Friday, June 25, 2010

The End Is Near

Or maybe it's a couple of years away.

Today is the day the physicists at the Hadron Collider on the Swiss-French border got up to speed.  Or at least the protons whizzing around the collider, some to the left, some to the right, got up to speed.
Protons are beginning to collide at speeds that produce enough energy to be interesting to physicists who hope to create and observe some natural events they haven't been able to observe before.  Like the creation of black holes.

Most news sources report on the possibility of black holes at Hadron with a reassuring blurb.  Something like the AP's:

"The experiments will come over the objections of some people who fear they could eventually imperil Earth by creating micro black holes — subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars.

"CERN and many scientists dismiss any threat to Earth or people on it, saying that any such holes would be so weak that they would vanish almost instantly without causing any damage."

Apparently, scientists are so convinced the black holes won't get out of hand that they have absolutely no plans to deal with that contingency. 

How long would we have, anyway?  If a black hole at Hadron grew, how long would it take for Michigan, say, to disappear?  Would I even know the black hole had happened?  Or would I simply disappear in mid-something or other.  One moment I'm here, and then I'm gone.

I remember reading about some fission experiments that led up to the atomic bomb. In one of the early ones, physicists constructed a guillotine device and took some plutonium, about the size of a critical mass, and divided it into three parts. What they did was rig the guillotine so the middle part of the mass fell down between the other two parts, creating close to a critical mass for a fraction of a second, while the middle piece slid through. Then they took the contraption down into a mine somewhere in New Mexico, turned on a gieger counter to measure the radiation emitted, dropped the guillotine, and fried themselves.

And I vaguely recall that physicists kept buckets of cobalt solution around to throw on a nuclear pile under Chicago's Soldiers field if the chain reaction got out of hand.

Sounds funny now, but the physicists at Hadron don't seem to be even that well prepared.

It strikes me that it takes a peculiar kind of individual to poke a hole in the universe.

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