<IT WORLD> Building a backyard black hole
By Martin J Young
HUA HIN, Thailand - The European Organization for Nuclear Research, more
commonly known as CERN, had the attention of the global scientific community
this week as it turned the switch on its latest experiment - breathtaking in
its scope and, say some, the scale of risk. Months of buildup and years of
research passed a key milestone when the Swiss-based laboratory finally started
tests on its controversial Large Hadron Collider, a 27-kilometer circumference
proton accelerator, the Big Daddy of all such machinery.
Scientists from astrophysicists and study-at-home tech buffs have been eagerly
awaiting, some dreading, the initiation of a series of experiments that will go
where no man has gone before. The largest machine in the world will be
accelerating counter-rotating beams of protons to within a fraction of the
speed of light, then
smashing them together head-on at 600 million times per second.
The second successful test of the beams synchronization systems, which will
allow the multinational LHC operations team to inject the first beam into the
accelerator ring, was conducted this week. Both the counter-clockwise and
clockwise tests are part of preparations to ready the LHC for the eventual
acceleration and collision of two beams. The unprecedented event is foreseen to
take place by end of the year.
When a bundle of approximately 10 trillion protons moving at close to 186,000
miles per second collides with another bundle the result could be somewhat
unpredictable. This is what concerns a number of scientists working in the same
field who have their own theories on the outcome of such an event.
The term black hole, which refers to an object so dense that light cannot
escape from it, has been used to describe the possible outcome of CERN's
experiment. A black hole is composed of a singularity and an event horizon -
without getting too technical, the singularity at the center is a point of
infinite space time curvature, and the event horizon is the surrounding area
where the force of gravity becomes so strong that even light is pulled into it.
Once the event horizon is passed essentially nothing can escape the pull.
Many fear that if an accident occurs during the experiment or the resultant
matter cannot be stabilized a black hole will be created and may begin to
progressively compact matter in its immediate vicinity into it. It may start
with protons but could end up with the planet.
Nobody knows what will happen, as the experiment has never been conducted
A number of concerned scientists and researchers, including Hasanuddin – author
of The Dominium, a book on the subject, have campaigned against CERN's
efforts by publishing their own related material containing their counter
theories. Hasanuddin, an astrophysicist who once tutored at CERN, compares the
experiment to biotech labs creating mutant viral strands - he claims that they
simply would not be allowed to do it.
He argues that a stronger stance is taken towards viral and similar research
because most people have a basic knowledge of viruses and the damage they
cause, whereas people have virtually no knowledge of sub-atomic matter and
black holes. The ramifications of this experiment, should it go awry, could be
far-greater reaching than a viral outbreak - nobody would escape.
The latest developments on arguably the most powerful physics experiment ever
can be read on CERN's website, and there is no doubt the organization's
scientists are pressing ahead at full speed. The first full beam run is
scheduled for September 10 - some have already dubbed it Big Bang Day.
Throughout the month they will work on stabilizing two beams in preparation for
the big collision. Providing the planet doesn't collapse in on itself, data
from the experiment will be number-crunched using a grid computing system
similar to that employed by SETI and other research institutions.
Whatever the outcome, this is something to watch. The results could
revolutionize physics as we know it ... or it could be the end of the world as
we know it!
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.