Tuesday, May 13, 2008

LHC: Dangerous Physics

In May of 2008 the largest, most expensive scientific experiment, The Large Hadron Collider will be completed. This mechanical behemoth located along the French and Swiss border with a total estimated circumference of 17 miles will be the most powerful particle accelerator in existence. The principal behind a particle accelerator is that by speeding up the smallest elements of matter and then colliding them together that they can be broken down further into even smaller fundamental particles, just as Atoms were once thought to be the smallest units, so then were Quarks(Up and Down), Electrons, and Protons discovered.

The Large Hadron Collide is hoped to discover what is referred to as the "Higgs Boson". Although a theoretical scalar particle theorized by Peter Higgs in 1974, it is actually a member of the standard model, and it is believed that the Higgs Boson is what gives matter "mass". To achieve the observation of the Higgs Boson, the LHC will be smashing these Hadrons (specifically Protons) together at speeds almost unimaginable to the average person, at near c( .99999999 % the speed of light).

To quantify the types of collisions, it must be pointed out that two beams will be set to collide with each other, each beam of protons contains roughly 2,800 Protons with an energy of 7 TeV (1 Teraelectron Volt = 1.60217646 x 10-7 joules) so the combined energies will be 14 TeV. Although such energies in collisions are certainly occurring every day in space, this will be the first time that energies such as these will be observed on Earth, however what is alarming to us are the myriad of other possibilities that could arise.

Why haven't I heard about this before?

Honestly, this is a good question, I seem to come accross this response a lot, it seems that in general most people have never heard of the LHC, or even particle acclerators in general, I am aware that there has been a lot more coverage of this in the UK then the America's (probably due to it's geographical location), but also I suppose the main reason why it is not covered that often in the states is because of a general lack of interest, or the belief that the general public is probably incapable of understanding something so complex. Still however there are several Documentaries and other programs/magazines that have covered the LHC, so I'm not fully sure why some people have not heard about this as from a financial perspective it's the most expsenive (8.2 Billion Dollars) and most powerful scientific Expirement of al time.

Why I'm Concerned

To explain the concern thoroughly and accurately it has to be stated that the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva is not the first particle accelerator in history. In 1929 the Cyclotron, invented and developed by Ernest O. Lawrence, was the first particle accelerator, and from that initial invention over several decades we have come into a new breed of Larger and More Powerful Particle Accelerators. Although we have had particle accelerators in the past, The luminosity at which these operate has increased dramatically, in fact it is true that prior to the construction of the RHIC (Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider) such theories as MBH Production, Strangelets, and several other theories were placed on the table as relevant possibilities.

So, what's different this time?

This is the point that has to be emphasized, this time things are quite different, a study was conducted after initial concerns for the RHIC were explored, and to their conclusion the amount of energy necessary for these scenarios was not sufficient. The Large Hadron Collider operates at a total combined energy of 14TeV, which is a lot higher than the energies generated by the RHIC, as such the possibility of Black Hole creation is a reality, in fact on CERN's own web site they admit it could create Black Holes, here is an excerpt from Safety at the LHC

"If the LHC can produce microscopic black holes, cosmic rays of much higher energies would already have produced many more. Since the Earth is still here, there is no reason to believe that collisions inside the LHC are harmful. Black holes lose matter through the emission of energy via a process discovered by Stephen Hawking. Any black hole that cannot attract matter, such as those that might be produced at the LHC, will shrink, evaporate and disappear. The smaller the black hole, the faster it vanishes. If microscopic black holes were to be found at the LHC, they would exist only for a fleeting moment. They would be so short-lived that the only way they could be detected would be by detecting the products of their decay."

We'll cover the theoretical problem of this statement in the next section.

So, what's the problem?

In theory (according to Hawking Radiation) any Black Hole created would evaporate in Femtoseconds, not having the chance to accrete any mass, and being essentially harmless, although this is comforting in theory, It has never been proven, and in fact has been questioned before. The problem is that although most people in the physics community believe in Hawkings Radiation, it has no basis in observation. In 2003 Adam D. Helfer Published a paper concerning Hawking's Radiation coming to the conclusion that Hawking's Radiation may in fact be incorrect, and that a Black Hole would not lose mass in such a way. (For the full text of this document go here Paper By Adam D. Helfer on Hawking Radiation.)

In fact since the LHC has been on the drawing board several studies and theories which have gained a lot of support in the scientific community such as "String Theory" and "Extra-Large Hidden Dimensions" have surfaced, which do indeed place the threshold for Black Hole Creation much lower than previously thought.

The main problem lies in believing in theory as fact, every argument for safety made concerning Black Holes and thier creation immediately references Hawking Radiation, however, if Hawking Radiation turns out to be incorrect then the Black Hole would continue to accrete mass at an exponential rate.

Now Hold on, No one would willingly create a machine that would create Black Holes on Purpose?

Of course not, I highly doubt the thousands of scientists involved wish to usher in Oblivion any quicker than politicians, however the danger lies in Theory being accepted as Fact, Adam D. Helfer Published a paper recently which outlines a very strong possibility that Hawkings Radiation may in fact not exist, which would actually fit in better with the Laws of Thermodynamics, at which Our current explanation and understanding of the nature of Black Holes has always been somewhat at Odds.

Alright, so if a Black Hole created doesn't evaporate, what next?

Here is another place that CERN's safety assessment is incapable of addressing, although these extremely high energy collisions each Proton beam is in fact coming from opposite directions, Over 2 thousand Protons in each beam will pretty much collide roughly in the middle, although no collision would create a particle exactly dead center, or "still", in a relative sense any MBH or fundamental particle created in such a manner (even with both beams at a speed of .99999999 c) would be in a relative sense, at Rest, or to elaborate the term at rest we mean lower than the necessary escape velocity to escape the Earth's own gravitational pull.

At that point two hypothetical scenarios exist. It would either maintain a rather low orbit within our planet itself, slowly accreting mass at an exponential rate, or it's possible it may "gravitate" to the direct center of the planet in which case would accrete mass very quickly

Wait a second, I've also heard of other dangers like "Strange Matter", "Bubble Nucleation", and "Magnetic Monopoles", why the focus on Black Holes?

it is true that these scenarios are also possible, however the problem with representing them accurately is the true danger can never be quantified as None of these have been observed, however that does not mean the risk is zero. The very fact that this experiment is called an experiment is the prove a hypothesis, if the results were truly known then this would not be occurring in the first place.

The Large Hadron Collider is going to be forcing Protons together in a very unnatural way, not only forcing them into groups of roughly 3,000 protons for the collisions, but exposing them to temperatures colder than space as well (1.9 K or -271 C). These types of collisions in a sense are unnatural because collisions at those speeds and temperature would never happen, meaning at the point of activation, no one will truly know these results until they occur, in a matter of Femtoseconds we would be placing the entire world in potential Danger. I've seen many websites calculate possiblity/problem or a percentage of risk, however without many of these theories as proof, there is no accurate way to calcuate them, So although the risk potential is unknown, the risk can never be calculated at zero.

Although the credence given Strange Matter production, and it's subsequent catalytic behavior by the scientific community is not always mutual. Certain types of Strange Matter could be formed that would catalytically convert all matter that it touches into strange matter as well, although this is not as likely as creating a Black Hole, it's worth mentioning because it is a possibility.

I want to learn more, where can I go?

The internet is a good place, it brought you here, didn't it? Of course you could always visit the links on the site, and take part in our discussion on the forum, I would recommend familiarizing yourself with all the issues, and a basic understanding of Black Holes won't hurt either, of course I can always recommend reading A Brief History of Time or the Universe in a Nutshell there is always Google, for as many people as there are concerned, there are people who believe the danger is zero, it's important for you, to properly evaluate the facts and come to your own conclusion, of course we would like your support, however, the goal of this web site is information, discussion, action, and rationale, we are real people after all, and so are you.

Thinking outside the box can't hurt either, I encourage you to Talk to a Professor at a local college, write a Letter to CERN, do whatever you need to do to inform yourself and make an informed decision, any contribution you make, even discussing with one other single person in the world, has the possibility to make all the difference.

Now hold on, CERN does address some of these concerns...

They do, They address Black Holes, and Strange matter, however if you read their arguments they unfortunately use a lot of faulty analogies. They use the argument classically referred to as the "Cosmic Ray" Argument, this states that energies produced at the LHC are far less than those produced in cosmic rays, but also that Black Holes that would be theoretically created from cosmic rays pass through our planet everyday.

So what's wrong with this analogy

First off these are moving so fast, if they exist they are not given enough time accrete mass as they are traveling at near c, meaning actually that they would only grab a few protons as they sped through our Planet, the analogy falls apart at speed, whereas all MBH production on earth would be moving far slower than near c, thus giving it a chance to accrue. We are also referring to fundamental particles on a quantum scale, the Schwarzchild radius(size in which matter would need to be compressed to become a black hole) on such smaller particles would of course then be lower, and since they are being forced (protons) in clumps, this also increases the likelihood of MBH production at lower speeds. The argument has an obvious rational flaw.

This actually brings me back to a second point raised, referred to as the mosquito analogy, where CERN describes the collisions as having the force of a mosquito, however this also logistically differs from CERN's own analogy of the LHC as "recreating the conditions shortly after the Big Bang Singularity", but this also affects the size and force requirements of such MBH's, so that analogy falls apart as well.


No comments: