O Me of Little Faith

We narrowly avoided the apocalypse this morning, but we’ll have plenty of additional opportunities to greet it in the months to come. Along the Swiss-French border, the world’s biggest particle collider — the Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile ring of underground supermagnets that accelerate protons superfast — got switched on today and ran a few tests.

Today’s tests involved a single beam of protons. First they fired the beam clockwise. Then they fired it counterclockwise. Future tests will involve two proton beams, fired in different directions, and maybe they’ll collide. And if they smash together? Scientists hope this will give them some insights into conditions similar to those at the time of the “Big Bang,” when nothing gave way to something. What they’re ultimately looking for is a hypothetical particle called the Higgs-Boson, thought to be the “God particle” — the ultimate building block of the universe that gives mass to other particles.

Money quote, from project leader Lyn Evans after the first test works. “My first thought was relief…This is a machine of enormous complexity. Things can go wrong at any time. But this morning has been a great start.”

Things. Can go wrong. At any time.

That’s encouraging, because some noisy skeptics of the collider and its particle-smashing science experiments have some ideas about what kinds of things can go wrong. They involve the destruction of the entire universe. Or at least the end of the world as we know it. Here’s how:

1. It could generate a black hole that could eat the earth. Actual real scientists — and not just, say, writers of books called Pocket Guide to the Apocalypsethink this could happen. And if you get sucked into a black hole, you die. So does everyone else. In a really fast but really fantastic manner.

2. It could accidentally create a runaway “strangelet.” Strangelets are subatomic particles that no one knows very much about. What we do know is that they devour matter. Which we’re made of. As I predictively described in on p. 146 of PGTTA, “…if a negatively charged strangelet happens to be created during a smash-up, it could potentially set off a chain reaction that literally consumes everything in its path….The relentless process of expanding nothingness continues until we’re all strangelets. Everyone. Everything. As in, bye-bye universe as we know it.”

Most of the people involved say there is a miniscule chance that the above can happen. Tiny. Subatomic even.

Which makes me feel a lot better.

Additional fun reading from a legit scientist: Might a Laboratory Experiment Destroy Planet Earth?

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