atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#1072: CERN is unlikely to destroy the world, morons.

Someone has been watching too many bad SF movies.

If the Large Hadron Collider in Europe produces a black hole, it'll be so damn small that its lifespan will probably be measurable in nanoseconds.

Look: small black holes evaporate. They can't help it. Thanks to the quantum vacuum fluctuation--particle-antiparticle pairs popping in and out of existence--small black holes end up emitting radiation. It's called Hawking radiation. The small black hole absorbs one of the particles, and since there's no such thing as a free lunch, the black hole loses energy.

It's counterintuitive, yes. But there is no evidence which suggests that a black hole beneath a certain mass can exist for long, and any black hole that is likely to result from the operation of the LHC at CERN will be subatomic in size.

Now, the accidental manufacture of "strangelets" is another story. That's at least possible to manage; and in theory, a loose strangelet could cause untold havoc, including converting the entire Earth into one big strangelet.

But they've never been observed, and the likelihood of one being generated is rather low. And even in the event that one is generated, it would have to be contained just so, as certain particle interactions will disrupt the strangelet and cause it to evaporate. I think the probability of a strangelet getting loose is rather low, especially considering the extremely low probability of generating one in the first place.

Most of the scientific world isn't too worried about the doomsday scenarios, but the black hole fear is just silly, becuase the LHC doesn't pack a big enough wallop to make a black hole of any significance. It's not like it's going to produce something like Cygnus X-1, for crying out loud.

* * *

It's really a shame that the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) project here in the US was abandoned in the Clinton years. The SSC and the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) research are two projects which should have been funded to the hilt. SSC would have given us a leg up on CERN.

I wasn't surprised that a Democrat canceled some nuclear power research. In fact, I also wasn't surprised that he canceled the SSC, either. Democrats don't get the idea of science; they don't understand that spending money on science is a real investment.

Research always pays dividends, sooner or later. Thanks to the efforts of chemists and physicists we can now make super-strong materials which were unheard of fifty years ago, and much of the research--at the time--seemed pointless pie-in-the-sky stuff.

If you look at the Apollo period of the history of the US space program, you can see that for every dollar that was spent on the program, eight dollars of GDP were generated.

Anti-space people liked to squeal, "We sent all that money into space when [fill in the blank with whatever social problem floats your boat]!" But NASA wasn't loading pallets of $100 bills on rockets and firing the into the sun; the money was spent on Earth buying knowledge: paying companies to learn how to build machines to accomplish things. And the companies could then apply what they had learned any way they saw fit--which is why an airliner today can carry twice as much payload as an airliner from the 1960s, and do it on as much or less fuel.

It's why we even have an Internet, for Christ's sake. The government thought that DARPA--the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency--was a good idea, and DARPA gave us all kinds of useful things, and one of them is computer networking. Ethernet wasn't brought down from on high by an archangel; it came from the Department of Defense!

And the whole reason we have powerful microcomputers is because NASA needed small, light, and efficient circuit elements for spacecraft. A whole lot of money got spent on miniturization and integrated circuits. When the last Apollo mission went to the moon, computers were still multi-ton machines that filled rooms, but the money that NASA had spent on R&D helped the electronics industry develop into what it is today.

God alone knows what dividends the SSC could have given us. It's not just weird men with long beards tinkering with arcana; everything we learn about the workings of the universe helps us learn how to do things which are useful in our everyday lives.

Our government already spends unthinkably huge sums of money on social programs. Half of the budget of the federal government's annual budget is "social services" money. It comes to $1.5 trillion, which amounts to $2,853,881.27 per minute.

Do we really need to spend more on that stuff?

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