The Truth About Microscopic Black Holes and the Utter Destruction of Earth

Illustration for article titled The Truth About Microscopic Black Holes and the Utter Destruction of Earth

Science fiction is rife with tales of experiments that run out of control and blow up the planet or exterminate all life or something. Maybe that's why two U.S. researchers sued the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), trying to get an injunction that would prevent them from building their Large Hadron Collider. Their reason? Concern that it would create an apocalyptic mini-black hole here on Earth. Many debated whether their fears were pure cranksterism or held a grain of truth. Now a physics professor has researched the issue and discovered the truth about the LHC's inherent risks to all humanity.


The Large Hadron Collider, once operational, will fire beams of protons into each other at energy levels never seen on Earth. We don't really know what will happen when experiments begin (or we wouldn't bother running the experiments), and there are fears that all kinds of weird, hypothetical particles could be created that will devour the planet, or that a small but stable black hole will begin consuming all nearby matter. Steve Giddings, Professor of Physics at UC Santa Barbara, studied the risks. His conclusions:

  • The chances of a microscopic black hole forming are impossibly small.
  • Cosmic rays smash into particles all the time at very high energies. We probably would have noticed if the universe was being chewed up by an endless torrent of ravenous mini black holes.
  • In the incredibly unlikely event that a microscopic black hole forms, it would exist for "a nano-nano-nanosecond." Not long enough to do any damage, in other words.
  • Giddings even studied what would happen if a long chain if bizarre events occurred, and a stable micro black hole formed. The result would be...nothing much. Even a stable microscopic black hole would be harmless.

To be honest, I'm kind of disappointed. Image by: CERN via Science Daily.

If The Large Hadron Collider Produced A Microscopic Black Hole, It Probably Wouldn't Matter. [Science Daily]


Corpore Metal

@V.I.N.CENT: Sure, that's what would happen assuming it lasted long enough.

In his book he was also positing the creation of microscopic or, even smaller, quantum black holes by various processes that are going on in the universe as we speak—perhaps even cosmic ray collisions. Any primordial microscopic black holes that were created in the Big Bang would have long since evaporated from Hawking radiation.

What he is hoping for is that we'll find evidence of stable microscopic black holes of asteroidal mass or larger. If we find such in the universe today, they would point to new physical processes we don't yet understand.

Anyway I think the jury is still out on this.

But the point still stands that the smaller the black hole the faster it disintegrates. That means that really small black holes may disappear before they even have a chance to fall to the center of the earth. All we'd really notice is a burst of secondary radiation as they disintegrated. So far no particle collision experiments or cosmic ray data has found anything like this.

What made Hawking famous was his realization that black holes aren't really black. The tidal forces and gravitational sheer near black holes are so intense that they separate virtual matter and anti-matter particle pairs. One particle falls into the hole and the other is ejected so, initially, it looks as if black holes are generating energy or matter from nothing.

Hawking cleverly realized that where this energy was really coming from was the mass of the black hole itself. He made a link between general relativity and quantum mechanics. This sealed his rep as all round smart guy.

But it showed that black holes don't last forever. The more massive a black hole the longer it lasts.

I hope that clarifies things.