Saturday, September 6, 2008

Giant atom smasher

The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene is one of the most beautiful and exciting books I've ever read, on a par with the masterpieces of Richard Dawkins. Published in 2004, Greene's book evokes with eagerness the possibilities of the Large Hadron Collider [LHC] in Geneva, whose first beam will be produced next Wednesday. Results obtained from this giant atom smasher could have either a positive or a negative influence upon the willingness of physicists to accept the celebrated theory of strings.

A nice way of getting a feeling for the LHC is to watch the following CERN rap video:

The LHC is theoretically capable of generating microscopic black holes. Brian Greene writes: "These black holes would be so small and would last for such a short time that they wouldn't pose us the slightest threat (years ago, Stephen Hawking showed that all black holes disintegrate via quantum processes—big ones very slowly, tiny ones very quickly), but their production would provide confirmation of some of the most exotic ideas ever contemplated."

Various naive observers (including certain individuals who should know better) have been trying to create a state of consternation by proclaiming that our planet Earth might get sucked into one of these tiny black holes produced by the LHC. Click the logo to read the CERN press release on this theme.

To be perfectly frank, I quite like the idea of a little black hole in Switzerland that starts sucking up the surrounding territory: first the city of Geneva and its lovely lake, then the Swiss Alps, and so on. Ideally, stuff should slide into the "throat" of the black hole sufficiently slowly for onlookers to have time to appreciate the visual show, while knowing full well that they themselves will soon be victims of the gluttonous hole. Sooner or later, though, the fat little black hole would end up inevitably gorging itself, and it would then roll around sluggishly, maybe burping from time to time, incapable of downing an extra village or mountain. Literally, the hole has stuffed itself. A brave French gendarme could then simply creep up behind the groggy black hole and smash it to smithereens with a swift blow of a hammer... and humanity would be safe up until the next time.


  1. As you live closer to Switzerland than me, please send me a postcard once you arrive at the bottom.

  2. I plan to take along my MacBook. Since black holes are relatively modern, they're sure to have wifi hotspots down there. So, I'll send you an email.