yes, physics has produced many, many kaons over the years. So I think I know what I'm talking about.


  • There is a nonzero chance this article doesn't actually exist, but was caused by random fluctuations on your connection.

    There is a nonzero chance that YOU do not exist.
  • It's my default post level. Get enough 2's and you stay there. Sometimes it dips back down. Presumably it works in the other direction too.
  • If current theories are right there is also a chance, again infinitesimal, that this thing could trigger the metastable vacuum. The metastable vacuum is a theoretical region of space that has a lower ambient energy than a regular vacuum. No matter we know of could exist in a metastable vacuum, it would all just sort of evaporate.

    Once created, the metastable vacuum would spread out at the speed of light, eventually deflating the entire Universe. Puts little piddly concerns like the Earth into perspective, huh?

    Still, I'm not loosing any sleep. If there were any real chance of this happening, odds are it would have happened millennia ago. Personally, I can't wait until this thing starts producing data. Science rocks.

  • you're forgetting that PU is an EXTREMELY dense element. 72 pounds of it is hardly anything
  • by Neil Rubin (11261) on Sunday July 18, 1999 @02:39PM (#1796797)
    Actually, a very small number of cosmic rays have been observed above 10^8 TeV (10^20 eV). A total of about 9 events have been observed, by several different experiments, with energies above the so-called GKZ cutoff of 2.5*10^7 TeV. This number of events corresponds to a few cosmic rays above that energy per square kilometer of the Earth's atmosphere per century, or roughly 10^16 of these events in the history of the Earth, if my math is correct.

    The question of exactly where all of these insanely high energy particle come from is a deep mystery. Proposed answers include: Gamma Ray Bursts, Active Galactic Nuclei, interactions involving Magnetic Monopoles or Cosmic Strings, the decays of super-massive relics from the big bang, etc. For more info on these rare events, see the Pierre Auger Observatory website at [].

    Now 2.5*10^7 TeV sounds like an incredible ammount of energy compared to the .1 TeV/nucleon of RHIC, but since the cosmic rays are hitting essentially stationary nuclei in the Earth's atmosphere as opposed to the head-on collisions of RHIC, most of the energy just goes into the kinetic energy of the collision debris rather than into producing interesting physics. The relevant figure is the center of mass energy of the cosmic ray and target nucleus system. It turns out that this is equal to sqrt(2*m*E), where m is the mass of the target and E is the mass of the cosmic ray. Supposing that the target is a Nitrogen nucleus, we get sqrt(2*.014 TeV*2.5*10^7 TeV) or roughly 10^6 TeV. The corresponding figure for RHIC 2*(200 nucleons)*(100 GeV/nucleon)=4*10^4 TeV. The cosmic ray events win, but only by a bit more than an order of magnitude. (Note that this is all very much "back of the napkin" calculation, and may not be exactly right, but it's close.)

    That was fun, but what does it all mean? Well, from the RHIC documentation, I figure that RHIC will have roughly 10^15 bunch crossings in each full year of collision running. Assuming that there is less than one collision per beam crossing (it makes it much easier to figure out what's going on in each collision), RHIC will produce an order of magnitude fewer collisions, with an order of magnitude lower energy density than these cosmic rays that bombard the Earth naturally. While a more careful analysis may change some of these numbers by a bit, it seems pretty unlikely that RHIC will destroy the Earth, when all of these cosmic ray collisions obviously haven't.

  • In any case, your description of the plutonium risk is a massive exaggeration. Plutonium is primarily dangerous if you breath it in as dust after managing to survive the atomic explosion that spread it around in the first place. If you do that, it is about the most toxic substance known to man - it will settle into your bones and just start spawning cancers.

    Plutonium is not the most toxic substance known to man. There are many biological toxins that are much more dangerous. There is a paper on the subject here [], written by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It contains actual scientific facts, not eco-loonie propaganda as propagated by Helen Caldicott and Karl Grossman.

  • by SeanCier (12804) <> on Sunday July 18, 1999 @08:37AM (#1796812) Homepage
    Why the hell do they want to recreate the creation of the universe anyway?

    They're not trying to create a new big bang; there's not even a prevailing theory on 'why' the big bang happened in the first place, or what took place in the first (miniscule) fraction of a second. However, a lot of theories, both cosmological models and GUTs (Grand Unified Theories) depend on what happened in the high-energy conditions that existed only in that first second, during which -- for instance -- our basic forces congealed out of the morass. So, recreate the high-energy conditions, and you can investigate the theories experimentally.

    That said, recreating big bang conditions isn't even the primary aim of most accelerators; the high-energy conditions required to isolate particles simply happen to be the exception rather than the rule in the universe today, while the big bang was one circumstance in which they were the rule.

  • The article reports that the 'strangelets' produced may set off a chain reaction, converting everything it comes into contact with into strange matter. But it seems that a lot of energy will be required to break up nuclei into its constituent quarks (?). But where would the energy for a such chain reaction come from? After all energy has to be conserved e.g. colliders require very large amounts of energy to accelerate atoms to very high speeds to break them up in the first place.

    But the article just says that matter may be transformed into 'more strange matter'. What does this actually mean?

  • The story is "Solution Unsatisfactory" by Robert Heinlein. You can find it reprinted in "Expanded Universe."

    You've got the details mostly right. It discusses using a radioactive dust as a weapon (probably since when the story was written, it was believed "impossible" to build an ICBM). Planes would "dust" cities to destroy them. Different dusts would have different strengths.

    After ending WW II using the dust, every country in the world is supposed to turn its planes over to the UN. Whenthe stand-in for the Soviet Union turns in their planes, they dust the US instead. Moscow is then destroyed, and Manning (the head of the program) becomes world dictator.

    There's a lot more, but just get a copy of the story. It's a good read.


  • "In space, black holes are believed to generate intense gravitational fields that suck in all surrounding matter. The creation of one on Earth could be disastrous."

    Who'd a thunk it?
  • Sounds great, but what good would it do, from what I've heard, (could be wrong, but I have asked around) gravity waves travel at approximatly the speed of light, so seriously, I don't see how this would do us any good. Now if gravity waves traveled at infinate speeds, that would be something.
  • by Yogger (24866) on Sunday July 18, 1999 @02:57PM (#1796871) Homepage
    well, as far as ways to go are, that wouldn't be to bad. I mean think how many people die in shootings, hit by a bus, car crashes, etc.
    No one knows their names and such, but if your the first person to die by such an odd event, i think it'd get written down and published a lot.

    (Standing in line to the afterlife)
    ME: Hey man, how'd you get here?
    Other: Hit by a bus, you?
    ME: First person ever known to be swallowed by a black hole.
    Other: What a way to go.

  • Think about it. Test fired on Friday, and creates
    some sort of space-time warp, plane comes into contact with it and *POOF*...gonner.

    It's possible...just not too probable

    Dammit Jim...It's "U-N-I-X",
  • Just to summarize a few things, the comments
    on /. pretty much just hit the mark - cosmic-ray
    interactions are ~ the same energy, so if this
    could happen, it would've happened.

    Also, the comment about a "black hole forming"
    seems to be psuedo-science crap - a 'miniature'
    black hole would not even have the gravitational
    field to draw anything *into* it - it would have
    to rely on chance interactions to grow larger,
    and considering that its Schwarzschild radius
    would be smaller than the known radius of a
    proton by *huge* amounts, I don't even know
    if it *is* possible for it to absorb anything.
    Also, as soon as it absorbed any particle, it
    would be unstable due to charge-angular momentum-
    mass limitation. The short answer: black holes
    aren't dangerous. Huge amounts of mass are
    dangerous. We don't have huge amounts of mass here.
    No danger.

    The 'strangelet' pair formation is curious.
    I don't know enough about subatomic physics/
    quark theory to actually know what this
    actually is, but stupid physics tells me that
    you can't just randomly break strangeness
    conservation, so instead of forming just
    strange matter, you'd need strange-antistrange
    pairs, and thus baryon-antibaryon pairs. Which
    means in order for these 'strangelets' to
    convert something to strange matter, the
    corresponding antiparticle would have to be
    present - i.e. strangelet + p + pbar ->
    strangelet + whatever the particle is with
    (ssd) rather than (uud). (or ssc, or sud, etc.)
    plus its antiparticle. Considering the vast
    baryon-antibaryon asymmetry (see any antimatter
    lying around? I didn't think so.) this isn't
    a danger at all.

    What I want to know is how this got published.
    Granted, I haven't much gotten into graduate
    physics yet, but this is really poor stuff at
    face value.

  • That document is packed full of info. The largest inhalable particle size and its consequences was particularly interesting.
  • Actually, when our Moon was torn out of the Earth a lot of the upper crust and primitive atmosphere were ripped away. The result is our thin atmosphere and relatively thin crust.

    With our full share of atmosphere we'd have a much higher pressure and greater greenhouse effect. We also would have much more silicon and fewer metals available at the surface. Plate tectonics might also not be operating, so our present cycling of carbon and water back to the surface might not be happening. The Earth's core might also not be rotating and generating magnetism the way it is.

    Our planet would be more like Venus. But it is not because the Moon is there but rather how the Moon appeared there.

  • ME: First human ever known to be swallowed by a black hole.
    Other: Then you should be in that line over there, with the other beings with cosmological endings.
  • James P. Hogan's "Thrice Upon a Time" also involves an accident in extreme physics.
  • OK, so you graduated from MIT in Physics.
    But do you have a Physicist Bob T-shirt?

    That is how "Sledge Hammer" dealt with the previous season's finale where the hero dealt with a problem involving a nuclear bomb.

  • by SEWilco (27983) on Sunday July 18, 1999 @08:20AM (#1796886) Journal
    There was a letter to the editor in a recent Scientific American about that possibility. The reply explained why it was unlikely and pointed out that more powerful cosmic ray reactions happen frequently in our own atmosphere. If it could happen, it would have happened billions of years ago.
  • by SEWilco (27983) on Sunday July 18, 1999 @08:26AM (#1796887) Journal
    Here is the July SA letter to the editor and reply: Black Holes at Brookhaven? []
  • You know, I get nervous when the kid next door plays with firecrackers. How do you suppose our interstellar neighbors feel?

    "Look George, those crazy earthlings just turned their planet into a black hole."

    I wonder if the black holes already in the universe were caused by other civilizations trying the exact same thing once upon a time. It could be just another milestone in the evolution of a culture -- language, machinary, heavy-ion smashing....

    "Word is that earthlings have finally reached the heavy-ion smashing stage. I wonder if they'll be able to control it?"
    "Whoops, guess not. Better put some orange cones around what used to be their solar system."

    It's not funny to you, but somewhere there's a hyper-intelligent lifeform that thinks it's hysterical.
  • by dermond (33903) on Sunday July 18, 1999 @09:33AM (#1796910)
    now, that explains why SETI is not more successful: just a few years after that aliens learnd how to send out radio waves, their curious scientists turned their plantes into black holes.. ;-)))
  • by coyote-san (38515) on Sunday July 18, 1999 @09:17AM (#1796923)
    This reminds me of the type I tried to explain the science fallacy that "vacuums suck" to a former girlfriend. Vacuums don't suck; it's the fact that there's fewer air molecules coming from a particular direction that results in the unbalanced pressure, and thence the "sucking" effect. Once the air pressure drops enough that the back pressure from the vacuum matches the internal pressure in the chamber you'll see no "sucking" effect -- and the air pressure in the chamber won't drop further.

    This article contains a similar fallacy: "black holes suck in..." They do not, they *cannot* reach out with some mysterious force to yank unsuspecting atoms to their death.

    They *do* have gravitational attraction, of course, but we're talking about a miniscule mass. Any singularity with this mass will be indescribably small, and even if it survives Hawking radiation it will only rarely hit a proton or electron just right to effect capture. I'm reminded of Rutherford's experiments shooting electrons at gold foil -- and in that case the few bounces where due to an electrostatic force many orders of magnitude stronger than gravity.

    The dangers from such a black hole are non-existent. The risk of strange matter contaminating the earth are harder to quantify... but where are the strange *stars* from the same effect?
  • Hi, Bob!

    The concern isn't about strange quarks; it's about a proposed state of matter called strange matter. Now I should disclaim here that, though I'm a physics grad student too, I don't know what I'm talking about, at least not firsthand... but I've heard people discuss it in seminars, so this is intended to distill those vain assertions, half-truths, and self-important obfuscations.

    The basic idea is that nuclear matter as we know it--that is, stuff made of up and down quarks--is not the true ground state of QCD (the theory which models the interactions of quarks and such). It's possible that there is a stable state of matter which includes up, down, and strange quarks, all bound together; in fact, it's possible that that state is more stable than one which involves just up and down. Now normally we don't see this stuff, because there's a high energy barrier between our Plain Old Everyday matter and this strange matter. But if you get a high enough collision energy, you can tunnel through or just slop over the barrier; and then whammo! the strange matter overtakes the POE matter, like ice nine dropped into water. (Someone call Dr. Strangelove--we've got to guard our POE!)

    For background, see this page [] and its links. If you want to wade through the hard stuff, try R. J. Holt et al., Physical Review Letters vol 36 page 183 (1976), and E. Witten, Physical Review D vol 30 page 272 (1984).

    Elsewhere, coyote-san asks, "where are the strange stars from the same effect?" Strange stars are entire stars made of strange matter. People are looking for them, but so far there's no positive evidence. One of the problems, as I understand it, is that nobody really knows how they'd look different from plain old garden variety neutron stars.

    The black hole possiblity sounds sexier, but I think strangelets are cooler. :)


  • Minor side note, NASA is going to send a plutonium loaded probe that might reenter the atmosphere in August. If it does about 72lb of that stuff is going to come down on us ... farewell then.

    First, get your facts straight. NASA isn't launching anything in August. Cassini, which NASA launched last year, will be making a close pass to Earth in order to get a gravity boost on it's way to Saturn.

    In any case, your description of the plutonium risk is a massive exaggeration. Plutonium is primarily dangerous if you breath it in as dust after managing to survive the atomic explosion that spread it around in the first place. If you do that, it is about the most toxic substance known to man - it will settle into your bones and just start spawning cancers.

    NASA probes, OTOH, are using ceramic pellets to encase the plutonium. No dust. You could probably even handle the pellets (for a short while) without ill effects.

    The biggest threat you face from Cassini is if it re-entered and happened to hit you on the head as it crashed.

    Sheesh. You'd think someone who posts on Slashdot would know a little science.

  • We're all Gonna Die !!!!!!!!!

    This is exactly what Nostrademous said in one of his visions :
    "Humanity shall destroy itself within the first months of the 2nd Millenium. The Sword of thy death shall be known as RHIC*"

    *Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider

    I swear that this is an absolutely authentic translation from his old text, I haven't modified the slightest word.

    Well it's one way like the other to stop Microsoft from the World Dominition, but isn't it a bit too much ?
  • Physicist Bob writes...
    So I think I know what I'm talking about.

    Well, drawing from what many people have been saying here, there is of course a nonzero probability that you don't. ;-)

  • ... it'd have a mass of what, a few atomic particles? It's even horizon would be less than an atomic radius, if that's even possible.

    And if I remember right, Stephen Hawking showed recently that micro black holes 'evaporate' almost immediately; the smaller they are, the faster they vanish
  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Sunday July 18, 1999 @09:47AM (#1796972) Journal
    I'm not a Physicist, but I'll try to play one on the net. Here's what I think is the current theory:

    The vacuum is full of virtual particle-antiparticle pairs, constantly forming and annihilating, with a mass-time product less than the uncertainty principle's magic number. When a pair occurs near an event horizon, one of the particles can tunnel deep enough into it to be annihilated by its antiparticle below the horizon, allowing the partner to escape - as if the particle below the horizon had tunneled out. (If there isn't an antiparticle available, there isn't energy available to kick loose the particle that didn't penetrate the event horzon. So it falls in, too, and the virtual particle-antiparticle pair disappear back into the vacuum.)

    So black holes evaporate. Bigger black holes have a bigger separation between the mass and the event horizon, and thus a lower mass density just under it. So the smaller the black hole the faster it eveporates. "Evaporate" means emit a spray of energetic subatomic particles.

    If I have the constants right, a stellar-sized black hole emits the odd particle now and then, a mountain-mass black hole is a good approximation of a nuclear power plant's core, and so on. But radiation reduces their mass, so the faster they radiate, the faster they shrink, and the FASTER their radiation increases, until the event horizon suddenly disappears and the remaining particles come blasting out of the former cage at nearly lightspeed. It goes BANG big-time - because this happens when there's still a lot of stuff in there. Current high-end H-bombs would blush with envy.

    A black hole with the mass of a couple heavy ions would have a very short lifetime, even as compared with other subnuclear processes. Making one that would have a lifetime in seconds would consist of creating a density of matter that would push stuff through the event horizon faster than it tunnels out. That's equivalent to making a BIG atomic fireball and squeezing it down to the size of a single nucleus.

    So we might see black holes as screwier-than-usual short-lived composite particles acting as intermediate steps in sunuclear reactions. But we shouldn't see a baby black hole falling quietly out of the accellerator and eating the earth.

    Of course, my understanding of the model could be wrong. B-)

    Or the model could be wrong. In which case, other predictions from it (such as the hole forming in the first place) are also up for grabs.
  • "A successful test-firing was held on Friday and the first nuclear collisions will take place in the autumn, building up to full power around the time of the millennium. "

    So January 1st, y2k, we won't need to worry about computer failures - they're putting this thing in full swing.

    Reminds me of a quote from some field commander in the US civil war:
    "At this range they couldn't hit an elephant!" Those were his last words. :)
  • Can anyone say "Total protonic reversal"? ;-)

    "Ok, important safety tip. Thanks Egon."
  • Once there was a Man who Built a Machine that Could Destroy the World by flipping a Single Switch. Or So He Thought.
    He didnt know.
    And so he flipped the Switch-
    And never found out.

    I read that in a Heinlein book, I dont know where he got it from, it sounded like he was quoting, too.

    Personally, as the story continues, I would not want to flip the switch.
    How the story continues is that there is so much risk, although so much gained, they send it into space and eventually move it to the far side of the moon.

    But if we create a Black Hole that isnt far enough.
    And what do we gain? Knowledge is not worth more than the Bystander's family.

    If you want to learn, that's fine, But let's learn something else first, Like Mass Transference via Matter/Energy conversion or Hyperspace. I have some theories on that Involving ZeroG, Vacuum, and Kelvin0... but that's another post :)

    Then set up a lab in a distant corner of the galaxy, beyond the fringe, and do whatever you want.

    Before risking a farm by building a channel, you get consent of the farmer. Before risking the Solar System by building a research facility, you get consent of the solar system. Wich means building a few mars rockets and Jupitor Shuttles to check all the areas unknown...

    "..And other such nonsence.."
    I'm not done, but that's it for now.

Any program which runs right is obsolete.