The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Three Reasons Why the Large Hadron Collider Will NOT Destroy the Earth

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 16, 2009

One of the things I did at Dragon*Con a couple of weeks ago was to give a talk on the physics of the Large Hadron Collider.  The last part of the talk dealt specifically with the claims that the LHC will destroy the Earth.  My response to this nonsense claim:

dont panic

No, really, don’t panic… the Large Hadron Collider is NOT going to destroy the Earth. Yes, I know what the cranks have said, and I know that words such as “black hole“, “strangelet” and “exotic matter” get thrown around to make them sound like they know physics from their buttholes… but really, it’s going to be fine.  Here’s why:

1. Cosmic Rays

Naturally occurring events, cosmic ray collisions with our planet, have been taking place at greater than TeV levels (up to 10^20 eV, whereas TeV = 10^12 eV) of energy for billions of years.  The Earth has yet to be destroyed despite such an enormous number of such natural “experiments.”

2. FermiLab

Some cranks imply that – somehow – having artificially induced high-energy collisions will lead to different physics than the naturally occurring ones via cosmic rays, but it actually doesn’t matter.  You see, the Tevatron accelerator at FermiLab in Batavia, Illinois has already been conducting experiments almost identical to those proposed for the LHC.  These include collisions of roughly 2 TeV which have been conducted nearly continuously for 20+ years!  Illinois is still there 🙂

3. The “Worst Case Scenario” isn’t that bad – at all!

Suppose all of the energy of the highest energy LHC collisions create a black hole which proceeds to “eat the Earth”, as some claim… wouldn’t that SUCK?!! Well, not so much…

*Imagine a million collisions at maximum energy (14 TeV each in the LHC) all create black holes, and then assume those black holes all merge into one “monster” black hole!

*How massive would this “monster” black hole be? According to the mass-energy equivalence equationE = mc^2 – we find that the mass of this “planet-eater” is 2.5×10^-14 grams.

*What would be the size of the event horizon? This matters because the event horizon of the black hole is like the “point of no return” from which nothing, not even light, can escape a black hole’s gravitation pull. If the event horizon of a “monster” black hole is large enough, it could conceivably suck in large chunks of matter.

But the Schwarzchild equation, which determines the size of a black hole’s event horizon, shows…

R = 2Gm/c^2 where G is the universal gravitational constant & c is the speed of light

R = 3.7×10^-44 meters

… which, btw, is about 2.4×10^28 , or 24,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times smaller than a proton!

So even if this “planet-eater” was created by the LHC, and if it did fall into the Earth, further calculations show that it has such little size & mass that it would take 3 BILLION YEARS to eat up ONE GRAM of Earth’s mass!

Oh yeah… I’m soooooo worried.

Now, to be fair, I’ve heard some responses from the woos on this front, but they are pathetic at best. For instance, one response I received was that “we don’t know what could happen at that energy level, so why take the chance?”

Essentially this is a blatant argument from ignorance, claiming that because we don’t know what will happen then we know it will be very dangerous – which is a complete and utter contradiction. In addition, when I point out my calculation to such pseudoscientific physics cranks, I often get the response that I’m “merely speculating with the math”… excuse me? I’m using well-founded physics theories to do what we do with such theories all the time: make predictions! And what do the cranks have? Nothing… no math, no coherent theories, just wild speculation. Yet in their twisted worldview, I’m the one who is speculating.

Another criticism, one which was leveled at me during my talk at Dragon*Con, was that due to the “checkered past” of high-energy physics (specifically the development of the atomic bomb via the Manhattan Project) then “how can we trust scientists on such questions?”

Essentially, my response is to point out that science is an amoral process – the question is what do we do with knowledge once we gain it?  And that’s a question humanity has been struggling with for ages, long before the development of modern science.  I agree that some of the implications of our modern science & technology can be scary, but to make the argument that because of this we should somehow stop doing science is downright silly!  Because that’s what we’re really talking about here folks: the end of science. If you take this kind of argument to its logical conclusion, you are talking about ending the process of scientific exploration because we are too scared to do anything for fear of “The Unknown”.

So, at the end of this long rant I have to say that, in conclusion:


7 Responses to “Three Reasons Why the Large Hadron Collider Will NOT Destroy the Earth”

  1. Josh said

    Matt, I attended the lecture on Friday (I was the guy with the cryptography book). I really enjoyed it and want to thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

  2. morison dony said

    Can you provide more information on this?

  3. Earth said

    Good article, thank you
    If you are interesting 2012 year, by the way, welcome to us 🙂

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  5. jonathan said

    listen, The hadron collider may cause many many black holes. but with each they can not combine into a gigantic monster. so prtty much everyone is safe unless someone is in the collider they would get chopped and die.

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