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Concern Over Creating Black Holes 597

Posted by kdawson
from the nothing-to-fear dept.
Maria Williams writes to tell us about worry surrounding the impending startup of CERN's Large Hadron Collider. Some fear that the device, in creating mini black holes, could jeopardize Life As We Know It. While the tiny black holes should evaporate quickly — throwing off so-called Hawking radiation that can be detected — CERN software developer Ran Livneh reminds us that "Any physicist will tell you that there is no way to prove that generated black holes will decay." The LHC site assures us there's nothing to worry about. The flap is reminiscent of the time the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider went live. The worry then was that "negative strangelets" could gobble up the world.
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Concern Over Creating Black Holes

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  • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:51PM (#16082503)
    ...no crap about John Titor [wikipedia.org] actually being a real person.

    Thanks.

    For those who don't know, in the John Titor story, the CERN LHC allegedly lays the groundwork for using artificial black holes as part of a time machine (made for the military by General Electric, of course!).

    (And no, John Titor is not a real time traveler.)

    For example:

    Along with the prediction of World War III, another notable prediction is that of a Civil war in America, which was predicted to begin in 2004, around the time of the presidential election, and would escalate until 2008, which, according to Titor, "[is] a general date by which time everyone will realize the world they thought they were living in was over."

    Even statements like this are subjective and many people still choose to believe; I'm sure there are many slashdot readers (judging from the kind of posts I see here) who believe we are currently in a nascent "civil war" and that, indeed, the "world they thought they were living in was over." This is all typical vague crap that can be viewed a variety of different ways, Nostradamus-style, and never soundly disproven, conspiracy-theory-style. Even now, people are arguing that John Titor's visit may have allowed us to "change our future". Yeah, because the mental giants who believe the John Titor story have had a huge impact on things.

    ...

    It's quite impressive how many people actually believe this tripe, though.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:58PM (#16082592)
      ...Yet
    • So what you're saying is, at the Large Hadron Collider safety is not guaranteed. [ytmnd.com]
    • Even statements like this are subjective and many people still choose to believe; I'm sure there are many slashdot readers (judging from the kind of posts I see here) who believe we are currently in a nascent "civil war" and that, indeed, the "world they thought they were living in was over."

      Actually, the civil war prediction is pretty clear-cut. Do we have two or more large factions of Americans shooting each other for political purposes? No. Therefore, while the country is certainly polarized, we are

    • by OakDragon (885217) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:16PM (#16082783) Journal
      ...Civil war in America, which was predicted to begin in 2004, around the time of the presidential election...

      On November 3rd, 2004, civil war was narrowly averted when Kerry supporters realized that only 0.03% of them owned a gun.

    • Actually, if you look at it, John Titor did say he went back to a slightly alternate timeline, one that shared his history to when he went back, but not necissarially after that. So, he could have been making perfectly valid predictions, but something small happened that meant history went another way. (I can think of a few things in late 2004 that could have escalated the situation. To civil war? Maybe.)

      Just saying his story still holds together, if you want to believe it.
  • Ack! (Score:5, Funny)

    by ultramk (470198) <ultramk@noSPAM.pacbell.net> on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:51PM (#16082507)
    Nothing for you to see here. Please move along.

    It's already begun!

    m-
  • by CerebusUS (21051) on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:52PM (#16082519)
    As long as Gordon Freeman is there to watch over the experiment, I think we'll all be okay. Maybe.

    I hear the Vortigaunts are our allies.
  • by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:52PM (#16082520) Homepage
    The worry then was that "negative strangelets" could gobble up the world.

    You see, the problem is that we could all get sucked off before we know what's going on.
  • by Skyshadow (508) * on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:52PM (#16082523) Homepage
    Seems to me that the only real problem with blowing this sort of thing off by saying "this is just like last time when we tried something that had a small chance of destroying the world and it worked out okay then" is that you really only have to be wrong once.

    "Oh shit! Yeah, our bad -- man, are our faces red. Sorry about that, everybody."
    • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:01PM (#16082624) Journal
      I think microscopic black holes couldn't eat up the earth due to the three stooges problem. They are so small that only an atom at a time can get in, but the gravity is strong enough to try to suck in more, so all the atoms get bunched up around the event horizon like the three stooges all trying to get through a door at the same time. Problem nullified. Whoop hoop oop! Nyuck nyuck, why I oughta!
      • by dgatwood (11270) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:16PM (#16082787) Journal

        I don't think I buy that reasoning. That's like saying that a {particle beam, laser} won't work because the hole at the end of the tube is only big enough for one {atom, photon}.

        Except it's worse than that. As soon as things shift around a little so that a single atom goes in, the event horizon is now slightly larger. Repeat ad infinitum. All it takes is an occasional atom getting through.

        A microscopic black hole either dissipates or it doesn't. If it does, great. If it doesn't, we have a problem. It may take millennia to become a serious problem, but....

        • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

          by dgatwood (11270)

          Just to clarify, I don't think there's much chance at all that such a tiny black hole would be able to gather enough mass quickly enough to create such a chain reaction. I'd imagine the initial mass needed for such a reaction to be sustainable is probably much larger than we would ever be able to create on Earth. That said, -if- it were the case that it does not dissipate, then there's a potential problem.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by IAmTheDave (746256)
            -if- it were the case that it does not dissipate, then there's a potential problem.

            You sound like Einstein - "um, i don't THINK the a-bomb will create a chain reaction of splitting atoms that will destroy the universe as we know it... but... just in case you might wanna get you some of that AFLAK insurance."

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Thuktun (221615)
        A black hole eating up the Earth appears in the Hyperion [wikipedia.org] series, usually referred to as the "Big Mistake of '08".

        Curiously, the LHC is going to come online in 2007. Hope that's just coincidence.
    • by monoqlith (610041)
      Except it would be more like....

      "Oh shit!"
    • by 2short (466733) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:14PM (#16082760)
      I remember that last time, and I think a friend of mine summed it up best:

      "Scientists constructing a device that could potentially destroy the earth? Don't we have super-heroes to deal with this sort of thing?"
    • by MORB (793798) on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:20PM (#16083398)
      So what?

      If it doesn't destroy the world, scientific knowledge advances.
      If it does, no onw will be around anymore to worry about it.
  • by russ1337 (938915) on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:53PM (#16082524)
    Well, it beats being hit by a bus....

    Standing at the pearly gates it would be a great converstation starter... "oh yeah? I was killed by a black hole...."
  • by LordPhantom (763327) on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:53PM (#16082527)
    ....Hard On Collider? I think I'd prefer an earth swallowing black hole.
  • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:53PM (#16082528) Homepage Journal
    The black holes would only eat up Kurt Vonnegut. However, the efect would be the same as if they ate up the whole world, since it's all a figment of his imagination.
  • Okay... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by addaon (41825) <addaon+slashdot@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:53PM (#16082531)
    Being cautious about a potentially real issue is one thing, but of course the big issue here is that collisions of similar energy happen, if not commonly, at least not entirely rarely due to cosmic rays. If the world could be destroyed by the side-effects of such a collision, we wouldn't be here to be nervous about it.
    • This is exactly right. There is nothing to be concerned about here.

      I would say the "The Lifeboat Foundation's" chances of building a self sustaining space colony by 2020 are about a quadrillion times greater than the chance of a man-made mini-black hole eating us all.
    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:03PM (#16082648) Journal
      Precisely, although, if I may add a bit as to why people might still be afraid of this research ...

      It's natural to fear what you don't understand. It might even be a quality of a species that determines its success as many things in nature are quite dangerous. For better or for worse, mankind has this built in as a default setting no matter who you are whether you're fearing a black hole or suffering from xenophobia.

      I am not a physicist but I think the fears here are quite unfounded. All the math and theory point to a black hole having a finite event horizon. If the black holes they are producing are microscopic and last relatively little amount of time, they shouldn't be very dangerous. I think this has been covered before [slashdot.org].

      It is interesting though, because I believe a black hole's event horizon has a radius proportionate to the amount of mass it consumes. I believe that if you make them small enough, however, they don't last long enough to expand. I would be concerned if they were attempting to make massive singularities to destroy garbage heaps with these but I don't see how those would be possible to create as the only known method is to accumulate so much mass in such a small volume that gravity crushes it into a singularity. My understanding of the collider is that it smashes particles together at a fast rate and, as a result, very tiny and brief black holes may result. As this article [nature.com] states:
      The physicist Stephen Hawking predicted in the 1970s that black holes would evaporate by radiating away their energy. For astrophysical black holes this is a very slow process, but extremely small black holes should last about as long as a snowflake in hell.

      People will, as always, fear what they don't understand so I believe it's hopeless to quell all fears about physics research. I'm sure a lot of people are concerned about this being the next "atomic bomb" technology. Where we "drop" black holes on enemies. Though that doesn't really make sense, it still could have military applications such as creating electromagnetic devices that are so strong they displace gravity and aiming them at your enemies. Sure would make for a cheesy sci-fi book whether it was true or not!
  • Reminds of 'Thrice upon a Time', where receiving information from the future was creating micro-black holes, which then were causing detectable micro-damage elsewhere, IIRC.

    Cool book, anyway.

  • uh oh (Score:2, Funny)

    by syrinx (106469)
    Watch out if you let the Technocore help. Can we farcast off of Old Earth yet?

    (see "Old Earth": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperion_Cantos [wikipedia.org])
    • by arivanov (12034)
      Unfortunately not. Though I would not mind seeing some of our leaders receive the same treatment as Sad King Billy. They deserve it.
  • No way? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:54PM (#16082556)
    "Any physicist will tell you that there is no way to prove that generated black holes will decay."

    Of course there's a way. Empirical research, just like they're doing. First you make a black hole, then you see if it expands until it destroys all life on earth. Simple, straight forwards, effective.
  • by Gary W. Longsine (124661) on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:55PM (#16082557) Homepage Journal
    Where are they? Gone.

    Civilizations routinely destroy their home planet by creating miniature black holes thereupon whilst trying to figure out what makes them tick. Technology advances faster than democracy, and it has never yet in the long history of the universe been put to a vote.
    • by Rhys (96510)
      I think that global thermonuclear war is really a much more likely option than being wiped out my a miniature black hole. Or polluting the planet to such a state it is unable to sustain modern technological life.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by crabpeople (720852)
      There was a book where they kept building bigger and bigger experiments, the latest one with a diamater of part of the solar system - and one of the characters postulates that that was how the big bang always started. Scientists of an advanced civilization solving the only problems left to solve would eventually try to re create the big bang out of a search for knowledge.

      Forget the name of the book though.

  • Perspective (Score:5, Informative)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:55PM (#16082561) Homepage Journal
    Some scientists were very concerned the first atomic bomb would produce so much heat it would ignite the atmosphere and burn the entire surface of the earth. Fortunately it didn't happen. But it's good that people bring up these ideas so we challenge assumptions and try to be safe while still advancing science.
  • by LinuxGeek (6139) * <{djand.nc} {at} {gmail.com}> on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:56PM (#16082566)
    This is the reason that the Earth entry was changed from "Harmless" to "Mostly harmless".
  • Considering the massive force of a black hole explosion (implosion, whatever), tinfoil is *not* going to be strong enough (sorry, saskboy [abandonedstuff.com]). I'll stock up on the following items, courtesy of the Periodic Table Table entry for "Silver":

    Silver-lined tinfoil hat [theodoregray.com], cleverly disguised as a normal trucker's hat.

    Silver Boxer Shorts [theodoregray.com] -- while all you smartie-pants rationalists are protecting your *brains*, I'll be protecting Man's truest contribution to the future of humanity.
  • by awing0 (545366) <.gro.hcetdab. .ta. .mada.> on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:58PM (#16082599) Homepage Journal
    Edward Teller speculated that an atomic weapon could ignite the atmosphere. Another physicist discredited and disproved the idea, but the fear wasn't laid to rest until the actual weapons were used.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_Project [wikipedia.org] (wikipedia, blah blah blah)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by zippthorne (748122)
      No, the fear wasn't laid to rest until Teller and other scientists did the math. They didn't do the experiments until after they made the calculations.
    • by dpbsmith (263124) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:57PM (#16083201) Homepage
      That fear resurfaced during the 1954 "Bravo" shot. It was twice as powerful as expected, and as physicists watched and saw the cloud keep expanding and expanding and expanding, with no signs of stopping, at least some of them momentarily wondered whether the atmosphere had been ignited after all.

      But don't worry. Physicists will never make a mistake again. And, hey, the atmosphere didn't ignite, so, no problem.

  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:58PM (#16082602)

    While the tiny black holes should evaporate quickly...

    The biggest word in that sentence is should.

  • by chill (34294)
    I can get my Sphere of Annihilation [systemrefe...uments.org]! Do you have any idea how hard it is to find these items? Damn liches seem to have a monopoly on them.
  • by arevos (659374) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:02PM (#16082641) Homepage
    Primary cosmic rays impact the earth all the time, and these often have far higher energies than even our largest particle accelerators are capable of producing. For any experiment we attempt, we can be reasonably sure that colliding cosmic rays have already produced the same results, sometime within the past few billions years. If we could create massively destructive black holes through our particle accelerators, one would expect that stray cosmic rays would have already done so.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by joe_n_bloe (244407)
      Yeah - the fundamental problem with all these "supercolliders will destroy the Earth/Universe" hypotheses is that all these "extreme" conditions have existed here and there throughout the universe since the beginning of time.
  • by Framboise (521772) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:04PM (#16082665)
    This type of fear occurred many times during the nuclear physics history, when higher and higher energies were explored. The answer against fears of unknown catastrophic effect has been that some cosmic rays are much more energetic than any artificially accelerated particles (10^21 eV for some cosmic rays in comparison to the feeble 10^12 eV in today accelerators such as LHC). For sure the Earth and the Sun did already receive zillons of cosmic rays without disappearing...
  • by noretsa (995866) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:04PM (#16082668)
    If it were really so easy to destroy the world it would have happened long ago.

    For example, there are as yet little-understood phenomena that can accelerate particles six orders of magnitude faster than anything achievable in a lab. Try reading about Ultra-high-energy cosmic rays [wikipedia.org].

    More specifically read the story of the Oh-My-God Particle [fourmilab.ch]. This was a proton detected in October of 1991 that had an energy of 3.2 * 10^20 eV. The equivalent energy of a baseball thrown at 55 mph... all in a single proton travelling at 99.99999999999999999999951% the speed of light!

    While something travelling that fast has little probability of interacting with anything you could imagine the surprise if one of those hit you! I think that the fact we are alive with such powerful forces already at work in our universe means we have little to fear.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rthille (8526)
      While something travelling that fast has little probability of interacting with anything

      On the contrary, even though the particle was traveling that fast, it interacted with the thin upper atmosphere, right? Isn't that where the telescope was looking to see the flashes?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by treeves (963993)
      Fortunately, my cross-section 3.2E20 eV protons is MUCH smaller than my cross-section for 55 mph baseballs.
  • Finally! something a tinfoil hat will protect against!
  • Could it be that black-holes, super-nova, and dark matter could be the result of some tech going horribly wrong ??
  • Utter Crap (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bockelboy (824282) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:07PM (#16082688)
    I work one of the LHC expirements (low-level grad student, no one important), and this is utter crap.

    Yes, there are physicists who are concerned. There is a chance that this could happen - one of those "if everything we know about high energy physics is completely wrong, this could happen". There is an approximately equal chance that Pat Buchanan will be nominated as the Democrat candidate for president in 2008. No physicist can prove that this won't happen - just like no physicist can actually prove that Superman doesn't exist.

    Unfortunately, it's about the only way a reporter can "sexy up" a story about a particle accelerator. I can't wait to see the headlines in 2007 - "Will the Earth end tomorrow?" (subheading: "Respectable scientists say 'No'").
    • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:14PM (#16082764) Homepage Journal
      I can't wait to see the headlines in 2007 - "Will the Earth end tomorrow?" (subheading: "Respectable scientists say 'No'").
      The beauty of it is, either way the papers won't have to print up a retraction the next day.
  • by Yonzie (516292) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:10PM (#16082724) Homepage
    What will happen?

    We'll all die. Simultaneously. Noone will feel anything.

    What's the big problem aside from the end of the earth?
  • Hey, there are worse fates than being sucked into a black hole. Might clean things up in the world!
    Then again, those who believe this should join the tin-hat club...
    • by mrjb (547783)
      Hey, there are worse fates than being sucked into a black hole. Might clean things up in the world!
      Yeah, but who's gonna turn off the lights?
  • by Easy2RememberNick (179395) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:11PM (#16082732)
    "Has anyone seen my car keys? I set them right next to the collider."

      This reminds when I read Brian Greene's Elegant Universe, he mentioned that there was a possibilty of creating another Universe when (if it were possible) smashing together Superstrings. Something like that, I'm not sure where I put the book.
  • Larry Niven won a Hugo for his story about a tiny black hole used (allegedly) as a murder weapon and later consuming Mars.

    "The math is chancy..."
  • I once read (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Tim C (15259)
    That at the time of the Manhattan Project, some people were afraid that detonating a nuclear bomb would start a chain reaction that would burn off the Earth's atmosphere.

    That was ridiculous too.
  • by thebdj (768618) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:15PM (#16082769) Journal
    before the big asteroid or comet comes. Or the sun goes red giant. Or the sun shoots off enough matter to defeat the ozone and expose us all to radiation. (Yes, I have heard this one.) Oh, or Yellowstone goes all explosion on us and brings about a second ice age or something. (There was a Docu-drama on this one.) Oh, or maybe the moon can be partially destroyed and threaten to crash into earth. (Reference to a ABC Family comedy or in some ways to Cowboy Bebop). Oh, or nuclear winter. I am sure I forgot some.

    But better us then nature!
  • If "multiple" tiny black holes are being created, and they combine, don't we
    get a "less tiny" black hole?

    And isn't that... "bad"?

  • Knowing the government and their previous actions on subjects like this I think they have already experimented with the mini black holes. Most scientific information that would give the general public a stir is withheld for many years until the people are ready. I believe that black holes are not time traveling devices, but more of a door to a new universe. Black holes suck in anything and everything, including light. Our universe started from a Singularity in which matter was infinitely compressed and spa
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by libra-dragon (701553)
      I think each block hole is created by civilizations conducting experiments similar to ours. They're thinking that this is just too small and unstable to turn into one of those real big black holes out there...
  • by TimeOnMyHands (995573) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:25PM (#16082894)
    working in a small cubicle, doing nothing that will ever even change the world, while these guys are working on a project that could destroy the world! I'm so jealous... I've made bad choices.
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:28PM (#16082931) Journal
    ...that the world won't end as a result of this experiment. Any takers?
  • by subsolar2 (147428) on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:12PM (#16083320)
    Reminds me of the boot Thrice Upon a Time [baen.com] by James P. Hogan where one of the scenarios is the world is destroyed by a CERN fusion generators that uses inertial confinement and ends up producing mini black holes as a byproduct.
  • by xPsi (851544) on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:12PM (#16083954)
    IAAP (who worked on RHIC physics). The same arguments used in 1999-2000 with RHIC (and with Fermilab before that) should be used here. There is no chance for doomsday catastrophe. While these events at the LHC are "high energy" from a human technology point of view (per event per particle), the LHC generates low energy events at low rates compared to nature itself. There are millions of LHC-like events (or "greater") per second that occur on the surface of the moon alone, not to mention in our own atmosphere from cosmic rays. While cosmic rays are carefully studied, the reason we build machines such as RHIC, Fermilab, and LHC is, as scientists, we like to study events systematically and carefully at specific energies in a relatively low-noise environment (difficult to do with cosmic rays, which is why we might not formally detect strangelets or black holes in such events when measured). However, if there were problems with voracious black holes, stranglets, or other doomsday scenarios due to elementary particle collisions, they would have happened long, long ago in nature (locally) -- we would have seen evidence for it on the moon, atmosphere, etc. (assuming we survived long enough to witness it with such a high event rate - it probably would have happened long before we had a chance to even evolve).


    See Doomsday Fears at RHIC [highbeam.com] in particular the reference Review of Speculative "Disaster Scenarios" at RHIC [arxiv.org]

  • by brundlefly (189430) on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:50PM (#16084325)
    Every black hole in existence in the universe is a result of some fairly advanced civilization reaching a point where each eventually says "Hey, let's build a Large Hadron Collider and see what happens".

    The rest, as they say, is astronomical history....
  • Not this again (Score:3, Insightful)

    by xihr (556141) on Monday September 11, 2006 @04:24PM (#16084611) Homepage
    Why does this keep coming up? Natural ultra-high energy (UHE) cosmic rays have vastly higher energies and do no such thing. The highest-energy cosmic ray recorded is 300 EeV (that's exaelectron-volts -- 3 x 1020 eV. We get showered by these cosmic rays all the time; if high-energy particle collisions were going to make miniature black holes which somehow don't evaporate and kill us all, then it would have happened long before the Earth finished forming.
  • by Glog (303500) on Monday September 11, 2006 @04:48PM (#16084816)
    For the black-hole-fearing crowd... RIAA/MPAA morphed into a black hole a long time ago.

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