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2009-05-25 06:15:59
2009-05-25 06:15:59

I think you mean the initial testing of the Large Hadron Collider.

The short answer is: because a lot of people really don't know all that much about science generally and physics specifically, and a few people with either axes to grind or just enough sense to be dangerous can stir them up pretty easily.

The longer answer:

The Large Hadron Collider is called that because it's large (a ring several miles across) and it's designed to take hadrons and make them collide with each other. It does this at very high speeds, which means very high particle energies.

In fact, the particles are moving so fast that it's expected that the collisions may momentarily replicate the conditions in the very early Universe, when everything was really, really hot (this is where the Big Bang comes into it).

The two (semi-reasonable) issues this raises are:

  • What if it forms a new form of matter that's more stable than existing matter? Could it catalyze the transformation of existing matter into the new form?
  • What if the incredibly high density as these things MASH into each other forms a black hole?

The black hole question is fairly easily dismissed: the size of the hole would be infinitesimal. Gravity is negligible on the subatomic scale, so in order to swallow anything it would have to hit it dead on, and atoms are mostly empty space. On top of that, theory says a hole that small would actually be a "white" hole, emitting particles created by the energy of its own gravitational gradient, so it would evaporate long before it had a chance to grow larger.

The strange matter issue is perhaps a bit more worrisome, though when you understand that the energies reached in the LHC are actually similar to those of cosmic rays which occur naturally all the time it becomes pretty clear that, if something like that were going to happen, it would have happened on its own a long time ago. (The advantage of the LHC is that it can produce these energies in a lab where we've got instruments to study what happens instead of in random places in the upper atmosphere where we don't.)

However, it's easier to understand why there might be a cause for concern ("Black holes!") than why there really isn't. So some people, even some scientists, may have genuinely been worried.

Others may have been politically motivated. Some of the scientists who were crying wolf may have been peeved that the LHC got funded but their own projects didn't (I am not pointing any fingers at specific individuals, but this sort of thing DOES happen.)

Once Doctor Soandso (even if his doctorate is in botany; he's a scientist, isn't he? Got a white coat and everything) starts yelling "black holes!" ... well, it's understandable that people who mistrust science generally might get a little nervous.


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