Saturday, March 29, 2008

If Chicken Little had a Little Bit of Physics Knowledge

The Chicken Little of the Twenty-First Century. How is this on the front page of the New York Times' webpage? Is there nothing else happening in the nation? The article is unfortunately very respectful to both sides giving the public the sense that Mr. Wagner and Mr. Sancho have a legitimate claim when it really should have berated the two of them.

Mr. Wagner and Mr. Sancho acknowledge that the suit has no authority since they filed in Hawaii and, CERN is, you know, international. Mr. Wagner tried to stop the use of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1999 and 2000. Clearly, Mr. Wagner was right because the world came to end due to scientists using Brookhaven. Wait, that didn't happen.

On one hand we have quite literally hundreds of scientists with PhDs in physics saying it is safe versus Mr. Wagner who has an undergraduate degree in physics and Mr. Sancho who is an author and researcher on "time theory." Who do you think has a better grasp of the science behind the Large Hadron Collider. Trust me, the scientists don't want the world to end either under any circumstance.

Furthermore, the LHC is going to have collisions in the 10^12 electron-volt range. There are natural collisions that happen up to the 10^20 electron-volt range. That is a 100,000,000 electron-volt range difference of magnitude. These are natural processes that we are recreating but at a much lower power. We can't even get close to the numbers that nature throws at us normally.

Black holes seem very scary. There are two facts that are rarely mentioned that make them much less scary. Hawking radiation and Schwarzschild radius. Black holes naturally release thermal radiation over time. If the black hole absorbs more than it radiate it grows the opposite if vice versa. In fact, smaller black holes produce more Hawking radiaton than larger ones accelerating their demise. In the unlikely situation that the LHC does make a black hole it will only be a micro black hole that will evaporate in nanoseconds.

The Schwarzschild radius is the radius where anything that enters that radius will be unable to escape the gravitational field of the black hole. If a black hole had the mass equivalent to mount everest its radius would be less than a nanometer. The black holes formed from the LHC would have a radius smaller than a proton or an electron. It would not even be able to pick up one of these sub-atomic particles making it impossible to grow any larger.

So remind again now. Why was this even published?


Garbo said...

Because it's a Saturday and no one reads the paper on a Saturday (except for the Sunday supplement).

ebl2009 said...

Well, to be fair, though the probability is quite small, the consequences are huge (the destruction of the earth). So, probability multiplied by consequences yields a situation that merits as much attention as a suicide attack in Iraq, for example (which has a 100% probability that it happens b/c it already did but in terms of overall negative consequences is less significant).