Scientists in Geneva, Switzerland, have created the most powerful particle beam collision in history — and they didn’t destroy the world. Yet.
This should be good news, but they plan to try the experiment again, which is the scientific equivalent of running around naked on a golf course in a thunderstorm while holding a nine-iron over your head.
This experiment is being conducted at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, where they just turned up all the power knobs to 11. Apparently, when you smash proton beams together at energies of 7 trillion electron volts, there is a very, very, very, very slight possibility you’ll create a microscopic black hole.
(The photo above is what the scientists got from their 9 billion dollar machine after smashing two proton beams together. Looks like something I once did on my Etch-A-Sketch, but the scientists were pretty excited. Whooping it up, high-fiving, spraying cheap champagne all over the computers… They may not know about Etch-A-Sketch in Europe.)
So, what’s a black hole? It’s like an out-of-control Hoover vacuum cleaner the size of Los Angeles. Usually black holes are way, way, way out in space, where they suck up planets and stars and the occasional Federation Starship.
This one would be in Switzerland.
So that could be bad, for sure. But we are talking about a microscopic black hole. What would this thing do, really? Maybe suck up some cat hair and a few cracker crumbs?
Wrong. A black hole is like a women’s bridge club descending on the Home Town Buffet on a Sunday afternoon. It would eat everything in sight and then go back for seconds. And thirds. And as it eats, it grows.
My calculations, done on my Keuffel and Esser slide rule, prove conclusively that this hungry little sucker would digest all of Geneva in about an hour. It would munch its way through Belgium in about 3 hours.
Now I know what you’re thinking. What have the Swiss given us except cute little chalets, 87-blade pocket knives, and numbered bank accounts? And Belgium! A country whose great moment in history was the invention of the waffle!? No loss there.
There’s Swiss chocolate, of course. But the stuff is so darned expensive that I mostly eat Hershey’s anyway. If the cost of having that loser European Union sucked into the maw of a black hole is a few overpriced chocolate bars, I think I could live with that.
But good things have a way of turning bad. This micro black hole would become a mini black hole, then a teensy black hole, then a tiny black hole, and pretty soon, after draining the Atlantic, it would be munching away at New York harbor. Next thing you know, it’s at the door of the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Krispy Kreme down the road.
The whole planet would get sucked into the maw of this Hoover-on-steroids. Life as we know it would come to an end.
That would be a bummer. But it would make a great disaster movie starring Angelina Jolie as an intrepid investigative reporter and Paul Giamatti as a mad particle physicist. Ignoring warnings from fellow scientists, Giamatti gleefully keeps blowing up protons at higher and higher energies until…
It will happen this way. You may be walking. Maybe the first sunny day of the spring. And a car will slow beside you, and a door will open, and someone you know, maybe even trust, will get out of the car. And he will smile, a becoming smile. But he will leave open the door of the car and offer to give you a lift.
Sorry, wrong movie script.
A scruffy graduate student buzzed on cannabis at 3 a.m. will be colliding protons into each other with one hand while sucking the lips off a cute, Swiss coed. Somewhere, a crystal goblet will fall to the floor and shatter in slow motion. Red lights will flash on the million dollar control panel. The grad student glances to his right, his gaze falling on a particularly alarming bar graph blinking rapidly on a very expensive plasma display screen.
The roach falls from his fingertips, tumbling end over end in slow motion, while his lips explode in a very, very bad word in German, or possibly French, since the Swiss have been too busy making weird pocket knives to decide what language they should speak. The last thing the grad student would hear as he shoves the coed off of his lap and lunges for the kill switch would be a giant sucking sound, then deafening silence.
That would be bad. But I have to admit that blowing things up with a 7 TeV particle beam sounds like more fun than a 15-car collision at Daytona! If they ever let the general public inside for a chance to push that Annihilate button, I’m there!
Photo credit: BBC News