LHC will not destroy the universe in 5 days

In case you're still worried that the universe will wink out of existence in 5 days when they turn on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, rest easy: a new report from the LHC Safety Assessment Group says it ain't gonna happen. Or, as one physicist told me when I asked about this last month while researching my Petacentres article for Nature, "Look, it's a 10^-19 chance, and you've got a 10^-11 chance of suddenly evaporating while shaving."
The report explains that if particle collisions at the LHC had the power to destroy the Earth, we would never have been given the chance to exist, because regular interactions with more energetic cosmic rays would already have destroyed the Earth or other astronomical bodies.

a The Safety Assessment Group writes, “Nature has already conducted the equivalent of about a hundred thousand LHC experimental programmes on Earth – and the planet still exists.”

LHC Switch-on Fears Are Completely Unfounded


  1. Heh. I still say anyone messing around with that ought to at least Google “Doctor Who” and “Omega” before proceeding any further….

  2. I tend to agree with the Safety Assessment Group. Still, even so, I have to point out that just before the final Apollo 1 pad test someone undoubtably responded to concerns about the risk of fire in a pure-oxygen environment at greater than atmospheric pressure with “We’ve flown capsules that way how many times now? And it’s never caught fire yet.”.

  3. I don’t know if I like those odds of shaving now… do I really want to risk it? *tongue firmly in cheek*

  4. I actually think it would be awesome if we wiped out the earth in an instant. It would be our ultimate achievement coupled with our instant annihilation.
    One big cosmic fuck, baby.

  5. Damn it, I was hoping life would become a whole lot more interesting.

    Oh well, back to wait for nuclear war, zombie apocalypse, and alien invasion.

  6. #12 And here I was hoping to have a small personal black hole to f***.

    Hey, it has to be somebody’s fetish…

    I INVOKE THE POWER OF RULE 34 (preferably with Gordon Freeman, although a Stephen Hawking is fine too).

  7. flip switch, boom, all dead in the blink of an eye. boring. the zombiecalypse appeals a lot more to my hollywoodesque apocalyptic scenario of my choice.

    but lets combine it: if the zombiecalypse comes, build some kind of trigger that is activated by a zombie, automatically conduct the program 10^19 times (maybe somehow including a rube goldberg machine?).

  8. Most people probably don’t realize that collisions of this sort happen all the time. Our atmosphere is bombarded by highly energetic cosmic particles (rays)every day. As far as I know, we don’t have a cloud of black holes surrounding the Earth. I’m looking forward to results that indicate the Higgs Boson. It would be very useful to have that bit of the TOE moved along.

  9. Am I the only one wondering why/how they conducted the research on that ’10^-11 chance of suddenly evaporating while shaving’?

    We need an article on that!

  10. re:#24

    The statistical number was derived from an observation of one “Iroshi Hayanuma” of Hiroshima who vaporized while shaving in 1945.

  11. If the LHC doesn’t have the power to blow us out, what’s the point of testing? Wussies I say!

  12. re:#24

    The statistical number was derived from an observation of one “Iroshi Hayanuma” of Hiroshima who vaporized while shaving in 1945.

  13. #25/#28/anybody! please explain more about this guy vaporizing- its driving me nuts. I need to shave before I go to work and I cant decide if its safe or not to do so!

  14. “Nature has already conducted the equivalent of about a hundred thousand LHC experimental programmes on Earth – and the planet still exists.”

    So if I play the Lotto a hundred thousand times and I don’t win the big prize, I can pretty much conclude that no one ever does?

    Good to know.

  15. I’m curious, did any of those who tried to stop the experiment sell all their stuff, max their credit cards and generally behave as if they really believed what they were peddling?

  16. Glenblank: some cosmic rays have vastly more power than anything LHC can produce, so the experiment has been done billions, quadrillions, zillions of times.

  17. @#25: Ah, OK! Thank you!

    @#29: I’m pretty sure he is referring to a victim of the A-bomb in Hiroshima. So I assume the poor chap happened to be shaving near ground zero at the time.

  18. I saw one article mention that it would take about 4 years for the black holes to grow large enough to devour the earth. That leads us to 2012, giving us yet another way to prove that the Mayans were right.

  19. Of course, explaining this to a certain type of person would be fruitless. If you think that modern subatomic theory is bunch of BS anyway, you can make up all sorts of things that could happen because we’re messing with “THE UNKNOWN.”

    If you wanted to, one could argue that the LHC is dangerous because there’s a chance it will turn every human being into ducks. Who’s to say? Certainly not the guys who do this stuff for a living.

  20. What bothers me is that everyone seems to think that the scientists are just going to turn the machine on, and all these crazy new experiments are going to take place. What’s actually going to happen is that on Wednesday they are going to inject a few particles and not do any collisions for at least a month. Even then, it will be operating at a fraction of it’s planned power. I imagine it won’t get up to higher energies than the Tevatron for quite a while (LHC scientists admit that it won’t be up to full power until 2009 or 2010. Oh, and these sorts of things always run behind schedule).

  21. Yep. The Earth has been hit with particles with energies exceeding 10^20 eV (like the Oh-My-God particle) for billions of years. If that didn’t destroy the Earth, the 10^15 eV experiment at the LHC doesn’t stand a chance.

  22. actually, we will. If the entire universe is sucked into whatever event created, and every particle completely consumed, we will all remain as pure thought, complete with memories and all. Then the whole bunch of us will spend an infinity of eternities floating around with nothing to do but blame each other. The Geek Rapture.

  23. This is a good explanation for Fermi’s paradox.

    I have 2 questions.

    (1) Could it be that the more energetic particles that have hit the earth in the past did not produce an earth-swallowing black hole because they were travelling too fast? I’m thinking of nuclear reactors/bombs where the neutrons must not be too fast. Perhaps the “reaction” is different? It would be silly to realize it after the fact, “oh why didn’t we see that, of course the reaction is different seeing as the energy involved is several orders of magnitude off”.

    (2) Those high-energy cosmic ray particles were travelling at extremely high speeds, and they hit something on earth. If the collision produced a black hole, wouldn’t it too be travelling at a high speed? Maybe it “ate” it’s way right through the earth, and come out the other side, before it had time to grow to any significant size?

    The LHC collides protons travelling in opposite directions. The nett momentum is zero. Any black hole created would sit right there.

  24. #45 – as to the black hole threat, they have an answer:

    LHC collisions will differ from cosmic-ray collisions in that any exotic particles created will have lower velocities, but the Safety Assessment Group shows that even fast-moving black holes produced by cosmic rays would have stopped inside the Earth or other astronomical bodies. Their existence proves that any such black holes could not gobble matter at a risky rate.

    But if our vacuum is metastable, and a collision causes vacuum decay, that shit travels at the speed of light (or so John Leslie says).

  25. I know it’s hyperbole, but at that rate one person would evaporate from shaving approximately every week :(

  26. Poop.

    My life aint that great right now anyway, and neither is yours. Humanity may or may not destroy itself sometime soon anyway. Either by nuclear (or non) war, overpopulation with resulting destruction of a sustainable environment, climate destabilization, general stupidity, etc.

    I say turn the sucker on and see what happens. We will either learn stuff or, pfffft.

    Just kidding (sort of).

  27. Sorry to disappoint you but the CERN own “LHC Safety Assessment Group” (you can reach them at lsag@cern.ch btw.) is not an objective entity obviously. Also “in 5 days” suggests that after that we will have proven that the LHC is safe, but that’s not true either. The really dangerous experiments will start later on.
    Last but not least: According to a NYT article the chances of the LHC destroying the world are as high as winning in a lottery. I just hope nobody wins this time.

    I wonder why nobody cites the scientists who are not CERN/LHC affiliated?

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