Could a juiced-up particle accelerator destroy the Earth?

One of the world’s largest particle colliders is about to undergo upgrades that will make it considerably more powerful than it is now. The ensuing experiments will once again take us into uncharted scientific waters, prompting critics to warn of a potential catastrophe — one powerful enough to destroy our entire planet.


The world’s second most powerful particle accelerator

Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), is about to enter into its 15th year of service (the most powerful collider being the Large Hadron Collider [LHC] in Europe). The anticipated upgrades will increase the RHIC’s ability to produce particle collisions by a factor of 20 over the original design, while operating at a luminosity 18 times greater than before.

Trouble is, none of this was considered during the initial risk assessment. And as pointed out by a duo of concerned legal experts in an International Business Times OpEd, the state of knowledge in nuclear physics has advanced considerably since then. Indeed, in addition to confirmation of the Higgs boson, scientists have discovered quark-gluon plasma — a liquid-like substance with a temperature exceeding 4 trillion K. It’s unlike any kind of normal matter we know of, one that recreates the conditions that existed during the first seconds of the universe.

According to Eric E. Johnson, Associate Professor of Law at the University of North Dakota, and Michael Baram, Professor Emeritus at Boston University Law School, it would subsequently be a good idea to re-evaluate the potential for the RHIC to unleash an existential-scale disaster on Earth. They argue that the recently established blue-ribbon commission to evaluate the cost effectiveness of the U.S. Department of Energy’s national labs should “take a sober look at one experimental program that raises a bizarre and little-discussed prospect of destroying the entire planet.”

Their concern? The formation of micro black holes and small fragments of strange matter called, appropriately enough, strangelets.

Strangelets and Micro Black Holes

Critics are worried that the souped-up collider could produce strangelets — a subatomic object (a hypothetical form of quark matter that contains roughly equal number of up, down, and strange quarks more stable than ordinary nuclei) that could, under the right conditions, start a chain reaction in a runaway fusion process that would convert everything into strange matter. In the words of Sir Martin Rees, it would leave the planet “an inert hyperdense sphere about one hundred metres across.”

Johnson and Baram are concerned that some proposed low energy experiments at the LHIC could actually increase the risk of creating strangelets. As noted by Lisa Lyga in

In the original risk assessment report in 1999, the scientists stated that “Elementary theoretical considerations suggest that the most dangerous type of collision is that at considerably lower energy than RHIC.” That assessment referenced RHIC’s original design energy of 100 GeV. Over the years, lower-energy experiments were performed, and the 2014 run will include three weeks at 7.3 GeV.

The other fear is that the RHIC, or other more advanced particle accelerators, could produce a micro black hole. In fact, a recent study showed that creating mini-black holes requires less energy than previously thought. Symmetry Magazine’s Kelly Izlar explains:

When two particles hit dead-on at close to light speed, a small amount of energy greatly concentrates into a tiny space. If extra dimensions exist, the collision could reveal gravity’s hidden strength; the energy and density could be high enough to fuse into a microscopic black hole. A micro black hole would be too small and short-lived to have much effect on its surroundings. Scientists’ only clue would be a burst of extra particles.

Again, and just to reiterate, even if stable micro black holes could be produced by particle accelerators, they wouldn’t be able to accumulate matter in manner dangerous for Earth. Of course, that hasn’t stopped animators from speculating about what such a disaster might look like:

A Roll of the Dice?

Many of you will remember these same safety concerns back when the RHIC and LHC were first launched. To address them, various scientific and legal reviews were held, and the subsequent reports concluded that both facilities posed no conceivable threat. One of the reports (which was reviewed and endorsed by a CERN committee of 20 external scientists and by the Executive Committee of the Division of Particles & Fields of the American Physical Society), noted that the physical conditions and collision events aren’t anything that doesn’t already exist in nature:

The LHC reproduces in the laboratory, under controlled conditions, collisions at centre-of-mass energies less than those reached in the atmosphere by some of the cosmic rays that have been bombarding the Earth for billions of years. We recall the rates for the collisions of cosmic rays with the Earth, Sun, neutron stars, white dwarfs and other astronomical bodies at energies higher than the LHC. The stability of astronomical bodies indicates that such collisions cannot be dangerous.

But that report, and others, were published over six years ago, and as noted by Johnson and Baram, things have changed.

“The original [RHIC] report assumed the RHIC would only run for a planned 10 years. But thanks to program extensions, the RHIC is now entering its 15th year,” they write. “The machine has also been continuously upgraded since the report… The suitability of models and assumptions used in the original analysis might be profitably reappraised.”

So, in addition to evaluating the cost-effectiveness of the RHIC, Johnson and Baram are hoping it will receive the “the rigorous, independent risk analysis it has long warranted”:

A focus on dollars is understandable in this era of belt tightening. But funding decisions for nuclear experiments ought to take risks into account as well. If dangerous strangelets are a possibility, then each additional collision of nuclei presents a roll of the dice. And when we are talking about a possible threat to the existence of the planet, even very small probabilities could be of the ultimate significance.

All this said, and in consideration of the research done to date, the risk appears exceptionally low. But the scary thing here is that we’re not talking about zero probabilities. Ongoing investigations into matters such as these are obviously a prudent idea.

Source | io9

Find us here

Get news from the CSGLOBE in your inbox each weekday morning

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors/source and do not necessarily reflect the position of CSGLOBE or its staff.

Paid content

The 10 Biggest Dangers Posed By Future Technology

It’s not easy predicting the future of technology. In the fifties it seemed a pretty much foregone conclusion that by 2015 we would all...

Scientists Baffled After Finding 10th Century Medicine that Kills Antibiotic-Resistant ‘Superbug’

An ancient Anglo-Saxon potion, used to treat eye infections in the 10th-century, has shown the potential to eradicate the modern MRSA superbug, according to research. The...

This Man One Ups Tesla By Inventing An Electric Car That Never Needs Charging

The concept of the electric car has been around for a very long time, and as with any other world revolutionizing technology, it’s taken...

What's New Today

Georgia House Votes To Allow Citizens To Abolish Police Departments In The State

The Georgia House backed an effort on Friday to dissolve the Glynn County Police Department and any...

Leaked CDC document contradicts Pence claim that U.S. coronavirus cases ‘have stabilized’

Even as Vice President Mike Pence wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Tuesday that coronavirus...

Five bombshells about Trump from Bolton ‘s book

Excerpts from former national security adviser John Bolton ’s book about his time in the Trump administration...

Don’t Listen to Fox. Here’s What’s Really Going On in Seattle’s Protest Zone.

It seems I live in a city undergoing a “totalitarian takeover” that will lead to “fascist outcomes”...


What Is Agenda 21? Depopulation of 95% of the World By 2030

Most people are unaware that one of the greatest threats to their freedom may be a United Nations program which plans to depopulate 95%...

Putin has Banned Rothschild and His New World Order Banking Cartel Family from Entering Russian Territory

As of recently, Russian president Vladimir Putin took yet another decision for his country. "Under any circumstances", the Rothschild family is banned from entering Russian territory. Along...

Complete List of BANKS Owned/Controlled by the Rothschild Family

What’s the significance of having a central bank within a country and why should you concern yourself, your family and colleagues? Central banks are illegally...

The 10 Biggest Dangers Posed By Future Technology

It’s not easy predicting the future of technology. In the fifties it seemed a pretty much foregone conclusion that by 2015 we would all...

The vertical forest in Milan

What's that over there? Is that two large building blocks in the middle of Milan covered in a rich, green forest? See The Forest That's...

Space lizard? Alien creature ‘on high alert’ on Mars catches UFO fans’ eyes

Life on Mars: UFO fans spot lizard on Red Planet Mars seems to be quite an inhabited planet, according to UFO freaks. Perhaps inspired by stories...

Got Bees? Got Vitamin A? Got Malaria?

New Research Shows How Bees and Other Pollinators May Be Crucial To Human Health A new study shows that more than half the people in...

FOX News Exposed Hosting Fake Swedish ‘Security Advisor’ To Fear Monger on Refugees

Last week, Donald Trump said, while giving a speech on the impending doom that will result if the US government allows Muslims from his...

US Forest Service Ignores Nestlé’s Illegal Take Over of Water Supply

That’s right, the US Forest Service has been turning their heads while a multinational corporation, whose former CEO thinks water is not a human...

Over 30 Million Bees Found Dead In Elmwood Canada

Shortly after 50,000 bees were found dead in an Oregon parking lot (read more here), a staggering 37 million bees have been found dead in...

One Earth Message to crowdfund our first words to aliens

NASA ponders sending out a digital message to Extraterrestrials A crowdfunding project is bidding to commandeer Nasa’s Pluto probe and send if off into deep...