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July 10, 2008

It’s the End of the World as We Know It?

Isaac Lopez

If you haven’t heard yet, the world as we know it is about to end. Preparations are being made now. Don’t bother getting your affairs in order — that’ll do you no good. To what can we attribute this impending doom? The good folks at CERN, who have engineered the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is set to go online this August. According to their latest press release, they’re ready to break the seventh seal and open the gates to hell as soon as they get all of their sectors cold enough to simulate the void we call “space.”

Forgive my facetiousness, but claims of impending doom always have a way of raising my doubts. I don’t remember what I was doing at the turn of the millennium, but it wasn’t sitting in a basement with a long-term supply of freeze dried foods with a shotgun in hand to protect myself from the Y2K bug. But maybe this time, I should be concerned.

To get those that aren’t aware up to speed, CERN has built what they call “Large Hadron Collider” (LHC). The LHC is a very sophisticated machine — in fact the most sophisticated machine ever built – designed to simulate conditions at the time of the “Big Bang.” This machine, a particle accelerator, will recreate the conditions of space and then smash electrically-charged particles into each other so that scientists can observe all the cool stuff that happens when you smash particles into one another at cosmic speeds.

It sounds harmless enough — and if you read the CERN press release, you’ll note that it downplays the theoretical dangers that this very expensive experiment poses, but not everyone is convinced. Enter the ironically named LHC Legal Defense Fund, whose purpose is to try and stop this experiment from happening. They argue that the risks of this experiment outweigh the benefits, and that we could be facing such things as the creation of a miniature black hole that doesn’t dissipate (as CERN researchers expect), but instead expands at an exponential rate, sucking in the Earth and — well, you get the picture. Communities have cropped up to discuss the subject and air concerns related to this experiement. Their number one question seems to be “do the benefits of this experiment outweigh the theoretical risks?”

It’s actually not a bad question.

“There is no cause for concern,” says CERN, citing a newly updated report that has been reviewed by themselves and the 20 member Scientific Policy Committee (SPC), who unanimously concluded that the new particles produced by the LHC will pose no danger.

Safe or not, it appears that science is marching forward (on the presumption, of course, that they’ve got everything under control). And besides, how bad could being sucked into a black hole really be?