We are now less than two years away from our cataclysmic death. At least that would be the case if you believe the claims that the world is going to end on the 2012 winter solstice. Personally, I’m not one of them.
I’ve lost count, and don’t care to know, of all the ways we’re suppose to die. However there is one path to the afterlife that I am keeping my eye on—for nothing else but amusement—death by a black hole produced by the Large Hadronic Collider (LHC).
Do you remember this story, Asking a Judge to Save the World, and Maybe a Whole Lot More? Back in 2008, when the LHC first came online, there were concerns from certain individuals that microscopic black holes would be produced during the highly energetic collisions the LHC would produce. Extrapolating from there, the belief is that these black holes will devour the world, sucking all of humanity in.
At this point, I feel it’s my civic duty as an astrophysicists to explain that black holes are NOT cosmic vacuum cleaners. They do not suck (where sucking here means gravitationally attracting) any more or less than another object of the same mass. Yes, it would suck (where sucking here means something bad) to fall into a black hole. The gravitational pull of a black hole is so immense that nothing can get out. Worse yet, you’re doomed to follow a path that takes you to the center of the black hole. Once there who knows what will happen to you. Seriously, nobody knows. Our current understanding of how Nature works breaks down at the extreme conditions expected near the center of a black hole.
Death by a black hole is bad, um-kay. But is this our fate? Is the LHC going to be responsible for our grisly death? The answer, in short, is no. Although there is a very small probability of the LHC producing black holes, their physical characteristics are such that they’ll be harmless.
If the LHC does produce miniature black holes their size would be much smaller than an atom (see Particle Smasher’s Black Holes Would Be Tiny). With such a small stature, their region of influence would only be slightly larger than a proton, which is freaking small (0.000000000000001 meters to not be exact). And, since atoms are mostly empty, there really wouldn’t be material to feed these subatomic black holes—black holes are NOT vacuum cleaners. To make things even more reassuring, black holes evaporate, with smaller black holes evaporating faster. So even if a subatomic black hole would form, it would mostly like evaporate before digesting any surrounding particles.
If all that technical jargon doesn’t settle your nerves, there’s a website out there that answers the very important question, Has the Large Hadron Collider Destroyed the Earth Yet? Click on the link to find out. Notice the RSS feed? It’s for those that really want to stay on top of the issue.