Jul
01
2008

To the ends of the earth, dear Strangelet, to the ends of the earth.

But what a way to go!: Look! I can see my house! Right on the center left, being sucked into an ultra dense, inescapable mass!
But what a way to go!: Look! I can see my house! Right on the center left, being sucked into an ultra dense, inescapable mass!Courtesy NASA
So, what? You wanted to live forever?

Oh, you did? Er…even at the expense of scientific enterprise? Whatever. Deal with it, crybaby, because me and my little Strangelet are going to wring this planet dry.

Do you remember the Large Hadron Collider? No? We posted about it this spring on Science Buzz. It’s a recently completed supercollider in France and Switzerland—the largest supercollider in the world, with a 17-mile circumference. Protons will be blasted through the device so fast that they’ll make the entire circuit 11,000 times per second (which is about the speed of light, I believe). When two streams of protons meet, some of them will collide, and smash apart. At that point two huge detectors will attempt to gather data on just what comes out of the destroyed protons. The hope is that when the machine is switched on in August, we’ll make some fantastic discoveries about the most basic (and yet mysterious) elements of matter.

Oh, and the world might be instantly destroyed. I didn’t mention that last time? Huh. I suppose it just slipped my mind because, you know, who wants to live forever, right?

Some people (read: crybabies) are very concerned that the colliding particles could form a micro-black hole, which could either evaporate instantly, or gobble up the earth. Whoops! There’s some thought that the collider might also produce a spicy little devil we call the “strangelet.”

Stranglets are, it should be said, hypothetical—they’ve never actually been observed. A strangelet is basically a tiny piece of “strange matter,” stuff made up of the same components of regular vanilla matter, but in a unique configuration (equal amounts of up, down, and strange quarks, for those of you in to…quarks, I guess). The fear is that, where a strangelet to come into contact with regular matter on Earth, it could convert that matter into another strangelet, which would convert other matter into strangelets, until the whole of Earth would be turned into a big ball of hot strange matter. Which would just be the pits.

A particular group of people was so worried about the repercussions of turning on the LHC that they actually filed an injunction against its operators. The lawsuit was dismissed, on account of the defenders of humanity just “needing to chill out.”

The plaintiffs claimed that the odds of the LHC creating a global catastrophe are about one in fifty-million—about the same as winning the lottery, but that happens from time to time. Not to me, though.

The scientists behind the LHC, however, argue that the odds are much lower than that even, if not zero. Collisions like those planned for the LHC occur naturally every second, as cosmic rays smack into the earth, and so far everything is all right. Furthermore, should something like a micro-black hole be formed, mega-eggheads like Stephen Hawking predict that it would instantly turn to nothing.

And that’s kind of the thing—some of the world’s biggest smarty-pants are working on this project, and they aren’t concerned. That has to mean something, right? Then again, according to The Incredible Hulk, many scientists aren’t all that concerned about their own certain, imminent death, so long as they get to do some crazy experiments. And I trust comic books implicitly, so who knows.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

I'm worried...oh nevermind, it's all good...oh wait I'm worried again...oh man did the lights just dim? Was that a strangelet? Maybe I'm worried again...but wait, I love science. Oh well, guess I'll just keep riding this research roller-coaster.

posted on Wed, 07/02/2008 - 9:26am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Why are we worried? I mean way back when before humans had all of this equiptment stuff like this probably happened and so far the earth is not turned into a ball of strange matter. Even if it did happen there's nothing we could probably do about it.

posted on Wed, 07/02/2008 - 2:32pm
Anonymous2's picture
Anonymous2 says:

just a question... does the lhc have an "off"switch or do they start it and keep it running forever????cos it would be too dangerous to turn off??

posted on Fri, 08/29/2008 - 1:12pm
Zingo's picture
Zingo says:

Actually, the World Wide Web is proof that the Earth is already filled with "strange matter" -- if you don't believe me, click the 14th link on 14 consecutive pages and see where you end up....

posted on Fri, 08/29/2008 - 11:30pm
Richard Wells's picture
Richard Wells says:

Is this safe is the world going to disappear? Are we going to die I want to know is there a off switch tell me!

posted on Tue, 09/09/2008 - 10:20am
Robert C. Skipton's picture
Robert C. Skipton says:

There has been much money spent on the super collider but I believe it will not find Peter Higgs address nor will it provide Brian Green with any hint of strings floating around the universe. They need to spend more time on the primordial ether they call dark energy and dark matter from which the big bang was originated.

posted on Fri, 10/17/2008 - 2:26pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Ah, but Robert, that would be awesome if it didn't find the Higgs boson, wouldn't it? It'd mean that our best guess was wrong, and there's much more out there that we don't yet understand. Finding it would be neat, don't get me wrong, but disproving it... that'd be pretty exciting.

I'm pretty sure that the experiments that will be performed at the LHC will be tied strongly into theories on dark matter and energy. And the LHC certainly isn't the only place where dark matter/energy research would be done—check out our "Scientist on the Spot" feature on Shaul Hanany. Shaul's experiments are all about the big bang and dark matter. Seriously, go look. That's where you want to be.

posted on Fri, 10/17/2008 - 2:53pm

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