Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The world ends tomorrow!

At least that's what people behind a couple of lawsuits believe could happen when the world's biggest particle accelerator is fired up Wednesday. The accelerator, known as Large Hadron Collider (LHC), is the pride of CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research) and is situated just outside Geneva on the border between Switzerland and France.

Walter Wagner, a former nuclear safety officer, and Spanish science writer Luis Sancho, have filed a civil suit in federal district court in Hawaii asking for a temporary restraining order to stop the researchers at CERN from switching on the LHC until further safety analyses are completed. In Europe, Professor Otto Rössler, a chemist at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in Germany filed a similar suit with the European Court of Human Rights.

So what's the accelerator up to on Wednesday? Well, it will collide protons at almost-the-speed-of-light and see what happens. Those trying to stop this say that vacuum bubbles, magnetic monopoles, microscopic black holes, or strangelets produced by the high-energy proton-proton collisions planned by CERN physicists could run amok and destroy the Earth.

"Don't be silly. That won't happen", is the answer from CERN. Although worded a bit different and lengthier in this press release.

So we'll see what happens Wednesday. But just in case: It's been nice writing this blog and thanks for reading this final(?) post.

Enough with the words! Let's have some music! As the Large Hadron Collider was being completed a few people at CERN got together with the idea of doing a song/rap explaining what the LHC does. Even Neb, who found physics hard to grasp in school, found this piece of art enlightening. And here it is:

CERN Rap from Will Barras on Vimeo.


Dimension Skipper said...

What a shame about... those now-never-to-arrive November SD gig dates.


...but thanks for all the SD updates over the years. Hopefully I'll see you and other Dan-o-philes on the other side of no tomorrow where the axis of pain/pleasure shears the arc of desire. Perhaps it's time to skip dimensions before it all goes down? If only I could remember where I parked my TARDIS!


Dimension Skipper said...

There may be hope for those November SD gigs yet...

It was a test. It was only a test. If it had been an actual armageddon, your component atoms would have already been smushed together into one really, really, reeeeally tiny, but extremely dense bit of no-longer-sentient matter.

Apparently there was no actual colliding, just sending a few measly protons relatively slowly around the ring in one direction:

The organization, known by its French acronym CERN, fired the protons — a type of subatomic particle — around the tunnel in stages, several kilometers (miles) at a time.

Now that the beam has been successfully tested in clockwise direction, CERN plans to send it counterclockwise. Eventually the two beams will be fired in opposite directions with the aim of smashing together protons to see how they are made.

. . .

Gillies told the AP that the most dangerous thing that could happen would be if a beam at full power were to go out of control, and that would only damage the accelerator itself and burrow into the rock around the tunnel.

And full power is probably a year away.

Neb & Siggy said...

Hi DimSkip!

After all these years of buliding and preparing I wonder if there were at least one person there who felt like speeding up the protons a bit instead of letting them drive along at a modest speed.

And judging by reports here and there like BBC:s

"the BBC understands that low-energy collisions could happen in the next few days. This will allow engineers to calibrate instruments, but will not produce data of scientific interest."
we will be left in the dark as far as what date they'll start the major colliding.

During the day reports in this contry's radio and television didn't miss one single chance to end the reports with mentioning the end of the world scenario, so maybe I shouldn't be that surprised that many still believe that it could really happen.

What we do know for sure is that we'll sleep soundly tonight here at Radio Dupree, safe in the knowledge that the CERN people have things under control.

Dimension Skipper said...

This space blog entry for New Scientist, Watching the world's biggest machine come to life, includes a video explaining in non-musical plain English about the LHC. It's sort of a companion piece to the rap.

And this Discover article, Nevermind The Black Hole Hoopla: Here's How the LHC Could Blow Up the World (of Physics), mentions a few likely ways the LHC could revolutionize physics, including one scenario which I hadn't even thought to contemplate:

There is one possibility, however unlikely, that probably keeps the physicists most closely connected with the LHC up at night: that they will find nothing. They will smash particles for years on end and find nothing major that they didn't know before. This will cause much consternation among particle physicists and much awkwardness for the LHC's boosters. Former CERN chief Chris Llewellyn-Smith told The Telegraph that "it would be a little embarrassing for me, who spent years promoting the LHC and getting it funded." But, he says, it could also force scientists to totally rethink their view of the world, meaning finding nothing could eventually be the most exciting option. Or maybe he's just saying that to cover his ass in advance.