Could the Large Hadron Collider destroy Earth?

Martial Trezzini/Keystone/AP/FILE
A 100-ton piece of the Large Hadron Collider is lowered into the cave beneath Meyrin, Switzerland.

Now that the European Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is completed and ready to fire up in August, a slew of articles have popped up quoting doomsayers. An AP article from this weekend was the most recent example of critics warning that the 17-mile, $5.8 billion supercollider – which will slam protons together in an attempt to learn more about the building blocks of the universe – will inadvertently create a black hole that will gobble up the Earth.

So, will the most ambitious science project in human history end human history? No.

I should say "no, according to scientists working on the LHC." But the evidence points to a resounding "no."

A study released last month disassembled the arguments against powering up the collider. The report found "no basis for concerns that [small] black holes from the LHC could pose a risk to Earth on timescales shorter than the Earth's natural lifetime." In other words: Yes, it could happen, but chances are the sun will burn out before this collider can have an Earth-ending mishap.

Their reasoning? Slashdot puts it best: "Everything that will be created at the LHC is already being created by cosmic rays. If a black hole created by the LHC is interactive enough to destroy the world within the lifetime of the sun, similar black holes are already being created by cosmic rays."

If such black holes were naturally flinging around in the universe, they would bump up against "dense cosmic objects," such as neutron stars, and over time the black holes would swallow the star. But, from looking through telescopes we know that there are plenty of old neutron stars around. So, if it's safe for them, it's also safe for us. "Any black hole that could be created at the LHC, even if it is stable, would have no effect on the earth on any meaningful timescale," Slashdot says.

This conclusion is backed by the European agency that runs the LHC, a panel of independent scientists, the US Department of Energy, the US National Science Foundation, and science star Stephen Hawking – who argues that even if black holes developed, "they would instantly evaporate."

That's good enough for me.

For more LHC coverage, check out:
Europe’s Large Hadron Collider tests the bounds of physics – and budgets
As a massive atom smasher powers up, ‘Big Science’ moves away from the US

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