Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Try this headline: Black Hole Eats Earth


More strife in Iraq. U.S. financial system in crisis. Rice prices soar. None of these headlines will matter a bit, though, if two men pursuing a lawsuit in a court in Hawaii turn out to be right. They think a giant particle accelerator that will begin smashing protons together outside Geneva this summer might produce a black hole that will spell the end of the Earth - and maybe the universe.

Scientists say that is very unlikely - though they have done some checking just to make sure.

The world's physicists have spent 14 years and $8 billion building the Large Hadron Collider, in which the colliding protons will recreate energies and conditions last seen a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Researchers will sift the debris from these primordial recreations for clues to the nature of mass and new forces and symmetries of nature.

But Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho contend that scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, have played down the chances that the collider could produce, among other horrors, a tiny black hole, which, they say, could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a "strangelet" that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called "strange matter." Their suit also says CERN has failed to provide an environmental impact statement as required under the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act.

Although it sounds bizarre, the case touches on a serious issue that has bothered scholars and scientists in recent years - namely how to estimate the risk of new groundbreaking experiments and who gets to decide whether or not to go ahead.

The lawsuit, filed March 21 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu, seeks a temporary restraining order prohibiting CERN from proceeding with the accelerator until it has produced a safety report and an environmental assessment. It names the U.S. Department of Energy, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the National Science Foundation and CERN as defendants.

According to a spokesman for the Justice Department, which is representing the Department of Energy, a scheduling meeting has been set for June 16.

Why should CERN, an organization of European nations based in Switzerland, even show up in a Hawaiian courtroom?

In an interview, Wagner said, "I don't know if they're going to show up." CERN would have to voluntarily submit to the court's jurisdiction, he said, adding that he and Sancho could have sued in France or Switzerland, but to save expenses they had added CERN to the docket here. He claimed that a restraining order on Fermilab and the Energy Department, which helps to supply and maintain the accelerator's massive superconducting magnets, would shut down the project anyway.

James Gillies, head of communications at CERN, said the laboratory as of yet had no comment on the suit. "It's hard to see how a district court in Hawaii has jurisdiction over an intergovernmental organization in Europe," Gillies said.

"There is nothing new to suggest that the LHC is unsafe," he said, adding that its safety had been confirmed by two reports, with a third on the way, and would be the subject of a discussion during an open house at the lab on April 6.

"Scientifically, we're not hiding away," he said.

But Wagner is not mollified. "They've got a lot of propaganda saying it's safe," he said in an interview, "but basically it's propaganda."

In an e-mail message, Wagner called the CERN safety review "fundamentally flawed" and said it had been initiated too late. The review process violates the European Commission's standards for adhering to the "Precautionary Principle," he wrote, "and has not been done by 'arms length' scientists."

Physicists in and out of CERN say a variety of studies, including an official CERN report in 2003, have concluded there is no problem. But just to be sure, last year the anonymous Safety Assessment Group was set up to do the review again.

"The possibility that a black hole eats up the Earth is too serious a threat to leave it as a matter of argument among crackpots," said Michelangelo Mangano, a CERN theorist who said he was part of the group. The others prefer to remain anonymous, Mangano said, for various reasons. Their report was due in January.

This is not the first time around for Wagner. He filed similar suits in 1999 and 2000 to prevent the Brookhaven National Laboratory from operating the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. That suit was dismissed in 2001. The collider, which smashes together gold ions in the hopes of creating what is called a "quark-gluon plasma," has been operating without incident since 2000.

Wagner, who lives on the Big Island of Hawaii, studied physics and did cosmic ray research at the University of California, Berkeley, and received a doctorate in law from what is now known as the University of Northern California in Sacramento. He subsequently worked as a radiation safety officer for the Veterans Administration.

Sancho, who describes himself as an author and researcher on time theory, lives in Spain, probably in Barcelona, Wagner said. ...Lisa Randall, a Harvard physicist whose work helped fuel the speculation about black holes at the collider, pointed out in a paper last year that black holes would not be produced at the collider after all, although other effects of so-called quantum gravity might appear.

As part of the safety assessment report, Mangano and Steve Giddings of the University of California, Santa Barbara, have been working intensely for the last few months on a paper exploring the possibilities of black holes. They think there are no problems but are reluctant to talk about their findings until they have been reviewed, Mangano said. - iht

Don't worry, it won't hurt a bit... if it is big enough. If it is a small black hole which slowly eats the Earth it will eat through the crust and people will die of earthquakes and molten hot magma as the Earth is devoured from the inside. Someone will do this sooner than you think. The Mayan's knew about it too, but not in this much detail.

The fate of all life on the planet hangs on independent thinkers who are willing to challenge propaganda.


TheAdlerian said...

My guess is that black holes are a faddish astrophysics theory. Their very idea is illogical with the whole singularity idea. So, these people don't take what they're doing seriously, and that's why they aren't worried.

Science in the west is a branch of capitalism and that means they must turn out "product" and so this device is likely a big pile of junk which created a lot of useless jobs and will show useless results, which someone will doctor to sound interesting. In ten to twenty years they'll build another and repeat.

Much of our world is illusion.

Ann said...

Well, then, seeing how you spent so much time studying astrophysics, researching, experimenting and publishing and discussing and debating with other scientists, I would be interested to know your ideas on what is not an illusion.

TheAdlerian said...

I'm a science enthusiast, and had a detailed course on astronomy in college. Also, I have several grad degrees in medical related sciences. Best of all though, I understand a lot about capitalism.

It as a system of thought spews out constant garbage because everyone needs to be selling something. Scientists are no different.

Ann said...

TheAdlerian, thanks, but you didn't address your ideas of what is not an illusion. It's nice to know you could afford to go to school, in a capitalist society, perhaps you're a bitter capitalist, but what is real to you? What's not garbage? Science? Scientists are competitive. Their form of capital is in world of ideas in the form of publications and presentations, which they pitch to their peers. But, it's not a level playing field - those from more prestigious institutions have a real advantage with things like access to funds and grants. And, eventually their ideas are delivered to a larger audience and get more play, more recognition, unfortunately.

TheAdlerian said...

A got student loans which are semi-socialist.

Anyway, many things in the "hard sciences" are static and can never be learned, or are simply hypothetical in nature and are basically meaningless. Most of what we've learned about physics we learned long ago and there's little to talk about.

The scientists in this story aren't worried about blackholes because their existence is hypothetical and their machine could create one even if it weren't. However, that doesn't sell papers of get people their doctorate.

Ann said...

Thanks, TheAdlerian, I had to work my way through school - wasn't good enough or didn't have wherewithal to get student loans for the most part. (I too have "several grad degrees in medical related sciences") So, I had to play within the capitalist system to get through. I am from the bottom of my heart a democratic socialist through and through, because I experienced capitalism in all its aspects. And, I've seen its influence played out everywhere from personal relationships to the sciences. But, I have, for better or worse, a lot of capitalist friends, whether they think themselves as such or not, and their world is not illusionary - they suffer real pain, indeed. Their pain is not illusionary. Their reality I must accept. I dare not take a more exalted or elitist position and talk dismiss their expressions, their feelings, their reality as, say, false-consciousness, however true or not, I must begin with the essence of that suffering and pain are real and work from there. ...

Brian said...

This is dangerous they dont have to do this they need to destroy that thing some mechanical wires could create a short which something so so so bad and dangerous could happen.
Let us vote with ALL the DEATAILS or ask Both Presidents for Permission or go up in space triillions and triilions of miles BUT PLEASE PLEASE DO NOI DO IT There are people at risk This is a 25% chance that this will go as expected.PLEASE DONT DO IT.

d.q. said...

I know where to find the black hole- its in the budget of this ridiculous project. Why doesn't the EU spend this money on aid in war zones, or welfare programs or something? did you know that several times more money is spent annually on ice cream in Europe than on foreign aid? we humans should get our priorities straight.