Where are my microscopic black holes, eh? [archives]

[This piece was originally hosted on my now-defunct MA course blog.]

So, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) smashed protons at a combined energy of 7 Tev yesterday. It was quite cool, and was possibly the largest collective orgasm physicists have ever had. But I am very disappointed, and you might have guessed why.

Some of you may know that a bunch of people (very, very few of them physicists) “predicted” that the world would be consumed in a microscopic black hole if the LHC smashed protons at very high energies. Here’s a sample from The Sun:

German chemist Otto Rossler has filed a complaint with the European Court Of Human Rights – although he thinks the test will take a little longer to kill us.

He claimed: “Nothing will happen for at least four years. Then someone will spot a light-ray coming out of the Indian Ocean.

“A few weeks later we will see a stream of particles coming out of the soil on the other side of the planet. Then we will know there is a little quasar inside the planet.

“The weather will change completely, wiping out life. There will be a Biblical Armageddon.”

Yes, you read it right. A chemist. Not a particle physicist. A chemist who seems to know exactly where the “quasar” will appear.

I really don’t see the point of attempting to highlight all the flaws in that statement, but I must bring to your attention the amused look I had when I read the word “quasar”. A quasar or a quasi-stellar radio source is a very distant, highly energetic galaxy. These quasars do have active galactic nuclei that may be made of black holes, but that is not related to the microscopic black holes that will supposedly form when the LHC starts smashing protons at even higher energies.

Coming back to my disappointment, I was thoroughly shattered when I found that the LHC hadn’t. Well, it did shatter some records, but it didn’t destroy the earth.

Of course, I am not like this guy:

Disaster Voyeurism. Source: xkcd.com

Disaster Voyeurism. Source: xkcd.com

Sometimes, I feel a little sorry for the people who spread such unjustified fears in society, especially when they are rubbished by the experiments they fear. At those times, I remember the girl who committed suicide in India because she was fed nonsense by the TV channels and didn’t want to be around when the earth would crack up and swallow the village.

Don’t feel sorry for them. Their fear might have its reasons, but spreading it to such an extent that someone is prompted to take their own life is unacceptable.

Although, somehow, science gets actively discussed only when there is some negative chatter around the topic. I don’t see that as a bad thing, necessarily, but I wonder where these debates should be held and how the public should be informed.

While we discuss this, I’m still waiting for my microscopic black holes.