Concerns about a 'big science machine' destroying the Earth have been around since the steam engine. The LHC is the latest target for such conspiracy theories. Credit: CERN.

Astronomy Without A Telescope – Why The LHC Won’t Destroy The Earth

27 Aug , 2011 by

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Surprisingly, rumors still persist in some corners of the Internet that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is going to destroy the Earth – even though nearly three years have passed since it was first turned on. This may be because it is yet to be ramped up to full power in 2014 – although it seems more likely that this is just a case of moving the goal posts, since the same doomsayers were initially adamant that the Earth would be destroyed the moment the LHC was switched on, in September 2008.

The story goes that the very high energy collisions engineered by the LHC could jam colliding particles together with such force that their mass would be compressed into a volume less than the Schwarzschild radius required for that mass. In other words, a microscopic black hole would form and then grow in size as it sucked in more matter, until it eventually consumed the Earth.

Here’s a brief run-through of why this can’t happen.

1. Microscopic black holes are implausible.
While a teaspoon of neutron star material might weigh several million tons, if you extract a teaspoon of neutron star material from a neutron star it will immediately blow out into the volume you might expect several million tons of mass to usually occupy.

Notwithstanding you can’t physically extract a teaspoon of black hole material from a black hole – if you could, it is reasonable to expect that it would also instantly expand. You can’t maintain these extreme matter densities outside of a region of extreme gravitational compression that is created by the proper mass of a stellar-scale object.

The hypothetical physics that might allow for the creation of microscopic black holes (large extra dimensions) proposes that gravity gains more force in near-Planck scale dimensions. There is no hard evidence to support this theory – indeed there is a growing level of disconfirming evidence arising from various sources, including the LHC.

High energy particle collisions involve converting momentum energy into heat energy, as well as overcoming the electromagnetic repulsion that normally prevents charged particles from colliding. But the heat energy produced quickly dissipates and the collided particles fragment into sub-atomic shrapnel, rather than fusing together. Particle colliders attempt to mimic conditions similar to the Big Bang, not the insides of massive stars.

2. A hypothetical microscopic black hole couldn’t devour the Earth anyway.
Although whatever goes on inside the event horizon of a black hole is a bit mysterious and unknowable – physics still operates in a conventional fashion outside. The gravitational influence exerted by the mass of a black hole falls away by the inverse square of the distance from it, just like it does for any other celestial body.

The gravitational influence exerted by a microscopic black hole composed of, let’s say 1000 hyper-compressed protons, would be laughably small from a distance of more than its Schwarzschild radius (maybe 10-18 metres). And it would be unable to consume more matter unless it could overcome the forces that hold other matter together – remembering that in quantum physics, gravity is the weakest force.

It’s been calculated that if the Earth had the density of solid iron, a hypothetical microscopic black hole in linear motion would be unlikely to encounter an atomic nucleus more than once every 200 kilometres – and if it did, it would encounter a nucleus that would be at least 1,000 times larger in diameter.

So the black hole couldn’t hope to swallow the whole nucleus in one go and, at best, it might chomp a bit off the nucleus in passing – somehow overcoming the strong nuclear force in so doing. The microscopic black hole might have 100 such encounters before its momentum carried it all the way through the Earth and out the other side, at which point it would probably still be a good order of magnitude smaller in size than an uncompressed proton.

And that still leaves the key issue of charge out of the picture. If you could jam multiple positively-charged protons together into such a tiny volume, the resultant object should explode, since the electromagnetic force far outweighs the gravitational force at this scale. You might get around this if an exactly equivalent number of electrons were also added in, but this requires appealing to an implausible level of fine-tuning.

You maniacs! You blew it up! We may not be walking on the Moon again any time soon - but we won't be destroying the Earth with an ill-conceived physics experiment any time soon either. Credit: Dean Reeves.

3. What the doomsayers say
When challenged with the standard argument that higher-than-LHC energy collisions occur naturally and frequently as cosmic ray particles collide with Earth’s upper atmosphere, LHC conspiracy theorists refer to the high school physics lesson that two cars colliding head-on is a more energetic event than one car colliding with a brick wall. This is true, to the extent that the two car collision has twice the kinetic energy as the one car collision. However, cosmic ray collisions with the atmosphere have been measured as having 50 times the energy that will ever be generated by LHC collisions.

In response to the argument that a microscopic black hole would pass through the Earth before it could achieve any appreciable mass gain, LHC conspiracy theorists propose that an LHC collision would bring the combined particles to a dead stop and they would then fall passively towards the centre of the Earth with insufficient momentum to carry them out the other side.

This is also implausible. The slightest degree of transverse momentum imparted to LHC collision fragments after a head-on collision of two particles travelling at nearly 300,000 kilometres a second will easily give those fragments an escape velocity from the Earth (which is only 11.2 kilometres a second, at sea-level).

Further reading: CERN The safety of the LHC.



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Brad Murray
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Brad Murray
August 27, 2011 10:34 PM
Actually the argument (not from conspiracy theorists but rather from safety analysts with a serious interest in the safety case presented for the LHC) is not that a head-on collision creates more energy but rather that a stream of head-on collisions results in a vastly increased chance of interaction should there be a “strange matter” event that could cascade. This is an extremely unlikely (and possibly implausible) event, but each of the three main mechanisms for dramatically unsafe output of the LHC deserve earnest and honest assessment. For the most part they can and have been addressed though there remain some gaps (including the fact that the theory suggesting small black holes evaporate too quickly to be interesting… Read more »
Brad Murray
Guest
Brad Murray
August 27, 2011 10:34 PM
Actually the argument (not from conspiracy theorists but rather from safety analysts with a serious interest in the safety case presented for the LHC) is not that a head-on collision creates more energy but rather that a stream of head-on collisions results in a vastly increased chance of interaction should there be a “strange matter” event that could cascade. This is an extremely unlikely (and possibly implausible) event, but each of the three main mechanisms for dramatically unsafe output of the LHC deserve earnest and honest assessment. For the most part they can and have been addressed though there remain some gaps (including the fact that the theory suggesting small black holes evaporate too quickly to be interesting… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
August 28, 2011 12:57 PM

I wouldn’t be concerned if the safety analysis, which will have to handle uncertainties anyway, would use a “best supported case” physics against an “unsupported case” physics scenario.

If nonlinearities such as cascades were a problem, presumably odd things would have happened during inflationary reheating. It didn’t, so they likely aren’t.

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
August 28, 2011 2:45 PM
Strangelet physics is interesting, and one might wonder why this does not display itself more. The energy of bound quarks more or less goes as E = sum_q n_qe_q + … + const N_Z^2 Where n_q is the number of quark type q and e_q its coulomb energy. N_z = sum of charges, which is zero for the strangelet. The conversion of a quark to the strange quark lowers the total energy. So the conjecture has been that if a strangelet state could exist it would catalyze neutrons in matter to convert to strangelets and protons into strangelets plus positrons. The flavor changing transformation is places matter in a lower energy configuration. However, TeV cosmic rays slam into… Read more »
Hlafordlaes
Member
Hlafordlaes
August 27, 2011 11:15 PM

I rather think the danger from LHC has yet to pass. That is, the Light-Headed Cockamamie we find around the web so often, though, thankfully, not here.

Surak
Member
Surak
August 27, 2011 6:26 PM
Steve, I’m on your side, but there are a couple points I’m confused on. I understand that a teaspoon of neutron star would expand if removed from the gravitational compression of a neutron star. But I dont think the analogy holds with a teaspoon of black hole or with a solitary micro black hole … the expansion would have to occur at a speed faster than light or else nothing would ever clear it’s event horizon. Same for the explosive repulsion from the electrical charge of the protons that would make up a micro black hole in this scenario. First of all, the charge would be spread around as the quarks are released at the moment of impact,… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
August 28, 2011 1:29 AM
It is possible that at the 1 to 10 TeV scale that compactified dimensions, 6 out of 10 for instance leaving 4 spacetime dimensions, are on a scale that is comparable to this energy. This would mean that physics will have some amplitude for the signature of AdS/black hole physics. Given the scale of energy at the cut off is E_s ~ 10^{15}TeV, the amplitude for this physics gives the probability P = |A|^2 = (g^2/4?)ln(E_s/E) The coupling constant is related to the string parameter and g^2 = G. If there is a renormalization flow up to the string scale from the TeV domain we then have some probability amplitude for observing physics up to the string scale.… Read more »
Ivan3man_At_Large
Member
Ivan3man_At_Large
August 28, 2011 3:32 AM

Er… I think you may be wrong about that: LHC Webcam.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
August 28, 2011 8:31 AM

Thanks Ivan – I needed a laugh!

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
August 28, 2011 11:40 AM

This has been up for a long time. Somebody at CERN I think has a bit of fun with this.

LC

Mark Mighell
Guest
August 28, 2011 6:31 AM

well . LHC produce a black Hole element. could happen but of a size that would have little affect on our density level, The density level of the Black hole element(a pain of the wave element) will quickly find its density level and balance with the entrophy of space-time.

Mark MIghell

Mark Mighell
Guest
August 28, 2011 6:49 AM

the answer to this is in the frequency amplitude of the harmonic resonance of this black hole singularity paine. in an unstable field of energy the frequency will FLUCTUATE the resonat harmonics. this means that under curtain circumstances the cycles of spin on paine of vibrating singularity element will increase or decrease. a partical dose not have to be moving to be traveling at the speed of light(frequency and distance have a reletionship of sorts)

WaxyMary
Member
WaxyMary
August 29, 2011 2:00 AM

@Mark Mighell,

…this means that under curtain circumstances the cycles of spin on paine…

Sounds like it is curtains for that viewpoint, Mark, the fluctuation of the resonance harmonics not withstanding. The ‘dose’ of frequency and the relationship it might have to distance for any particle with rest mass vs motion at light speed have little to do with the spin cycle on a washer, and that makes this view washed up, as well.

Sigh, what does the world need now; love, sweet love, or is that the only thing there’s just too little of…

Mary

WaxyMary
Member
WaxyMary
August 29, 2011 2:00 AM

@Mark Mighell,

…this means that under curtain circumstances the cycles of spin on paine…

Sounds like it is curtains for that viewpoint, Mark, the fluctuation of the resonance harmonics not withstanding. The ‘dose’ of frequency and the relationship it might have to distance for any particle with rest mass vs motion at light speed have little to do with the spin cycle on a washer, and that makes this view washed up, as well.

Sigh, what does the world need now; love, sweet love, or is that the only thing there’s just too little of…

Mary

DrFlimmer
Member
DrFlimmer
August 28, 2011 9:29 AM

The most obvious answer to this whole “question” is:

We are still here!

The universe has far better accelerators than we can possibly build. Particles exceeding the LHC by many orders of magnitude collide with the earth every day. And yet: Here we are.

Robert
Guest
Robert
September 10, 2011 4:22 AM
That “we are still here” proves nothing. The LHC has been operating less than two years (not “three”) at half-power, and the shortest estimate for a mini black hole consuming the Earth is “50 months to 50 years” (Prof. Otto Rossler). Unlike cosmic rays hitting Earth, the symmetrical collisions in the LHC can result in a slow down of the products, some to below escape velocity (not “a dead-stop”). Thus, regarding neutral microscopic black holes, CERN’s safety report admits: “Those produced by cosmic rays would pass harmlessly through the Earth into space, whereas those produced by the LHC could remain on Earth.” Higher energy cosmic rays would merely cause a faster exit of such products. In 2008 CERN… Read more »
Ruadh
Member
Ruadh
August 28, 2011 11:20 AM

I really don’t see what all the hubbub is all about.
If the world were to end right this very moment, we wouldn’t even know it because it would happen so fast there would be no felling it.

Ruadh
Member
Ruadh
August 28, 2011 11:20 AM

I really don’t see what all the hubbub is all about.
If the world were to end right this very moment, we wouldn’t even know it because it would happen so fast there would be no felling it.

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
August 28, 2011 12:43 PM
The so called black hole that would materialize here is a bit different from our standard notion of a black hole. If you scatter two particles at sqrt{s} = 7TeV, and up to 14 TeV in a few years, the energy goes into a wide range of possible channels. This can result in a plasma of quarks and gluons that lasts about 10^{-24}sec. This might have amplitudes that correspond to AdS/black hole physics. The 10 dimensional universe in super gravity at low energy is 3+1 space plus time and the other 6 dimensions become folded into Calabi-Yau (CY) spaces. CY spaces in a standard theory exist at around the string length ~ 10^{-31}cm. Yet in a renormalization group… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
August 29, 2011 12:50 AM

Now wait a minute. If the bosonic string connects to the quantum black hole then it would appear that both the tachyons and the naked singularities would fluctuate back and forth. The problem is that the amplitude black holes are often confused with the units Q>2 and m>2s creating an inverse flux of saturated massive accelerants that force the synthesis of the elementary tachyon particles which often, though not always leaves only Tev scale compactified particles….i think….never mind..

WaxyMary
Member
WaxyMary
August 29, 2011 1:51 AM

The boson’s connected to the black hole, the black hole’s connected to the amplitude, the amplitude connected to the tachyon; now hear the roar of the sky.

Mary -to the tune of “D’em Bones, D’em Bones”-

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
August 29, 2011 2:12 AM

icrowell “blinded me with science” dum de dum da da da de………….

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
August 29, 2011 2:08 AM
The tachyon by virtue of moving faster than light ends up out to infinity faster than everything else. In a particular frame a tachyon escapes to infinity instantly. In this sense one can argue that tachyons vanish. The states they correspond to are vacuum modes which are annulled. The singularity of a black hole is a sort of condensate of tachyons. The physical singularity occurs at the inner horizon r_-, where this can be argued for. Essentially as one reaches the inner horizon so does everything else (including photons) and they are arbitrarily blue shifted. The extremal case is where the horizons merge, but the merged horizon propagates no information to the outside. The naked singularity is where… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
August 29, 2011 6:13 PM

You don’t happen to sit in a wheel chair and use a voice synthesizer do you ?? Just wondering………….have a great day !!

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
August 30, 2011 5:16 AM

LC’s input is one of the reasons I like this site. His insights are not limited to astrophysics either – which is a bonus.

I will continue to query his option so long as he is interested.

…or till he starts claiming hostile aliens may attack us for our resources.

WaxyMary
Member
WaxyMary
August 30, 2011 12:49 PM
Piffle, Uncle Fred, LC would be first to tell you, and anyway, everyone knows –there are no single reasons good enough to invade and conquer, and subjugation an entire alien planet, much less a stellar system of immense proportions and possessing vast tracts of land. You have to maintain a multitude of reasons to justify the expenses to the electorate. Resources and space; space and time; maybe the resources of our minds combined with the tastiness of them. Whatever the reason used there will be another reason given to reinforce that blade which will cleave us from our freedom, our freedom to fight our alien masters, to finally be free of them; I tell you, we can be… Read more »
WaxyMary
Member
WaxyMary
August 30, 2011 12:49 PM
Piffle, Uncle Fred, LC would be first to tell you, and anyway, everyone knows –there are no single reasons good enough to invade and conquer, and subjugation an entire alien planet, much less a stellar system of immense proportions and possessing vast tracts of land. You have to maintain a multitude of reasons to justify the expenses to the electorate. Resources and space; space and time; maybe the resources of our minds combined with the tastiness of them. Whatever the reason used there will be another reason given to reinforce that blade which will cleave us from our freedom, our freedom to fight our alien masters, to finally be free of them; I tell you, we can be… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
August 30, 2011 5:16 PM
Of course maybe we end up running into aliens: I took a high school sweetheart on a date to this gruesome classic. It is a long shot to think we may get radio contact with aliens. I suspect that SETI may just serve to put upper bounds on the frequency of intelligent life in the universe. Of course there is a sort of “climbing mount improbable” here. There might on average only be one ETI per 100 galaxies, but there could still be two in the same galaxy somewhere. Further, there is a chance for there to be two ETI in the same galaxy and fairly close to each other. Then there is a chance for interstellar travel… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
August 29, 2011 12:50 AM

Now wait a minute. If the bosonic string connects to the quantum black hole then it would appear that both the tachyons and the naked singularities would fluctuate back and forth. The problem is that the amplitude black holes are often confused with the units Q>2 and m>2s creating an inverse flux of saturated massive accelerants that force the synthesis of the elementary tachyon particles which often, though not always leaves only Tev scale compactified particles….i think….never mind..

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
August 28, 2011 1:14 PM
As I understand it the final evaporation of black holes, if there is one, is up for grabs. – Will it be accelerated, linear or slowed down? – Will there be a topological remain? (My money is on spacetime healing itself, or we would know of these relics from before.) As for mechanisms, I think the physics is such that you can make a semiclassical “membrane paradigm” model, in which case you can model evaporation simplest as Hawking radiation. But the actual physics is that a black hole evaporates from the Unruh effect due to gravitational acceleration: “There exist alternative physical pictures which give the Hawking radiation in which the trans-Planckian problem is addressed. The key point is… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
August 28, 2011 1:26 PM

I still think the best argument in the social sphere is that 1000s of our best scientists are in on this and they have families.

While the nut cases obviously have most of their nuts invested elsewhere.

Ivan3man_At_Large
Member
Ivan3man_At_Large
August 28, 2011 2:05 PM

Like this?

TerryG
Member
August 28, 2011 1:37 PM

Slightly off topic, but there is one thing the LHC might be about to destroy… LHC results put supersymmetry theory ‘on the spot’.

John Campbell
Guest
August 28, 2011 4:43 PM

There is no profit in trying to debate peoples beliefs with mere facts, ignorance rooted in the untestable is a powerful thing.

pollydextrous
Member
pollydextrous
August 28, 2011 5:01 PM

@Mark MIghell–“well . LHC produce a black Hole element. could happen but of a size that would have little affect on our density level, The density level of the Black hole element(a pain of the wave element) will quickly find its density level and balance with the entrophy of space-time.

“Mark MIghell”

What? Blackholium?

WaxyMary
Member
WaxyMary
August 29, 2011 2:06 AM

@OlynthusDam, re: your question to @Mark MIghell,

If there is any need for ‘holium’ there would be folks wanting to fill that need with immense quantities of ‘holier-than-thou-prodding’ and the converse of the inverse of the fictive device would be off the charts!

Mary

HeadAroundU
Guest
HeadAroundU
August 28, 2011 9:02 PM

Yeah, I hate debunking, but finally someone explained teaspoon stuff in a non-bragging way.

cosmic avenger
Member
cosmic avenger
August 28, 2011 11:41 PM

Just a pet peeve of mine: can we please use the word theory correctly, i.e. “There is no hard evidence to support this theory.” Then it is not a theory. How can we possibly hope or help the public to understand the difference between a theory and a hypothesis if we who should know better won’t even use the correct term.

Ivan3man_At_Large
Member
Ivan3man_At_Large
August 29, 2011 12:37 AM

Agreed. Also, my pet peeve is that blasted word “believe”!

HiEverybody
Guest
HiEverybody
August 29, 2011 5:17 PM

Generating a black hole would be extremely difficult. The energies required would not be conjured up by the LHC.

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