The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the European particle-physics lab in Switzerland, turns back on again this month after $149 million worth of maintenance. Much praised for its role in the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson, the LHC does have opponents, including two men who in 2008 sued not only CERN, but LHC contributors like the U.S. Department of Energy, to keep the LHC from starting up again after its first shutdown.
The two men are nuclear physicist Walter L. Wagner and journalist Luis Sancho. Their fear is that the LHC could create miniature black holes that would destroy the earth. It’s a Star Trek-flavored end times scenario, but it’s no less extraordinary than the existence of the LHC itself. In fact the chief problem with their theory isn’t that the LHC couldn’t create a microscopic black hole, but rather that it’s believed such a small black hole wouldn’t be terribly dangerous. That bit of relief is provided to you by astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. (The lawsuit was dismissed; it stood little chance against such powerful institutions.) Resting easy might not be so easy though, for worriers. When the LHC goes back online this time it’ll have twice the power it had in the past. And even before, “the energies involved in the collisions are so huge (relative to their subatomic scale) that the explosions created are similar to what happened at the moment of the big bang when this universe was born.”