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Another Way the LHC Could Self-Destruct 367

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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  • 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 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 tehniobium ( 1042240 ) <lukas&imf,au,dk> 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.
  • 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 David Gerard ( 12369 ) <(ku.oc.draregdivad) (ta) (todhsals)> on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:28PM (#25200003) Homepage

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

  • 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?
  • by kylemonger ( 686302 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:05PM (#25200265)
    Diffidently I point out that while Cassandra was not believed, she was correct in her doom filled predictions.
  • by MikeUW ( 999162 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:12PM (#25200315)

    oh and BTW, the windshield is necessary to allow a human driver to continue breathing at today's highway speeds. it's very hard to properly exhale at 50-60 mph.

    This is getting way OT, but I thought a windshield was also to protect my face from flying objects (stones, bugs, etc.). Considering my windshield just got chipped by a stone the other day, I'd rather not have to endure something like that hitting me in the eye.

  • by blitziod ( 591194 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:19PM (#25200343)
    >>oh and BTW, the windshield is necessary to allow a human driver to continue breathing at today's highway speeds. it's very hard to properly exhale at 50-60 mph. tell that to bikers riding at 125 without helmets on every day..at 50 mph they arelikely smoking ciggs or doobies..lol
  • Re:Phase change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lgw ( 121541 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:23PM (#25200369) Journal

    If you have a cup of super-cooled water, and tickle it so that it suddenly freezes, it's going to release a lot more energy that you used to trigger it. I don't understand the math here, but I think that (even though a BEC is a "cooler" phase than liquid) transition from a BEC to a liquid releases energy. Perhaps liquid helium just takes up more space than superfluid helium, so a rapid transition would be bad? In any case, rapid state changes in a material can release or consume more energy than is used to trigger the state change.

  • Look at your CPU (Score:5, Insightful)

    by robbak ( 775424 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:02PM (#25200593) Homepage

    The physics that allow us to build 5GHZ chips at 5nm is due to a thorough understanding of the atom. Our understanding of the atom is due to work done in 'atom smashers' like these.
    This is not pointless science. Yes, we don't know what we will find, or how we will use it, but we will find something, and we will find it useful.
    I can't say what history will record about the LHC. But it will be important, I can grant yo that.

  • 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.

  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:03PM (#25200609) Journal
    Okay, you know the e=mc^2 equation for converting mass to energy. Now imagine the mass of entire Earth, plus the moon, plus Mars and the asteroids. Now throw in the mass of Jupiter, Saturn and the other gas giants. Now add to that the mass of the sun, and alpha centauri and the rest of the stars in the local group. Now add in the mass of the western spiral arm, and the eastern spiral arm of the galaxy. In fact, add in the combined mass of all of the other galaxies and convert that all into energy. Now add all of the energy of all the photons that are being emitted from every star and every quasar and toss in the energy from the cosmic background radiation. All of that energy was present at the big bang.

    Throwing a single molecule of H20 into the Pacific ocean would have a much larger effect than what the LHC is capable of.
  • by hairykrishna ( 740240 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:06PM (#25200639)
    But you're wrong. We're recreating big band like conditions. These conditions are also being replicated in our upper atmosphere all the time. Google 'high energy cosmic ray' and do some reading. Why not do something that is certainly safe just to appease the uninformed?
  • by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:23PM (#25200749)

    That's what she said.

  • by ahecht ( 567934 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:36PM (#25200839) Homepage
    Which is exactly why anyone who goes skydiving suffocates and dies, right?

    For your information, I have no problems breathing while falling at 120mph. Goggles help though if you want to open your eyes.
  • Re:Phase change (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rgbe ( 310525 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:10PM (#25201029)

    For a BEC (Bose Einstein Condensate) to form you require temperatures at a millionth of a degree Kelvin, where as liquid helium is at about 2 degrees Kelvin. BECs are extremely difficult to create, even in the best of conditions. I just don't see this as an issue.

    The whole black hole scenario is much more interesting.

  • by ameline ( 771895 ) <ian,ameline&gmail,com> on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:37PM (#25201141) Homepage Journal

    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? 700,000 litres, right? As we all know, liquid helium has a density of 0.214g/ml. Let's see -- how much energy is released when 7.49E7g of matter are converted into energy? Each gram is roughly equivalent to about 21.5 kilotons of TNT, thus totalling 1,610 Gigatons of TNT -- enough to ruin your day, and mine too.

    Now in the wiki article in question they merely mention that half the original mass went "missing" they did not exactly say it all got converted to energy. If even only 5% got converted, I'm pretty sure that would still wipe us all out.

  • by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:51PM (#25201221)
    perfect. your afraid of what you don't understand. that kind of attitude has resulted in what exactly all through out history?
  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:28AM (#25201445) Homepage Journal

    Holy shit! We really ARE all gonna die!

    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 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.

  • Why the hating' ? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by thc4k ( 951561 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @09:00AM (#25203479) Homepage

    The LHC is the greatest achievement of humanity to date, yet every other day someone wants to see it destroy the planet in some new, ridiculus way. In my humble opinion physics is probably the one most complex scientific field ( I studied physics for 2 years before i switched to math and comp sci and the latter are a yummy piece of cake compared to the first ) yet every other crazie (and ofc the media) thinks they know more than 3000++ physicists.
    I mean seriously, if you want the world destroyed just pick some other cause and enjoy what humanity build ( in these last days of time ;-) )

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.