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Will the LHC Destroy the World?
The LHC will allow scientists to observe particle collisions at an energy level far higher than any previous experiment. Some people worry that such powerful reactions could cause serious trouble for the Earth. In fact, a few people are so concerned that they filed a lawsuit against CERN in an attempt to delay the LHC's activation. In March 2008, former nuclear safety officer Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho spearheaded a lawsuit filed in Hawaii's U.S. District Court. They claim the LHC could potentially destroy the world [source: MSNBC]. What is the basis for their concerns? Could the LHC create something that could end all life as we know it? What exactly might happen? One fear is that the LHC could produce black holes. Black holes are regions in which matter collapses into a point of infinite density. CERN scientists admit that the LHC could produce black holes, but they also say those black holes would be on a subatomic scale and would collapse almost instantly. In contrast, the black holes astronomers study result from an entire star collapsing in on itself. There's a big difference between the mass of a star and that of a proton. Another concern is that the LHC will produce an exotic (and so far hypothetical) material called strangelets. One possible trait of strangelets is particularly worrisome. Cosmologists theorize that strangelets could possess a powerful gravitational field that might allow them to convert the entire planet into a lifeless hulk. Scientists at LHC dismiss this concern using multiple counterpoints. First, they point out that strangelets are hypothetical. No one has observed such material in the universe. Second, they say that the electromagnetic field around such material would repel normal matter rather than change it into something else. Third, they say that even if such matter exists, it would be highly unstable and would decay almost instantaneously. Fourth, the scientists say that high-energy cosmic...