New Internationalist

Recreating the Big Bang is ‘perfectly safe’, honest!

Issue 411

A lawsuit in the US has raised safety concerns over the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – the world’s biggest particle collider – which is to be switched on later this year. The suit simply seeks a safety and environmental review and a delay of a few months before turning the ignition key, to make sure the planet doesn’t implode – but scientists are having none of it. Concerns about what could happen when the gargantuan machine – designed to replicate conditions a billionth of a second after the Big Bang – is turned on include some truly bizarre possibilities.

First, LHC could trigger millions of mini black holes that do not decay as physicists expect them to. Instead, they might congeal and eventually consume all nearby matter and continue to eat the planet or, at the very least, Geneva. This might not make the universe explode, but financial markets might, as trillions of secret funds held in Swiss banks might be spat back out by the black hole and straight into the French tax office just over the border. Mon Dieu!

Alternatively, smashing gold protons together at such high energy levels might lead to the production of particles known as ‘strangelets’. These strangelets, like Midas, would turn everything they touch into yet more gold strangelets until the Earth and everything that comes into contact with it ends up, well, strange but blinging.

Lastly, a magnetic anomaly known as a monopole could lead to bizarre conversions of matter that would at least restore alchemy’s reputation in the world of science, and at worst turn the planet into some kind of overly salty primordial soup like mother used to make.

Physicists readily admit that they don’t really know what will happen, but have that reassuring smugness that only someone who’s smashed atoms at high velocities and peered into the quantum universe can have. As the late Russian physicist Lev Landau once remarked: ‘Cosmologists are often wrong, but never in doubt.’

Whatever happens, with 14 trillion volts powering the LHC, we can at least guarantee that our power bills will go up. Sacre bleu!

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This article was originally published in issue 411

New Internationalist Magazine issue 411
Issue 411

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New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

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– Emma Thompson –

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