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Large Hadron Collider Sparks 'Doomsday' Lawsuit 731

smooth wombat writes "In what can only be considered a bizarre court case, a former nuclear safety officer and others are suing the U.S. Department of Energy, Fermilab, the National Science Foundation and CERN to stop the use of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) until its safety is reassessed. The plaintiffs cite three possible 'doomsday' scenarios which might occur if the LHC becomes operational: the creation of microscopic black holes which would grow and swallow matter, the creation of strangelets which, if they touch other matter, would convert that matter into strangelets or the creation of magnetic monopoles which could start a chain reaction and convert atoms to other forms of matter. CERN will hold a public open house meeting on April 6 with word having been spread to some researchers to be prepared to answer questions on microscopic black holes and strangelets if asked."
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Large Hadron Collider Sparks 'Doomsday' Lawsuit

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  • ICE-9 anyone? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hguorbray ( 967940 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @06:50PM (#22887570)
    Well -they were afraid when they detonated the first above ground nuke as well -thought they might torch the atmosphere, but they did it anyway -better dead than.......?'s_Cradle [] []

    I'm just sayin'
  • Re:Obligatory (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Asshat Canada ( 804093 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @06:57PM (#22887648)
    Please take your post to Digg where it belongs kthx
  • 10 year old news... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by calebb ( 685461 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:00PM (#22887676) Homepage Journal []

    "Within 24 hours, the laboratory issued a rebuttal: the risk of such a catastrophe was essentially zero"
  • by diewlasing ( 1126425 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:01PM (#22887684)
    Just to preface this; I'm a 3ed year undergrad student in physics on track to get a PhD in high energy physics. That being said, I spoke with my professor about this, he explained to me that the formation of world swallowing black holes is so small is negligible. He explained to me (if I remember correctly) that high energy cosmic rays have been bombarding the Earth for billions of years, at much higher energies than the LHC could ever produce. If these world-ending things were to form they would have already, long before humans were around and we wouldn't be here to study these fascinating phenomenon.
  • Three times now... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dotfile ( 536191 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:17PM (#22887882)
    It's been done [] before...
  • by BUL2294 ( 1081735 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:27PM (#22887986)

    "...the risk of such a catastrophe was essentially zero"
    While I'm not one of the doomsdayers, I do have to ask how these statistics are created, and what bullshit statements like "essentially zero" mean. For example, if "essentially zero" means that 0.00000000000000000001% of the particles cause black holes, then there could be millions of said black holes in the reactor. Does it mean that there's a 0.00000000000000000001% chance that two or more mini black holes would be close enough to cross event horizons? (There's an interesting question--what happens if a black hole comes in contact with or gobbles up another black hole...) Does it mean that there's a 0.00000000000000000001% chance the world could be obliterated--every 5e^(-100) second, second, minute, day, year, lifetime, experiment, power fluctuation, temperature change, terrorist act, system reboot, fart in the wind, etc. that the experiment is run???

    Frankly, when I hear such statements, I feel like I'm being told in a condascending way to "don't worry about it, we know what we're doing!" I don't know what "essentially zero" really means... What could happen in that 0.00000000000000000001% of "cases"? I'm guessing these 2 guys do know something of real concern...
  • simple answer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by confused one ( 671304 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:32PM (#22888046)

    This is old news, came up during the design phase of the LHC. I heard a simple common sense based answer:

    If high energy particle accelerators could create particles that could destroy the Earth, then you would see this effect all over the universe. Why, you ask? Because there are natural accelerators everywhere, many of energy much higher than anything we could hope to build on the Earth's surface

  • by Jodka ( 520060 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:34PM (#22888076)
    Maybe the rarity of intelligent life in the universe does not owe to infrequent arisal. What if the structure of the universe contains a built-in pitfall: the scientific understanding required to build large colliders is far less than that required to anticipate the lethal consequences their operation. Thus, progression of scientific understanding among all technically advanced species leads to self-extermination.
  • Spelling Problems (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cbelt3 ( 741637 ) <cbelt@y[ ] ['aho' in gap]> on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:47PM (#22888210) Journal
    Not this collection of morons again. They wandered about the high energy physics landscape nattering on about 'black hole signatures' after the Brookhaven collider made what *appears* to be quark gluon plasma. As I understand it, there is a fellow who is just bad at math and wants to keep his grant money coming.

    Fortunately, court documents have probably not spelled the word properly. You see, for the US Government, "Nukular" is the legal spelling of the word. And the documents will be tossed out.
  • by NonSequor ( 230139 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:51PM (#22888264) Journal
    IANAP but I believe the following is roughly correct:

    The black hole emits Hawking radiation at a rate inversely proportional to its mass. At the same time, it can gain mass as stray particles wander into its event horizon. The rate at which stray particles wander into its event horizon is proportional to the surface area of the event horizon which is proportional to the square of its radius which is proportional to the black hole's mass.

    If the rate at which particles wander in is greater than the rate of evaporation, it will grow. As it grows, the rate of evaporation will decrease and the rate at which stray particles wander in will increase, so if it starts growing, it's unlikely to stop growing until it consumes all of the matter available to it.

    Keep in mind that a black hole on the atomic scale would evaporate almost instantly and would have an almost non-existant chance of encountering a single stray particle within its lifespan.
  • here's the thing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @08:05PM (#22888400) Journal
    these are all mythical objects

    1) Microscopic black holes require a matter density higher than elementary particles possess. Ergo, once the microscopic black hole tries to swallow an elementary particle, the elementary particle swallows it, making it no longer a black hole, but just part of the particle's matter, with a true radius larger than its schwarzchild radius. Black Hole Down.

    2) Strangelets? Don't exist. Don't even have a decent theoretical underpinning. You might as well be worried about the production of caloric or magic.

    3) Magnetic monopoles also don't exist. Magnetism is a description of the curvature of electric flux. Imagining a magnetic monopole is like imagining a left with no right, or an up with no down.

    And, honestly, these people have no sense of adventure. The universe will end some day. Why be so arrogant as to insist that it be after you die, solo, from something less interesting?
  • by zakeria ( 1031430 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @08:21PM (#22888544) Homepage
    snip: In 1933, Hungarian physicist Leó Szilárd had proposed that if any neutron-driven process released more neutrons than those required to start it, an expanding nuclear chain reaction might result. Chain reactions were familiar as a phenomenon from chemistry (where they typically caused explosions and other run-away reactions), but Szilárd was proposing them for a nuclear reaction, for the first time. However, Szilárd had proposed to look for such reactions in the lighter atoms, and nothing of the sort was found. Upon experimentation shortly after the uranium fission discovery, Szilárd found that the fission of uranium released two or more neutrons on average, and immediately realized that a nuclear chain reaction by this mechanism was possible in theory. Szilárd kept this secret at first because he feared its use as a weapon by fascist governments. He convinced others to do so, but identical results were soon published by the Joliot-Curie group, to his great dismay.
  • by CustomDesigned ( 250089 ) <> on Thursday March 27, 2008 @08:39PM (#22888680) Homepage Journal
    One of the premises of Intelligent Design, as described in "The Privileged Planet" [], is that God/whatever not only planned for intelligent beings, but planned for them to explore their universe. The book talks about our ideal placement in the milky way for observation, yet with sufficient protection from gamma bursts, the fortuitous placement of the moon allowing solar eclipses to reveal the corona, etc. A Bible passage would be Proverbs, "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and the glory of kings to search out a matter." Part of trusting God in this viewpoint is assuming that, barring deliberate or negligent self destruction, the next discovery won't destroy us. Although each advance in physics brings more and more dangerous knowledge to light, we will be able cope technically. (Moral failings are another matter.)
  • by kesuki ( 321456 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @08:44PM (#22888748) Journal
    In well accepted physics, there is a nongravitational black hole analog whose formation and evaporation is currently observed at RHIC.

    It sounds like the world's largest super collider already observes the creation and evaporation of black holes. the question is will the hadron collider create stable black holes? not likely, they're not dealing with enough mass.
  • Fermi Paradox. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mactrope ( 1256892 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @08:56PM (#22888864) Homepage Journal

    Such a dissaster would go a long way in explaining the Fermi Paradox []. We don't run into aliens because they all destroy themselves soon after they form.

  • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @09:16PM (#22889004) Journal
    Some think these black holes may be a normal state of matter;

    Physicist Brian Greene has suggested that the electron may be a micro black hole; see black hole electron. [] Small black holes would look like elementary particles because they would be completely defined by their mass, charge and spin. On this view, the significance of the Planck mass is that it marks a transition where the Hawking semi-classical approximation breaks down, and a fully quantum mechanical description of the system becomes required. Gravitationally dominated "black hole"-like structures might still exist with these lower masses, but the emission of Hawking radiation would be suppressed by quantum effects, just as an electron constantly orbiting [centripetally accelerating around] an atom does not radiate, despite the apparent predictions of classical electrodynamics. Micro black hole []
  • by gardyloo ( 512791 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @09:18PM (#22889008)
    IAAP, too, though not a P (Particle?) one. You're right about the strengths of other forces dominating that of gravity, of course. However, we were talking about "classically" capturing particles from outside the Schwarzschild radius. Note that if a particle escapes the black hole, it does so because it shows up outside the 1/r^2 "break-even" radius for its particular momentum. I don't know if it is claimed that pair creation still goes on inside the event horizon.
        If white dwarfs stars and neutron stars *do* exist, I suppose your argument about "binding energy" (couched in terms of the Pauli exclusion principle) has particular merit. However, it remains to be determined whether gravitational forces can overcome the exclusion "force" beyond the event horizon of a black hole.
  • by zaren ( 204877 ) <> on Thursday March 27, 2008 @10:06PM (#22889372) Homepage Journal
    "Vice Admiral William P. Blandy addressed nervous people about the effects a nuclear bomb would have with the following quote:

    The bomb will not start a chain reaction in the water, converting it all to gas and letting all the ships on all the oceans drop down to the bottom. It will not blow out the bottom of the sea and let all the water run down the hole. It will not destroy gravity. I am not an atomic playboy!" [] is where I was able to find the quote, btw
  • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gumbi west ( 610122 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @10:22PM (#22889460) Journal
    Setting aside the GPs odd comments.... While these black holes would have to be created all the time by cosmic radiation in objects the size of the sun, they would continue to move at near light-speed. At these speeds, nearly everything has zero cross-section for reaction, so that only tells us not to worry about the ones that will leave earth at about these speeds (most of them). But, CERN will generate several of these particles per year that do not have escape velocity and so might (if there is no Hawking radiation) just hang out in the planet. While their reaction cross-sections couldn't be huge, given a few hundred of these and a few decades, one might just be able to take off and make the real thing--that's why serious physicists are worried about this.
  • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @10:26PM (#22889480)
    I notice from TFA the lawsuit has been filed in Hawaii, as CERN is in Europe surely even a succesful lawsuit could simply be ignored?

    I was under the impression that whilst the US has helped develop the LHC it doesn't actually own it and as such has no control over deciding whether it's allowed to start and stop. Is there something vital the US still brings to the project that could be used to prevent the project starting should the lawsuit be a success?

    I was going to make a comment about how it seems typically American to try and create a lawsuit to shut down something they have no right to try and shutdown (see things like the recent Wikileaks domain fiasco) but in all honesty I'm not sure abuse of the court system is really much less in many European countries now, the only difference being the European countries at least tend to make the sensible judgement on the case even if the case itself is idiotic. With again for example the Wikileaks case the judgement was just simply stupid and the fact the judge had to backtrack so quickly only emphasised the level of idiocy that can occur in some courts. At least cases like this were thrown out in British courts for example: [] []

    Hopefully (un)common sense will similarly prevail and save the day.
  • Re:Fermi Paradox. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Metasquares ( 555685 ) <> on Thursday March 27, 2008 @11:21PM (#22889806) Homepage
    I always held the light speed limit coupled with the vast size of the universe to be a more probable reason why we haven't run into ET yet, but perhaps they could also destroy themselves before we'd notice. In general, the more energy you manipulate, the greater the risk.

    I am not a physicist, but I would hope that physicists would take a good look at the theory and reach consensus that the LHC did not pose such a risk to our existence before trying it out, just as I would hope that people in my own field would be careful before throwing the switch on AI. There are certain things you cannot afford to be wrong about.
  • Re:Fermi Paradox. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd,bandrowsky&gmail,com> on Friday March 28, 2008 @12:19AM (#22890136) Homepage Journal
    I always held the light speed limit coupled with the vast size of the universe to be a more probable reason why we haven't run into ET yet,

    I would be willing to bet, too that, when you do stack up all the things that can possibly go wrong, from local nova, to supernova, to large body impacts, to being placed too far, or too close from a star, without enough radioactive elements to keep a planetary core hot, but with not so many as to make it unlivable, and to somehow manage an oxygen carbon chemistry that doesn't just plop into a big carbon dioxide blob and allows for very energetic organic molecules to form and thus life, you just keep stacking up those odds, and suddenly, like factoring a large number, the weight of probabilities goes increasingly against you, no matter how many stars you have to throw at it.

    If we are alone in the universe, or even the galaxy, it is kinda cool, because it means that the WHOLE THING IS OURS. While physics rules out a vast interstellar empire, there's nothing that rules out one way trips leapfrogging across the galaxy. In a few million years, we might be able to consume the whole thing.
  • Re:Fermi Paradox. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Boronx ( 228853 ) <evonreis@mohr-engineerin g . com> on Friday March 28, 2008 @02:20AM (#22890818) Homepage Journal
    We are the precursors, and all aliens are our descendants.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Friday March 28, 2008 @05:28AM (#22891522)
    It would be very amusing for the folks on the ISS though.

    Fortunately, they'll be vapourised when the Earth collapses. All that mass falling through an infinite gravity well releases a whole lot of potential energy. The flash will far outshine the Sun, at least for a moment...

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Friday March 28, 2008 @06:04AM (#22891646) Homepage Journal
    Nice theory of fear.

    At the current developments, I'd offer another theory: What if the necessary predecessor to science was religion, and faced with its own extenction, religion had a built-in safety switch that makes it turn fanatical and cause it to destroy its offspring (science)?

    Then, the problem wouldn't be life in the universe, there could be plenty of it. But none of it for long above a middle ages technology.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kugala ( 1083127 ) on Friday March 28, 2008 @08:39AM (#22892416)
    That entire line of articles on that blog is a complete copy from []

    The blog author attempts to give some credit in the first post (In a vague, not-actually-giving-credit manner), but I'd suggest reading the original.
  • Re:Fermi Paradox. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by corbettw ( 214229 ) <corbettw@ y a h o o . com> on Friday March 28, 2008 @11:53AM (#22894364) Journal
    You're referring to the Drake Equation, which is complete bunk. Rather than write a long winded post debunking it, I'll just link to someone who's already done the heavy lifting.

    Aliens Cause Global Warming [], by Michael Crichton.
  • My 2 cents (Score:2, Interesting)

    by antikaos ( 1166401 ) on Friday March 28, 2008 @12:18PM (#22894626)
    What about the suns cosmic rays impacting the atmosphere are happening in a much less matter dense environment than that of the surface of the earth? Could it be that a micro black hole is much less likely to evaporate in the presence more more matter?

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen