Worst Case: Collider Spawns Planet-Devouring Black Hole

Updated September 10, 2008

With the Large Hadron Collider firing up for the first time Wednesday, some critics have speculated that the world's biggest atom smasher could spawn a black hole that would devour Earth.

Most physicists respond that the collider is safe and even necessary for the advancement of humankind (watch video).

But what if they're wrong?

What exactly would happen if the 17-mile (27-kilometer) circular tunnel under pastoral France and Switzerland opened up a black hole—or black holes?

(Also see "Large Hadron Collider Rap Video Is a Hit" [September 10, 2008].)

The Planet Eater

Physicists across the globe are on the edges of their seats, but not because they're worried about a Franco-Swiss black hole.

In recreating the conditions present a trillionth of a second after the big bang, the collider could reveal the nature of dark matter, thought to provide structure throughout the universe, scientists say.

The machine could also unmask a theoretical but as yet unseen particle, called Higgs boson—or the "God particle"—that is believed to give other particles their mass.

There's also a very, very remote chance that the process will spawn black holes—any one of which could assume an odd orbit within Earth, devouring microscopic chunks of matter until the entire planet is gone, physicists say.

This and other harrowing—and equally unlikely—scenarios prompted a couple of independent scientists to sue this past spring to stop the atom smasher. So far they haven't succeeded, and the vast majority of the world's physicists are on board with the project.

(See photos of the Large Hadron Collider.)

Continued on Next Page >>




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