“Science is physics; everything else is postage stamp collecting.”

There are some exciting new twists (well, new to me anyway) to one of my favorite subjects: The impending doom possibly brought on us by the Large Hadron Collider. In the eternal case against it that never seems to move forward, the angles of destruction seem to be more interesting than I had imagined. Not only is there the danger of a black hole that lingers so long that it destroys the earth, but this article, The Case of the Collider and the Great Black Hole at MIT’s Physics arXiv links to a very intriguing document in which a lawyer, Eric Johnson, attempts to put the general facts together so that if it ever does go to court, there will be strong groundwork for the judge to evaluate the case, or, as they say:

First, the relevant facts of the scientific debate and its human context are memorialized and made ripe for legal analysis. Next, the article explores the daunting challenges the case presents to equity, evidence, and law-and-economics analysis. Finally, a set of analytical tools are offered that provide a way out of the thicket – a method for providing meaningful judicial review even in cases, such as this one, where the scientific issues are almost unfathomably complex.

The document itself, The Black Hole Case: The Injunction Against the End of the World, is one of the more fascinating things I’ve read. He points out that in addition to the Black Hole endgame, there are the following theories to watch out for:

1. The strangelet scenario. According to theory, a strangelet is a tiny, stable chunk of “strange matter.” Undoubtedly, a “strangelet” sounds much less frightening than a black hole… The fear is that if high-energy particle collisions created a strangelet, the object would initiate a chain reaction that would convert all of Earth and everything on it into “an inert hyperdense sphere about one hundred meters across.”

2. The magnetic monopole sounds perhaps even more benign than the pluckily named strangelet. But, according to hypothesis, a magnetic monopole would be just as lethal to the planet. The worry is that a particle accelerator might produce a tiny bit of matter that is magnetically active, but only has one magnetic pole—that is, it would contain a net magnetic charge ordinary magnets have both a “north” and a “south” pole, the magnetic monopole would, for example, have only a north pole. Once produced, the fear is that a magnetic monopole would cause the protons in normal atoms to decay, initiating a runaway process that would convert and destroy the ordinary matter making up the Earth – eating it up, in the words of a CERN theorist, “Pac-Man style.”

3. The bosenova (pronounced “BOE-suh-NO-vah”) (or “bose-supernova”) scenario predicts a lesser harm than destruction of the entire planet. Instead, the hypothesized harm would be like a small version of an exploding star, destroying only a piece of Switzerland and France.

4. The vacuum transition scenario, also called the “vacuum bubble” or “space transition” scenario, has the unique distinction of portending something even worse than the annihilation of Earth. Specifically, a vacuum transition would destroy the entire universe… The worry with regard to the LHC is that one of the accelerator’s high-energy particle collisions might shift the fabric of space and time into a more stable state, a “vacuum bubble.” The universe would not disappear altogether in such an event, but it would cease to survive as we know it, and humanity would pop out of existence.

Anyway, these are all fascinating, no matter how crazy they might seem to be. CERN’s response to all of them seems to be that if such a thing could happen, it would have happened already… Which seems a bit dubious to me. I do think that there is a great difference between what happens naturally in physics and what people/technology try to make happen with their magnets and particles. Plus, it all sounds way to much like The Quiet Earth to me…

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