Wednesday, May 09, 2007

RHIC Alert: New Yorker (what, no ATLAS?)

I keep forgetting to actually pick up the New Yorker and read it sometimes. Good thing I remembered this week, to catch the (now de rigeur these days, it seems) article on the LHC - rigorously rendered as "L.H.C." throughout Elizabeth Kolbert's article. So far so good, and even a mention of the old RHIC doomsday debate:
Worries about the end of the planet have shadowed nearly every high-energy experiment. Such concerns were given a boost by Scientific American—presumably inadvertently—in 1999. That summer, the magazine ran a letter to the editor about Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, then nearing completion. The letter suggested that the Brookhaven collider might produce a “mini black hole” that would be drawn toward the center of the earth, thus “devouring the entire planet within minutes.” Frank Wilczek, a physicist who would later win a Nobel Prize, wrote a response for the magazine. Wilczek dismissed the idea of mini black holes devouring the earth, but went on to raise a new possibility: the collider could produce strangelets, a form of matter that some think might exist at the center of neutron stars. In that case, he observed, “one might be concerned about an ‘ice-9’-type transition,” wherein all surrounding matter could be converted into strangelets and the world as we know it would vanish. Wilczek labelled his own suggestion “not plausible,” but the damage had been done. “BIG BANG MACHINE COULD DESTROY EARTH” ran the headline in the London Times. Brookhaven was forced to appoint a committee to look into this and other disaster scenarios. (The committee concluded that “we are safe from a strangelet initiated catastrophe.”)

“I know Frank Wilczek,” Engelen told me. “He is an order of magnitude smarter than I am. But he was perhaps a bit na├»ve.” Engelen said that CERN officials are now instructed, with respect to the L.H.C.’s world-destroying potential, “not to say that the probability is very small but that the probability is zero.”
Now that's an amusingly, um, American way of handling the problem.

But how did someone forget to show ATLAS to the New Yorker people. This is the LHC experiment which not only has involvement from several major New York universities and institutions (Columbia, NYU, BNL, Stony Brook, but not Rockefeller - hmmm....) but whose very logo is sitting in front of Rockefeller Center - holding the whole universe on his shoulders, to boot.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Large Hadron Collider [LHC] at CERN might create numerous different particles that heretofore have only been theorized. Numerous peer-reviewed science articles have been published on each of these, and if you google on the term "LHC" and then the particular particle, you will find hundreds of such articles, including:

1) Higgs boson

2) Magnetic Monopole

3) Strangelet

4) Miniature Black Hole [aka nano black hole]

In 1987 I first theorized that colliders might create miniature black holes, and expressed those concerns to a few individuals. However, Hawking's formula showed that such a miniature black hole, with a mass of under 10,000,000 a.m.u., would "evaporate" in about 1 E-23 seconds, and thus would not move from its point of creation to the walls of the vacuum chamber [taking about 1 E-11 seconds travelling at 0.9999c] in time to cannibalize matter and grow larger.

In 1999, I was uncertain whether Hawking radiation would work as he proposed. If not, and if a mini black hole were created, it could potentially be disastrous. I wrote a Letter to the Editor to Scientific American [July, 1999] about that issue, and they had Frank Wilczek, who later received a Nobel Prize for his work on quarks, write a response. In the response, Frank wrote that it was not a credible scenario to believe that minature black holes could be created.

Well, since then, numerous theorists have asserted to the contrary. Google on "LHC Black Hole" for a plethora of articles on how the LHC might create miniature black holes, which those theorists believe will be harmless because of their faith in Hawking's theory of evaporation via quantum tunneling.

The idea that rare ultra-high-energy cosmic rays striking the moon [or other astronomical body] create natural miniature black holes -- and therefore it is safe to do so in the laboratory -- ignores one very fundamental difference.

In nature, if they are created, they are travelling at about 0.9999c relative to the planet that was struck, and would for example zip through the moon in about 0.1 seconds, very neutrino-like because of their ultra-tiny Schwartzschild radius, and high speed. They would likely not interact at all, or if they did, glom on to perhaps a quark or two, barely decreasing their transit momentum.

At the LHC, however, any such novel particle created would be relatively 'at rest', and be captured by Earth's gravitational field, and would repeatedly orbit through Earth, if stable and not prone to decay. If such miniature black holes don't rapidly evaporate and are produced in copious abundance [1/second by some theories], there is a much greater probability that they will interact and grow larger, compared to what occurs in nature.

There are a host of other problems with the "cosmic ray argument" posited by those who believe it is safe to create miniature black holes. This continuous oversight of obvious flaws in reasoning certaily should give one pause to consider what other oversights might be present in the theories they seek to test.

I am not without some experience in science.

In 1975 I discovered the tracks of a novel particle on a balloon-borne cosmic ray detector. "Evidence for Detection of a Moving Magnetic Monopole", Price et al., Physical Review Letters, August 25, 1975, Volume 35, Number 8. A magnetic monopole was first theorized in 1931 by Paul A.M. Dirac, Proceedings of the Royal Society (London), Series A 133, 60 (1931), and again in Physics Review 74, 817 (1948). While some pundits claimed that the tracks represented a doubly-fragmenting normal nucleus, the data was so far removed from that possibility that it would have been only a one-in-one-billion chance, compared to a novel particle of unknown type. The data fit perfectly with a Dirac monopole.

While I would very much love to see whether we can create a magnetic monopole in a collider, ethically I cannot currently support such because of the risks involved.

For more information, go to: www.LHCdefense.org

Regards,

Walter L. Wagner (Dr.)

Hasanuddin said...

The theories that LHC will create mini-black-holes has been around for a while. Such fears were brushed aside a cavilier assurances that such mini-black-holes will magically and harmlessly evaporate. That would be nice.

What is new is that there is now a theory, the Dominium, being advanced that suggests that this evaporation theory is wrong. Mini-black-holes are now predicted to be stable, i.e., voracious matter compacting beasts.

Debate over the new model has been fierce on the Scientific American community blogspace. (Go to SciAm.com use my name as a search and check it out.)

Everyone is welcome. However, this is a scientific discussion, so please read the model (which can be freely downloaded via info in the blog threads) before commenting.