Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Large Hadron Collider - We're all going to die

Kiss your kids, we're all going to die.

I'm not trying to be that crazy homeless guy on the street with a board on his chest or anything, but the world is going to end. We're all going to die. Tomorrow.

Either that, or we're about to get some visitors from the future.

I'm talking of course about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) built under Switzerland and France. It's basically a huge empty tunnel with some really big magnets that will fire two atoms at each other. They've successfully fired this puppy up and ran a particle in one direction. Now they need to fire another particle in the other direction, just to make sure there aren't any cookie crumbs or fingernails in there. If everything works, they'll send two particles in opposite directions toward each other at the same time at an insanely fast speed and when the two particles meet, the whole world will end.

Here's the pseudo-science behind it: the faster something goes, the more energy you need to speed it up. Think about an apple. To make an apple go 10 miles an hour, you just have to drop it. To make that same apple go 20 miles an hour, you have to throw it pretty hard. To get it to go 90 miles an hour, you have to throw really, really hard. To get that same apple to go 200 miles an hour, forget it. You're talking bazookas and rocket juice. This means that if we want a particle or two to go almost the speed of light we need an insane amount of power.

Turns out, that's exactly what scientists want to do. They want to get two particles to go really fast, and run into each other. So, they built the LHC which will use an insane amount of power to get two particles to go almost the speed of light, and then hit each other. When they hit each other, they'll rip apart. And what comes spilling out of the two little fellas will be sugary-sweet magical physics juice. There will be electrons, and protons, and some wierd little guys like quarks and bosons and maybe even, the holy grail of particle physics himself, the Higgs Boson. If all goes right, and our cameras are tuned in correctly, we could be seeing the very things that make up matter itself.

Of course, this doesn't come without it's risks. To get the risks, you have to think about a bag of peas. If you open the bag, and pour the peas out on a pillow, they'll just roll around. If you don't open the bag however, and put the unopened bag on the pillow, they'll make a dent in the pillow. The reason is that when you condense the peas to the small space, they are more dense and gravity pulls them accordingly. If you were to condense the peas further, say by squishing them reallllly hard, they would be even more dense and would make a deeper dent in the pillow.

The same thing could happen in the LHC. It is theoretically possible that rather than exploding and spilling all their sweet, cherry, physics goodness, the two particles could theoretically just smack together. If they did that, all the energy we used trying to rip the two particles apart will actually fuse them together and compress them a billion-fold. Rather than an open bag of peas on the pillow, we now have the closed bag compressed to the size of a single atom tearing a hole not just in the pillow, but in space time itself.

If the two particles stick together, they could be are compressed so much, and become so dense, that they'll actually stop being pulled into the Earth. They'll have a gravity so strong that rather than falling into Earth, Earth will start falling into them. If that happens, they'll make a black hole and in a few minutes the world will end.

But don't worry too much. The chances of that happening are infintessimely small, about the same as the chance that they'll rip open a door in space time and visitors from the future will come over for dinner.

The reason we're freaked out about this, is because it's the biggest thing we've ever made, and it's the fastest we've ever thrown something. Keep in mind, the LHC is much, much, much smaller than the sun. And it has much, much, much less energy than the sun. And as a result, it sends particles toward each other at speeds much much slower than the sun. And keep in mind that every day, the sun sends out untold billions upon billions upon gagaglagazillions of particles at the Earth at speeds beyond anything we'll make in the LHC. The particles from the sun, going faster than anything in the LHC slam into particles in our atmoshpere creating more cataclysmic explosions every single day and nothing happens. Every single day since the earth has been made an unimaginably large number of particles have smacked into each other a lot harder than they will under France, and not a single one of them has made a black hole. So, the chance of a black hole resulting when we smack two particles together is about the same as me winning the lottery, without buying a ticket, while getting hit by lightning, every single day of my life...

So basically, compared to what the sun does a gatrillion times a day, our experiment in the LHC is going to be like a granny delivering a pizza on a bicycle. But, still, there's that 1x10^E-378845u31490867 possibility that the two particles will smack instead of bang and the world will end. And because of that, the LHC is all over the news, and some scientists are actually saying the world is going to end.

Here's a snappy graphic I made to help you make more sense of it:

Like I said, kiss your kids.


joeldaniel said...

stephen hawking bet $100 it won't work. i'm not sure which is weirder...that he bet money on it or that he only bet $100.

Jim Elek said...

i think we are all doomed

Anonymous said...

Okay even if they think, poof black hole, he gravity will not be strong enough to consume the entire earth in one fail swoop. It will require alot of time. And like you said the chances are against it anyway.

But who knows if they can release more energy and store it then they use then we have a new source of energy (that will likely create millions of tons of toxic waste). Sounds exciting.

my word verification is:

Joshua said...

@ Joel: Stephen Hawkings actually bets on a lot of stuff. He also bet $100 on whether or not Nature abhors a naked singularity. (It's a long one. Don't worry.) He's a funny guy, I like him.

@ Jim: Me too. Since we're all going to die, can I have your TV?

@ Jer: That's the crazy thing about the black hole though, if it gets made, it'll eat things, and every particle it eats will grow it. It will grow exponentially, and it will only take an hour or so for it to swallow the earth. (Of course, that's all conjecture. It could take a few hours, or a few days, but certainly no longer than a few days.)

Tim & Deane said...

Kiss Norah and Rachel for me. I'll see you all on the other side.