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Follow up on the CERN Black Hole Flap June 25, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Pop Culture, press, science.

I’ve not said much (or here) about the lawsuit that seeks to halt the turn-on of the LHC because it may produce a mini-blackhole or other object that devours our earth and the universe. In response to the press when the original suit was filed, CERN sponsored a safety review, which was recently released.

Ars has a great summary of the report:

The report’s conclusion is that, if the LHC were capable of destroying the earth, nature would have beaten us to the punch.

Read the report. It takes 96 pages to arrive at that pithy sentence. 🙂 Or read the Ars bit which is a good summary. They end with:

Overall, it’s hard to read this report and not wind up viewing the apocalyptic fears as simply being poorly thought through. It was striking how clearly the worries over the LHC have parallels to the fears over biotechnology, which came up during our recent interview with Carl Zimmer. There too, billions of years of natural experiments and decades’ worth of scientific experiment should be informing our view of safety; for at least some segment of the public, that’s not happening.



1. jtankers - June 25, 2008

Poorly thought through? I don’t think so, but at least one physicist called Hawking Radiation theory poorly reasoned, the original safety arguments were poorly thought through and the new report is approved with a disclaimer!

Have you read the disclaimer from CERN’s own SPC Committee that validated the 2008 LSAG Safety Report:

Quote “this argument relies on properties of cosmic rays and neutrinos that, while highly plausible, do require confirmation” – SPC Committee

That is the only statement by the SPC committee concerning the LSAG 2008 Safety Report’s cosmic rays and Neutron Stars argument.

Still sounds like conceivable danger to me… This approval report is available here: http://indico.cern.ch/getFile.py/access?contribId=20&resId=0&materialId=0&confId=35065

I am not aware of any irrefutable arguments for the safety of creating micro black holes with velocities too slow to escape Earth.

Three strongly disputed assumptions… Micro Black holes are created or not, decay or not, grow slowly or not.

I hope I’m miscalculating, but I fear this might be a bit like playing Russian Roulette and not knowing how many cylinders are loaded, none, all? I think it is poorly reasoned to just dismiss the possibility when some credible scientists are concerned.


Have you seen the “Your Prefer Your Collider” music video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1L2xODZSI4

(fyi: There should still be opportunity to shut down collisions and investigate if mbh are detected, because most are expected to travel too fast to be captured by Earth [most], so there may still be a safety net… I think…).

2. gordonwatts - June 26, 2008

Funny — I added a comment yesterday and it didn’t show. 🙂

First, see this blog entry: http://scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=334&etc

Second — I’d not known about that video. I’d heard the song, but the video is fantastic. Thanks for pointing that out.

I do think the arguments are not well thought out. The fact that nature has run the LHC many times is a very strong argument — this has already been done. The difference is that we are doing it at a specific place at a specific time.

If the black hole flys out of the detector it will be missing energy — which is something we look for. It will, of course, take us a bunch of time to figure out what it is.

I see you are the author of that web site. Good luck.

3. Brent - July 16, 2008

I saw a video of a guy from CERN being interviewed, and he said “if they are real, they’re not dangerous” in regards to microscopic black holes. Umm, if they’re real?? So we are supposed to be convinced that we’re all safe based on hearsay, and theories that these scientists are pretty sure are correct?? I am personally scared out of my mind, and I hope the whole thing fails to work at all!!

4. gordonwatts - July 16, 2008

Hey Brent — Every time you hit a nail on its head with a hammer you are releasing an amazing amount of energy. Cosmic rays from stars (like our sun) are constantly bombarding earth. Ultra-high energy sources of particles are constantly sending out things with much higher energies than we can make at the LHC. Basically, if a dangerous matter gobbling black hole could have been created, there would probably be several out there already.

We actually know quite a bit about black holes already too. The types that we are most likely to create will just evaporate immediately – and if we saw that it would be stunning. But it would be safe.

Part of the problem is you’ll never get a scientist to say “never.” The reason is a scientist recognizes that they don’t know everything. But, trust me, we wouldn’t be going ahead with this if we didn’t think we would be safe after it happened either. I’m way to young to stop now; way too much stuff left to do!

5. Thomas D - July 29, 2008

Here is the full quotation that ‘jtankers’ is complaining about:

“at the LHC energy, any danger for the Earth on time scales lower than or
comparable to the natural lifetime of the solar system can be ruled out on the basis of its contradiction with the observation of white dwarf stars of known mass, age and other properties. This conclusion, while entirely valid for the LHC, would need further work to be extended to conceivable future colliders of much higher energies. A powerful argument applicable also to higher energies is formulated making reference to observed neutron stars, but this argument relies on properties of cosmic rays and neutrinos that, while highly plausible, do require confirmation, as can be expected in the coming years.”

If you read that you find that the SPC is saying that the safety arguments applicable at the LHC energies do NOT require confirmation.

The next paragraph is:
“On the basis of all these findings, we can conclude that there is no danger of whatever kind from the hypothetical production of black holes at the LHC.”

The authors have, quite properly, assessed the risk in all of the cases: Whether micro BH are formed or not; whether they radiate or not; whether they accrete strongly or not. And in every case they find the risk is vanishing.

6. JeSSiiEE - September 8, 2008

hello i am scared out of my mind about this situation what if it goes out of contral then we are all dead but hey look on the bright side of life we would all die 2gether which is a good thing…..i hope they do it right and we all live happily ever after..:D

7. Gordon Watts - September 8, 2008

Don’t worry. More chance of other major disasters than this one…

8. James - December 17, 2008
9. Gordon Watts - December 21, 2008

I finally read this email while I was connected to the internet. Sweet! I don’t know how the Onion does it, but they get it right right so often! Thanks, James!

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