Shut Down The LHC? I'd Rather Not Hurt A Fly
    By Johannes Koelman | March 29th 2010 08:30 PM | 52 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Johannes

    I am a Dutchman, currently living in India. Following a PhD in theoretical physics (spin-polarized quantum systems*) I entered a Global Fortune


    View Johannes's Profile
    So how dangerous is the Large Hadron Collider? How likely is it that when operated at maximum energy the LHC will create a black hole and wipe out earth? Eric Johnson, assistant professor of law at the University of North Dakota and author of the report The Black Hole Case: The Injunction Against The End Of The World, writes in a recent edition of New Scientist:
    Up until now, the various lawsuits filed against the LHC have faltered. But if the right kind of claim is filed in the proper court, a judge may soon have to face the question of whether an injunction might be needed to save the world.”
    Johnson continues by making the claim that it is not impossible that 'Groupthink', might have caused the thousands of physicists involved to “reach a worry-free outlook that is not justified by the facts”. He further states that scientific arguments alone, whilst all that matters in academic disputes, will not be enough to demonstrate the safety of the LHC:
    The question of whether the LHC is safe is not academic – it is a real-world question with the highest possible stakes. Evaluating the science from a real-world perspective, and understanding scientific work to be a fallible human enterprise, is not merely fair – where justice is concerned it is essential.”
    Ouch. A well-known demagogic strategy to undermine hard scientific arguments. First establish that scientific facts are scholarly or academic by nature, and then use the term 'academic' pejoratively as if it is the antonym to 'real-world'.

    Let's see if we can give this concerned lawyer a 'real-world' perspective on the risks involved. Nothing 'academic'. Just empirical facts and a bit of well-established high-school level physics. Some simple order-of-magnitude estimations will allow any lawyer or judge who is not completely alien to empirical physics, to place the LHC black hole risk in its right place within the scheme of things.

    How to build a black hole
    What does it take to form a black hole? The straightforward answer is: a lot of mass. That is generally true, but mass is not a number that in itself specifies black hole formation risk. One can, at least in principle, form black holes with widely different sizes and masses.

    We need a number that characterizes black hole formation and that is independent of the size of the black hole. That number exists. It is the confinement force. To create a black hole you need to collapse a lot of energy in a small space. The pressure (force per area) you need to do so is dependent on the size of the resulting black hole, but the force itself turns out to be independent of this size. Whether you are creating a micro black hole or a giant billion solar mass black hole, its creation requires a confinement force equal to:

    FBH = c4/4G = 10 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 Newton.

    That is not just a big number. That is a gigantic number specifying a truly supreme confinement. For comparison: the force that gravitationally confines Newton's apple to earth happens to be just 1 Newton.

    Black hole formation risk (confinement force in Newton)

    How close to forming a black hole? Subatomic particle collisions (red) compared to mechanical presses (green), massive objects (blue) and gravitational systems (black). It takes 43 orders of magnitude to go from Newton's apple to a black hole.

    Nutcrackers and particle smashers
    How close can we get to a 1043 Newton confinement force? Let's say you need to crack open a nut, but you have no tools available. The best you can do is probably to place the nut in your mouth and crack it open using your bite. The human bite generates a surprisingly strong confinement force: about 700 Newton, comparable to the force needed to lift the same human in earth's gravitational field.

    With suitable tools you can do much better and generate a much larger confinement force. What you need is a tool that acts as force multiplier. A nutcracker fits the bill. But we have much more powerful force multipliers. The largest hydraulic presses available (beasts towering more than 20 meters high) generate confinement forces of about 50 kiloTons, or half a billion Newtons.

    Impressive, huh?

    Maybe. But we can do even better. More than 10,000 times better.

    A brute force approach (building larger hydraulic presses) will fail to realize confinement forces of such magnitude. We need to be a bit more clever and rethink the concept of confinement. Physics shows us the way: a confinement force corresponds to the ratio between the energy stored in the region, and the linear size of that region (for which we take the circumference that fits around the region):

    Fconf = E / 2R

    So, a more clever way to generate high confinement forces is to increase the numerator and also decrease the denominator in this expression. For that we need to store a lot of energy in a small space. Particle smashers like the LHC excel at this task. However, they can't generate unlimited forces. According to quantum physics, the smallest circumference that can be achieved is inversely proportional to the energy:

    2 hc/E

    here, h is Planck's constant, and c denotes the speed of light.

    It follows that the confinement force can be made to scale with the square of the energy provided you manage to place that energy in the smallest possible volume:

    Fconf  E2/hc

    With collision energies in the LHC soon to reach 14 TeV (2 micro Joules) the LHC will be capable of cracking open subnuclear 'nuts' with forces that potentially can go up to 25 000 000 000 000 Newton (25 Tera Newton). That is a pretty impressive nut cracker!

    However compared to the confinement force needed to create a black hole, the LHC falls short by almost thirty orders of magnitude. That is the same order of magnitude by which a grain of sand falls short of forming a volume as large as earth. I would tend to label that a pretty decent safety factor.

    But there is more. Although impressive when compared to nutcrackers and hydraulic presses, LHC's confinement forces pale in significance when compared to ongoing uncontrolled particle smashings that no court will ever prohibit. 


    Fly''s eye detectorUHECRs are the high-energy particles that bombard us from outer space. Events with energies in excess of 1020 eV (more than ten million times the energy of the particles in the LHC) have been observed. Although at least fifteen similar events have been observed since, the 'Oh-My-God' particle observed in 1991 with the Fly's Eye detector array in Utah still holds the record. It did strike with a measured energy of 3 1020 eV (50 Joules). That is an energy capable of generating a confinement force of 13 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 Newton. That is close to a million times a billion larger confinement force than what can potentially be generated by the LHC. And the point is: these ultra-high energy cosmic rays hit earth at a rate of more than a million per year. Yet, even after billions of years of such bombardment, no black hole has swallowed earth. Not surprising at all, taken into account that the “Oh-My-God' confinement force, falls short from the force needed to create a black hole by a factor of a trillion. A decent safety factor, that made us survive millions times billions of events.

    The black hole buzzing around your head

    Have we any experience with confinement forces larger than the 'Oh-My-God confinement'? Sure we have.

    ProtonForce keeps matter together. Without confining forces, there would be no stable matter. How large are these confinement forces? That is easy. Let's start small and take a proton as an example. We again use the above energy/circumference formula to estimate the confinement force. For energy we substitute the rest energy (E = Mc2) and for a proton find a confinement force of 170 000 Newton. That is a number typical for the color confinement between quarks in nuclear particles like the proton.

    HouseflyWhat if we investigate larger massive objects? The confinement force, that scales with the mass/circumference ratio, will grow bigger. Let's take a housefly. The total confinement force that keeps a housefly together is about 40 000 000 000 000 Newton. Did you notice that this is slightly larger than the maximum confinement force that can be generated by the LHC? Impressive, right? Well, you might also turn the argument around and be disappointed by the feeble giant called LHC being defeated by a house fly when it comes to black-hole generating power.

    951 GaspraWhat about still larger masses? How large an object do we need to get a total confinement force compareable to that generated by the 'Oh-My-God' particle? That turns out to be an object somewhat bigger than a house fly, an object like '951 Gaspra', a piece of rock of 18 x 10 x 9 km in the asteroid belt of our solar system.

    But we can still go further. What is the total confinement force of the earth itself? That force appears to reach a whopping 14 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 Newton. Huge. But not nearly enough to create a black hole. Still a safety margin of about a billion to go.

    EarthEmpirically we know that this safety factor is more than likely okay, if not indefinitely then at least for many, many millions of years to come. After all, we have the empirical evidence: earth has been around for a few billion years already. All that time it has been bombarded with many trillions 'Oh-My-God' events, yet so far earth hasn't shown any tendency of collapsing into a black hole.

    In the meantime concerned lawyers can maybe entertain themselves with something more useful than hypothesizing frivolous lawsuits. What about filing restraining orders against the mini black holes buzzing around their heads?


    A first-rate and very entertaining article.
    Johannes Koelman
    Thanks Eric! And think about where you are on the scale from Newton's apple to a black hole before you whack these rocks! ;)
    With the vigor that I whack those rocks, Johannes, I'm sure I'm well above the LHC! LOL ;-)
    I read an interesting post on this once, please accept my apologies for not being able to find the link, but the argument went like this: use the total amount of money the LHC costs, to estimate how much money this experiment is worth to the people of this world. Then compare that with the amount of money lost if the world is destroyed (using common estimates on the monetary worth of a human life times 6 billion) multiplied by the likelihood (or an upper bound for an estimate of the likelihood) of the LHC destroying the world. It came out in favour of the LHC by a large margin.

    Johannes Koelman
    I would immediately believe that. One just needs an upper bound to the likelihood of the LHC destroying the world.

    I guess one can do that by calculating how many cosmic ray particles of energy 14 TeV or higher have hit earth during its existence (4.5 billion years).  If I am not mistaken, that is about 1034 events. This means that the likelihood of a 14 TeV collision sucking in the whole world is statistically bounded by a Baysian estimate of 10-34. Now, let's say the LHC will generate in total a billion 14 TeV collsions. Well, actually I have no idea (I'm not a high energy experimentalist), so let's increase this to a billion times a billion (1018) and see where we get.

    Based on the above, the chance of the LHC causing the world to disappear would be statistically bounded by 1018 times 10-34, or 10-16. So the expected number of casualties due to the LHC is 6.5 billion times 10-16, or roughly 10-5. Only if a single life is worth more than the cost of a hundred-thousand LHCs (that is roughly 105 times 1010 US$ or 1015 US$ -- about 20 times the gross world product), one should take the rational decision to close down the LHC.

    Very clear. Such things must be said.

    But I am afraid this is not what these LHC-is-doom people actually aim at.

    First, those who "believe" these charges will stop reading at the first formula. They will have no clue what it says. And they will not understand what the number means. These are people who could not tell you how many people there are on the earth by two orders of magnitude. The audience of the claim the LHC will destroy the world suffer from general mathfobia.

    Second, I believe this is not directed at the LHC, but against scientists themselves.

    Black holes are theoretical constructs "dreamed up" by theoretical physicists. So what must we think of a person who actually DOES believe black holes exist but does NOT believe those who "made up" this concept do understand it. And who are also convinced that the collected scientists (tens or hundreds of thousands of them) are out there to risk the destruction of the complete earth just to prove a point.

    If you believe that, you must hate scientists (other people in general?) with a vengeance. And then I did not even include an anti-science "cultural" agenda. Because the message "scientists want to destroy the earth" will stick while the claim itself might never go beyond the headlines.


    Johannes Koelman
    Thanks Rob. And yes, you are absolutely right: some people have been sucked into a black hole of rational emptiness. Pity these poor creatures: a return to the fields of rational freedom is not possible. They are forever captured in a labyrinth of complot theories concerning 'evil scientist'.

    In this post I am not addressing those who have fallen past the horizon of irrationality. Rather, I am addressing those who may be in doubt, but who may wander dangerously close to this horizon. Sensible  folks who read about the LHC and black holes and who may think "where there is smoke, there likely is some fire".
    This is terrific. Had the answer been 42 orders of magnitude I would have gotten out my Douglas Adams/April Fools detector but 43 I buy without question.
    Johannes Koelman
    Yeah, tried to tweak the numbers, but couldn't get it to 42.

    If only Newton had been inspired by a melon rather than that stupid apple...
    Amateur Astronomer
    The black hole scare has been around since 1915 and gets rewritten from time to time. We had the same discussion about the super collier at Waxahachie 25 years ago. It was partly built, but never commissioned.

    The toipc came up again in the debate of Penrose and Hawking 15 years ago from discussions of vacuum polarization.

    Vacuum polarization machines were first constructed around the end of 1918, with a variety of safety problems, like unshielded gamma rays, or small black holes.

    From about 1920 there is advice about what to do if your hobby shop accidentally makes a pair of black holes and drops them on the ground. Originally the remedy was to fire electrons into the back hole until it opens up and gives back everything it swallowed. The mass cannot escape and the charge cannot be contained.

    In more modern times the remedy is to fire positrons into the black hole to open it up. The loss of mass destabilizes the event horizon with an argument that the radius can not decrease to become stable again when the mass has been decreased by even a small amount. A mass deficient star expands rather than contracts.

    It doesn’t take a LHC to create a panic.
    Johannes Koelman
    Indeed Jerry, nothing new really.

    Maybe it's not a bad idea to re-use the electron guns from scrapped CTRs and sell them as black hole extinguishers? Must be a good business these days.
    Great article!  A follow-up question:

    How likely is it that when lawyers operate at maximum energy they will create a bleak hole and wipe out the entire Global GDP?
    Johannes Koelman
    Just a matter of time, my friend!

    I read your article with interest, as I have been following the LHC argument (albeit at some distance) for some time now. I remember when similar fears were raised about the RHIC at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The confinement forces issue seems to be rather new to the argument. Both BNL and CERN have admitted that mini black holes could be created by their facilities but that they would evaporate. The counter argument to the production of mini black holes via cosmic rays is that a black hole produced in such a manner is not the same as one produced on Earth, at rest relative to the Earth.

    Submitted for your perusal -

    So the reason there is even a debate is that both parties are past the issue of confinement forces required to produce mini black holes, right or wrong. The debate is over what happens if one is created.

    My involvement with black holes is limited to the ones that are already up and running and are observable through outer space, and then primarily how they fit in relation to theories concerning temporal mechanics and nontrivial space-time geometries. That is why I favor the experts on both sides of this debate be made to figuratively duke it out and show why each side is right and the other is wrong. The side that has the best arguments, and can beat the other side's arguments, wins. 

    I think it's interesting, but obvious, why CERN has failed to introduce your argument's line of thinking in its defense. They clearly disagree with it... 

    Johannes Koelman
    Marshall - a thoughtful reply, thank you.
    The confinement forces issue seems to be rather new to the argument. Both BNL and CERN have admitted that mini black holes could be created by their facilities but that they would evaporate.
    Actually, the argument of lack of confinement isn't really different from that of black hole evaporation. But it is true that the argument has never been presented in these terms (at least not that I am aware of), and I also go one step further: rather than claiming that if a black hole could form, it would immediately evaporate, I claim that for all practical purposes this means that under these circumstances a black hole can not form. Claiming that an object could exist for a trillionth-of-a-trillionth-of-a-Planck-time is a confusing way of saying that the object will not come into existence.
    Dear Johannes:
    You make a good point, and at the same time raise an important issue - that being that in fact no one has looked at the problem this way before. So what is the result? CERN actually is talking about trying to make mini black holes, according to their article that I linked to. So there is a problem that goes beyond the trillionth of a trillionth of a Plank time, because CERN claims that they want to make them so that they can be studied. For that matter, if my memory serves me correctly, so did BNL.

    I quote the article 

    "A spectacular consequence of such a model is the possibility of being able to produce black holes with the next generation of particle colliders. If the centre-of-mass energy of two elementary particles is indeed higher than the Planck scale ED, and their impact parameter b is lower than the Schwarzschild radius RH, a black hole must be produced. If the Planck scale is thus in the TeV range, the 14 TeV centre-of-mass energy of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) could allow it to become a black-hole factory with a production rate as high as about one per second. Many studies are underway to make a precise evaluation of the cross-section for the creation of black holes via parton collisions, but it appears that the naive geometric approximation σ~πR2H is quite reasonable for setting the orders of magnitude."

    It was talk like this that got the debate going, so like I said, it's not just mincing a few words here or few mega fractions of a zillionth of a nanosecond there. The opinion of the article is that the LHC could become a "black hole factory". 

    I know that they wouldn't exist for long (a gross overstatement I know) but clearly it's long enough for CERN to figure out a number of things. That's what those, who are against the LHC, to grab on to. That, and the idea that the physics involved with black hole creation in a lab on Earth is different enough in key areas from cosmic ray creation, to raise concern. 

    This is why I favor an all out, scientific slug fest, with either side laying down its arguments and counter arguments, but they have to be based on math and equations and no arguments about what if it does all go wrong. In other words, whoever has the best control, of the math and physics, wins. I won't pretend to know how to sort it all out on my own, I'm just good and finding the data, which is how I got that CERN article. If it were in my field of expertise, then I could weigh in with an opinion. All I know is that this is a perfect example of why the public doesn't trust science. Why should they? The scientists don't even agree on what's right so how can the public figure it out? All the public knows is that it's science that usually kills them or messes up their lives, with pollution, toxic chemicals, bad medicine that never should have been released, and all the rest of it. The public doesn't want to have to have a PhD to know how to deal with every day things in life - that's what the PhDs are supposed to be for. But when the PhDs don't seem to know what's what, then there goes public confidence.

    It really shouldn't be that hard and it's the way to settle things. I had some moron on my board talking smack about about wormholes until I told him to man up and space-time diagram his fabulous super theory out. He never showed up after that because he knew he couldn't do it without proving conclusively he was a moron. In the debate over the LHC both sides claim that they have the facts. I say have representatives from both sides show-up in one place with their lap tops and smart boards and go to war. Each side gets a chance to counter the other side but it doesn't count unless they can kill arguments that the opposing side has, and killing the argument means they have to have the data to back up their counter-argument. Whoever has the most kills, wins, of course.

    Until a definitive ruling is made, one way or the other, the debate will rage on. As cute as it is talking about how flies have more confinement force than the LHC, which makes everybody giggle, the point is that the debaters aren't even saying the word "confinement" and CERN acts as if it's not even an issue...

    Johannes Koelman
    Hi Marshall --  first a clarifying point on my blog post, and then an analogy to place predictions that the LHC might cause earth to disappear in the right context (I am pretty sure all of this will probably not convince you, but feel compelled to at least give it a try.) 

    1) The way I present things here is perhaps new, yet the physics that I am describing certainly isn't (it's all bog-standard entry-level university physics). In this weblog I attempt to explain basic physics concepts, and in order to do that I seek a language and terminology that is as accurate as possible in its description of the physics, yet understandable by the layperson. Often I land on new ways of presenting old concepts. Looking at something from a different perspective can be very enlighting, and the same holds for using a different language.

    Anyway, in this particular blog post I landed on the term 'confinement force' to describe the combined physics of black holes and quantum uncertainty effects. Don't read too much into the fact that others might not use this terminology. Probably they are saying the same things using different (more complex?) words.

    2) Given a few spare weeks, I am sure I could dream up a consistent theory that is in agreement with all known experimental facts, yet that would predict that tomorrow or any given day thereafter, with a certain significant likelihood the sun won't rise. It would be a contorted theory, and I would not get a lot of support for it, yet it would be a valid theory. Each day the sun does rise, my theory gets somehow less likely, yet I could still maintain that it hasn't strictly been falsified. Now you organize a representative from the 'other side' (someone maintaining that the sun will last for several billion more years) to show up to 'go to war' with me. How would that person 'kill' my arguments? How would you kill my arguments?

    Today the LHC has started collision experiments at 7 TeV. The earth is still intact. And the sun is still shining. What do you think will happen tomorrow? Will the sun rise again? Will there be an earth for the sun to rise for? ;)

    That's the beauty of an infinite universe. In Physics World the author wondered if he might find a Lion and a Witch every time he opened his Wardrobe - common sense said he would not but if you can't be sure, should you open that closet?? In baseball lyricism: "The law of probability says that anything will happen that can/ But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan" Since you are from Holland, replace that with Eindhoven PSV and the next time they will win a Champions League cup. It can happen but I wouldn't sit up nights thinking about it.
    It can happen but I wouldn't sit up nights thinking about it.
    Sort of like a beer tax rebate?


    Yeah, I got that you were saying essentially the same thing in your description as CERN, when they talk about black hole evaporation. What I'm stressing (and its not because I think a black hole will eat the Earth, but in the interest of settling what probably was an unnecessary debate between CERN and those that do worry about such things, in the first place) is that it's CERN's language and their implied intent that seems askew. It's their assertion that CERN can become a "black hole factory" popping out one a second. They probably could have communicated the same thing without even using the term, "black hole". So when they do that kind of thing, which in fact seems a bit misleading on its face, they cause a perception that is counterproductive.

    I quote this article about the controversy with a remark by British theoretical physicist John Ellis:  "Ellis said doomsayers assume that the collider will create micro black holes in the first place, which he called unlikely." to which I reply, "Really? That's not what your own organization's article inferred". Do you see what I mean? They can't even keep their stories straight. If they can't keep their stories straight, then how do we know that they can keep their equations straight? That's what the public thinks. It doesn't inspire confidence.

    The other issue is that we're not talking about the flat Earth or perpetual motion crowd on the other side, and they aren't just worried that a black hole will stabilize and eat the planet. 

    You've got Otto Roesslerössler_takes_lhc
    nuclear physicist Walter Wagner ,
    physicist Rainer Plaga 
    and system scientist in cosmology and time theory, Luis Sancho 
    to name a few. However, someone posted this criticism of Roessler's position in response to the SB article about him:

    A few of it's points...

    "1) The argument of Mr. Roessler rests upon a coordinate-dependent reinterpretation
    of the concept of 'spatial distance' (which he calls the 'true' one),
    and that is used to support some arbitrary 'physical' arguments that are at odds
    with conclusions of general relativity.
    Formula (1) of his article appears in all text books and simply expresses the wellknown
    fact that an object, as measured in the coordinate time of a distant
    observer, needs an infinitely long time to reach the horizon (or rather, that no
    light beam can escape the horizon). The correct physical interpretation of the
    mathematical statements of general relativity (and only this is the point, since Mr.
    Rössler has only taken over well-known formulas) has been established for
    decades and has been confirmed in countless experiments. In particular,
    physical statements must not depend on the choice of a coordinate system - for
    example, if a black hole emits radiation or not is not a question of choosing a
    particular coordinate system.
    (2) Abraham's theory, to which Mr. Roessler refers in part, may be considered as
    disproved since 1915. At that time Abraham made the attempt (in confrontation
    with Einstein) to formulate a scalar theory of gravitation in the framework of
    special relativity. However this theory predicts a false precession of the [Mercury]
    perihelion (-1/6 of Einstein's result) and 'no' deflection of light, which clearly
    contradicts precise observations (the deflection of light has been measured to a
    precision of 10-4).
    (3) The arguments of Mr. Roessler are even self-contradictory: on the one hand,
    the black hole does not radiate because it is supposed to be at infinite distance in
    the re-interpreted spatial geometry, on the other hand he says that because of its
    infinite distance it cannot arise within a finite time, and thus can also not be
    produced in the laboratory."

    This is the kind of commentary that is useful and what I'd would then like to hear Roessler's counter argument for. This is getting to the meat of the matter out of which a final determination could result.

    It would seem that on the same page as the SB article I cited, there is quite an interesting debate over Roessler's claims and even Roessler shows up to weigh in. I might add, that some of the thoughts I've expressed about how the public views this type of thing are echoed there. How this whole affair got so screwed-up (and could have been avoid as I've said) is detailed in this New Yorker article - .

    At a time when there is this issue about how the public views science and whether scientists get the proper respect, etc. this is a perfect example of what the problem is. You can call it the 3 Mile Island effect, if you want. The bottom line is that it's the responsibility of scientists to do good, transparent work and to communicate effectively with the public, particularly in matters that could effect the public welfare. When this isn't done, the public's view of science will continue to be skeptical.

    I'm not against the LHC, and the fact that they have finally got it working is very exciting, especially because I want them to find the Higgs Boson so I can win my bet with Stephen Hawking. I'm just a stickler for accuracy and it seems that CERN has been evasive in handling a mess that was their own creation.  I'm sure we all hope that it's the last and the worse of the messes that they're responsible for...

    P.S. On part 2. Define "significant". Also, if the theory is "contorted" there will be inherent flaws that can be taken advantage of. Good theories aren't ever contorted. If you want to know how I would kill your argument, you would have to make it first. However, I think I've done pretty good in showing how the actual debate over the LHC is a bit more complicated than flies...
    It would seem that on the same page as the SB article I cited, there is quite an interesting debate over Roessler's claims and even Roessler shows up to weigh in.
    It is unlikely that was Roessler. The guy who wrote that got banned from the site for being a crank but because we could not confirm whether or not that interview happened, we left it up. One of the 'Roessler' comments appeared under Gillis' name and when I asked him about it, he said Roessler was writing him and he was posting the comments for him - which is fishy. Odd that Roessler would do an interview with this guy, read the comments, not be able to write his own comments but instead send them to someone else to post but never respond to repeated requests to confirm he had the interview or any of the comments were his. It is also alarming that Roessler, for being an 'expert' to alarmists, failed at some pretty basic math.
    Good points, Hank:
    I haven't had time to look over all that in detail but it's things like that which obscure the debate and muddy the waters. That's why I favored an event type of thing where all the protagonists show up in person in front of a panel of experts and then have at it. Sure it would be long and involved, but I think that the public would feel that they were seeing each side at its best and be able to judge them on their merits as well as hear what the expert panel's decision would be and why. If it was done with the scoring system that I suggested, then the winner would be obvious and the matter settled, once and for all.

    I wasn't aware of the fake interview issue as I simply did a search for Rosessler and that SB page came up in the results. I also wasn't reading SB back then.

    In the end, I just want to know what's real, and what the truth is. I feel that if there's a debate over an issue, that each side ought to be able to stand and deliver and prove who's right. I'm sure that there are science issues where that might be difficult, but I don't think this is one of them. 

    I have a good friend who is an excellent physicist and engineer. He also feels that the LHC is a safe bet. But I am bothered with the ambiguities, like Johannes saying that the holes will evaporate so fast that it's a stretch to say that they'll even exist, yet there's the CERN paper saying that not only will they exist long enough to get useful data, but they'll be able to make one a second, and then that Brit physicist from CERN saying that's it's doubtful that any will be created at all. Those facts right there create an impression that somebody doesn't know what they're talking about. That's not the way I do things, because it's nonproductive and that's exactly what's happened. It's a mess that CERN created by being sloppy. On the other side you have even more nonsense because anyone can jump in with an opinion or create a fake interview, as it seems like that happened in this case with SB. The result - even more mess, despite the fact that there are some real scientists with serious reservations, hence the papers and affidavits that I provided links to. 

    Like I said, I hope the thing finds the Higgs because of the bet I have. I also hope that some closure can be had over the end of the world issues, since there's more than just the black hole threat, it seems. I don't have a lot of time to spend on it, but at the same time I'm viewing this affair as an opportunity to learn some physics beyond what I'm currently involved with, as well as how science could better handle its public relations.

    Johannes Koelman
    It's a mess that CERN created by being sloppy.
    I fully agree. CERN's communications on this issue is a clear example of how not to do PR.
    Hi Johannes,

    I have a probably dumb question about your analysis of the OMG particle.

    Presumably the OMG particle at 10^20 eV is colliding with a stationary proton in the atmosphere at 10^6 eV. In the centre of mass frame, where any black hole is going to form, this will be near enough the square root of the mass product and only about 10^13 eV total energy which I reckon is only about 1 order of magnitude or so higher than the LHC collisions, not 15 as you are implying. Who is right?

    Johannes Koelman
    Ha, ha, not a dumb question at all, and I'm sure you know that! ;)

    Yes, I am aware that an air shower will form. So strictly speaking, if an OMG hits, potentially many millions of LHC-size black holes (rather than one larger black hole) will form.
    I enjoyed your article and the way you have illustrated a complex concept in real world terms that most anyone can grasp. My oldest son has a nascent interest in physics which we strongly encourage; however he is not a fan of the "dry" mathematics such advanced concepts demand so I seek out articles like this which entice him to explore further because the topic is now "real". He is on track to a medical and surgical career however I believe that if his interest in other sciences remains active, he will be a more successful physician and well rounded person.

    Thank you for taking the time to put these topics into accessible context for the layperson and please keep up the good work. Somewhere across the Internet you may inspire the next great mind in physics!

    Johannes Koelman
    Thanks for your kind words Scott.

    Concerning your son:
    surely a surgeon who in his spare time explores some physics is to be preferred over a physicist who in his spare time experiments with surgery!
    surely a surgeon who in his spare time explores some physics is to be preferred over a physicist who in his spare time experiments with surgery!

    *coughing & sputtering* - Ok, this is the OMG part of the article!


    Amateur Astronomer
    I'm against the mini black hole theory, for the same reasons there are no stable atomic masses of 1000 or 10,000. LHC has a chance to make stable atomic masses of 500.

    Mini black holes are not stable under microscopic perturbations that arise from the uncertainty principle.

    If a mini black hole could exist at all the uncertainty principle would have already produced them in great numbers from ordinary physical processes, because energy resources of the uncertainty principle are larger than the LHC has, by more than a hundred orders of magnitude.

    LHC doesn't create new things that never occurred before. LHC replicates a part of the things that occur in nature, but are hard to observe because they are short lived.

    To make a mini black hole exist for even one cycle of Planck time requires a spherically symmetrical compression wave in which the compression energy is evenly distributed A linear collider does not produce a spherically symmetrical compression wave.

    The only particles he LHC can make are those that have a resonate stability, which means they have the ability to survive a large number of microscopic perturbations of the space time energy field around them.

    When black holes swallow ordinary matter a huge amount of gravitational energy has to be given off as x-rays. If a mini black hole was dropped on the ground, the first spec of dust it consumed would create an explosion large enough to blow the black hole into deep space.

    A mini black hole has never been observed anywhere. Some theories dating from 1918 say a vacuum polarization machine can build up a sufficient energy field through LC resonance to create pairs of black holes. In real experiments with bipolarized vacuum the energy is always dissipated by producing pairs of other things like electrons and positrons.

    Mini black holes have a potential energy excess, because of the lack of sufficient neutron mass for gravitational collapse. An energy excess combined with no stability resonance means that a mini black hole can not survive for one Planck time. This is the root cause of the 43 orders of magnitude Johannes was describing. The virtual mini black hole does not survive long enough to become a real object, because it does not have the stability that is required of a real object. If the safety committee is going to protect against one thing that never becomes real, then it should give the same protection against other virtual things that never become real.

    From all these claims the one I recommend to the readers is the undisputed one, that the LHC cannot produce any thing that does not have a resonate stability under perturbation. Mini black holes do not have a resonate stability.

    Second best choice is the one that says the 43 orders of magnitude means that the virtual object never becomes a real object with a physical existence.

    If none of these things create confidence of safety, then there is the possibility of electron guns for people on small budgets, and positron cannons for those who are well financed. Be advised that these things are also dangerous.
    It seems to me these quantum black holes require a whole lot of extrapolating of how gravity works. We only know gravity as something which happens in the presence of a great deal of mass, far more than the handful of particle domain in question however energetic or massive those particles may be.

    In other articles on this blog I see the idea gravity itself may be an entropic effect born of the probabilistic properties of large numbers of particles. If that is correct there could be no creation of a black hole from a single particle or a handful of particles since the whole probalistic effect only comes into being with large numbers. It would be like looking for sound waves in a vacuum so hard the molecules bounce off the bottle walls more often than each other.

    In any case, thank you for writing the blog. I find myself checking back often hoping another installment pops up.

    OK, I'm going to put this in the simplest layman's terms possible.

    1) The LHC has no where near enough energy to come even close to creating a micro black hole.

    2) In order for the LHC to create a micro black hole is if and only if

    a. M-theory is right and there are other dimensions--some larger and some smaller than the ones with which we are familiar in our common everyday experience and

    b. The LHC was able to "pull in" at least one of those extra dimensions to allow gravity to become strong enough to create a micro black hole.

    4) The only way that we would even know that a micro black hole had been created in the LHC is if Hawking radiation were to be detected as the micro black hole evaporated.

    Stephen Hawking would win the Nobel prize and everyone would go home, none the worse for the experience. OK? End of Story!


    I am so sick and tired of hearing about the LHC and black holes!
    What makes me laugh about the whole black hole argument, is that the amount of human energy expended discussing black holes and the danger they represent to human existence has overtaken the amount of energy used to build AND run the LHC by a factor of 10^13 - at least.... ;-)

    Jerry, apparently there was a scientist who witnessed the creation of a stable black hole first hand, but we're still waiting for him to re-manifest at a point three years into the future, sitting in a modified De Lorean long as the Lebanese terrorists didn't get him 2nd time around....

    Frankly, I cannot understand, why people are so sure about LHC safety... Isn't the main purpose of LHC just to validate theories, which predict violation of existing laws, on which assumption of LHC safety is based? For example Lisa Randall believes, LHC would prove existence of extra-dimensions, which would lead to stable microscopic black holes, which are constituting dark matter.

    The same extra-dimensions are expected to stabilize black holes, formed during LHC collisions, as recent computer simulation revealed.

    Therefore the stance of LHC proponents regarding LHC safety has no logics. If they're believing, their theories would apply during LHC collisions, they must admit, stable black holes may be formed in it. If they cannot admit it, then they're openly lying about their own expectations. The same controversy applies to some other disaster scenarios, for example strangelet formation:

    If such things cannot be formed, what we are looking for, after then?

    Johannes Koelman
    Lisa Randall believes, LHC would prove existence of extra-dimensions, which would lead to stable microscopic black holes
    Not really. In the interview you link to, she clearly states: "The quantum effects of gravity have also led theorists to talk of the possibility that black holes could be formed at the LHC, but Randall
    remains sceptical. "I don’t really think we will find black holes at the LHC," she says."

    Frankly, I cannot understand, why people are so sure about LHC safety... Isn't the main purpose of LHC just to validate theories, which predict violation of existing laws, on which assumption of LHC safety is based?
    The simple answer is that we explore the boundaries of our knowledge. In our scientific journey we don't get dropped deep into an unknown area.

    If you have made a long journey of 100,000 steps that has brought you to unknown terrains, and that has exposed you to variations of plants and animals you hadn't seen before, would you expect that the next step (step 100,001) would suddenly bring you face-to-face with a Gadzillosaurus 5 miles high that spits out a fusion plasma a million times hotter than the sun?

    Well, someone might just be defending such a theory.

    The LHC is the next step in a long journey. And the good news is, we have a short travel guide (just a few lines really) that gives a concise description of all the things encountered so far. What will step 100,001 bring us? There might be some surprises awaiting us (I would hope so), but I doubt it will be a Gadzillosaurus...
    Regarding the cosmic rays argument of LHC safety, such UHECRs are always formed by isolated protons - they're NOT equivalent to LHC colimated jets of protons with zero momentum toward Earth

    Richard King
    Daily Mail cartoonist Mac on the subject of the LHC, in today's newspaper, of course.


    'Yeah, yeah. Very funny - April Fool!'
    The irony of all of this is that it would be great if the LHC momentarily produced a micro black hole. By doing so, it would replicate the conditions of the Big Bang and answer a heck of a lot of questions. But, unfortunately, it probably won't--not unless there are other dimensions as predicted by M-theory and the LHC is able to pull in some of those dimensions momentarily. Personally, I'm hoping that the LHC will just for a brief moment create a micro black hole, and its not because I have a death wish. I guess one person's terror and nightmare is another person's dream! ;-)
    Will "'Science" blend the example so much as to stray from the TRUTH? Is it a hole?
    Galileo, Saggiatore ( The Assayer ) "So I tell you, as soon as I conceive of a corporeal material or substance, I clearly feel pulled out of necessity to conceive that it is bounded or having this or that shape, that it is large or small in relation to others, that it is in this or that location, at this time or that time, that it moves or is still, that it touches or does not touch another body, that it is one, few, or many, nor by any imagination can I separate ti from these conditions; but that it be white or red, bitter or sweet,sounding or mute, of a pleasant or unpleasant smell,I do not feel compelled in the mind to apprehend it necessarily by such conditions." Excerpt from: How the minds intuition lead me to conceive of matter

    Amateur Astronomer
    I got really tired of all the complaints about LHC and did the mathematics for containment of a black hole of 7 TeV equivalent mass. The numbers just don't add up to a black hole, no matter how many hidden dimensions are opened.

    The containment volume is 4E-45 cubic meters for 3E-24 seconds.

    To make a black hole of 7 TeV requires a containment volume of 3E-150 cubic meters or less for longer than a Planck time or about 1E-42 seconds.

    The energy density is not high enough, not even close.

    Available energy density is 2.7E+38 Joules per cubic meter.

    To make the black hole requires an energy density of 3.4E+143 Joules per cubic meter.

    By comparison the Planck energy density is about 1.4E+110 Joules per cubic meter and is the highest energy density that any theory has ever postulated.

    The conclusion is that a mass of 7 TeV can not produce a black hole under any circumstances.

    I'm a big believer in extra hidden dimension and have read all of the claims for and against extra dimensions. The prevailing opinions are that near light speed all dimensions are open and available. All of the collider work to date has been done near light speed, so any dimensions that are going to enter into particle physics have already done so for several decades.

    Not even the vacuum energy or zero point field could produce a black hole of mass 7 TeV.

    The opponents should stop hand waving and publish some real data.
    Amateur Astronomer
    A few words against M-Theory, with regard to LHC.

    M- theory requires super symmetry, dark matter, and dark energy including a hole family of dark particles, none of which has ever been observed.

    After 15 years of massive efforts, M-Theory can not be written down in a concise form and agreed upon by the specialists who work in that field. It can be partly described, but not on the microscopic scale, although there is an expectation that current work will produce a microscopic description. LHC requires a microscopic description now, which appears to disqualify M-Theory in it's present form.

    The main attraction of M-Theory is that it appears to contain all of the other superstring theories as subsets.

    I embrace string theory in a big way, but reject all super string theories as huge mistakes because of their requirements for a fully equipped shadow world that cannot be found.

    My biggest objection to the dark power cult is that all of the physical situations that are attributed the dark side can be accounted for by other physics that is not hidden or mysterious, and with only small extensions to the existing science. A first approximation to the Vacuum Energy structure and Zero Point field removes all of the excuses for a Power Of Darkness to breathing down our necks.

    Readers might prefer the version given by Johannes.

    I had a lot of fun with that article, and the people who missed the point of it. Acceleration balancing a force has got to be a classic. It also gets rid of dark energy. That means supper symmetry and M-Theory also get trashed.

    M-Theory is grasping for some reason to continue in existence, and LHC is the topic that was chosen to argue for next semester budget.

    More likely LHC will finish off M-Theory after some years of safe operation.
    Now that we're all finished speculating about what results the LHC is going to produce, can we just sit back and see what it actually does show us over the coming years about our universe?

    I don't care what people think it's going to do. I want to know what it's doing as it does it!
    Amateur Astronomer

    Great idea Eric.

    It would be nice to see some articles written about what is actually happening at LHC.

    This all reminds me of what happened to the super collider at Waxahachie, Texas that never got commissioned. Budget problems were created to prevent completion, but the real cause was that the religious extremist who came to power about that time were ideologically opposed to probing the supernatural realm.

    Leadership went overseas for high energy physics, and a lot of other things in science like quantum entanglement. American science is still suffering from tampering by fanatics. Its a sad story and I consider the debate about LHC to be another page of the same history. The whole body of Dark Physics and Supernatural Symmetry was created to placate the extreme religious views that were running Washington DC. There were better choices in science then and still are better choices now.

    The uproar over LHC was instigated in America, guaranteeing that the leadership in science remains overseas. The fact is that the LHC is running, the safety review was done, and the decisions were made by foreign scientists.

    I left unpublished several other comments with better technical arguments, for reasons that are probably obvious to you.

    Its a vote for your program of real data and real science.

    Lawyers rule:-
    If facts are against you argue the law.
    If laws are against you argue the facts.
    If both are against you,call the other guy names !

    I'm sorry but this is an article which missed the point -- fortunately it was brought back by Jerry Decker and others. I don't think that anyone was ever concerned about "mundane" black holes, only about the ones of the mini kind. Slightly misreading the opponent's argument is not a good rhetoric tactic :|

    An independent review of the long-term risks associated with possible black hole production at the LHC:

    ah jerry the old mad hat in wonderland, a 'certified safety review ''leader'' (-;, 'expert', 'expert', 'expert'!!! said the wall street banker give me an AAA cdo, which i 'self-certify', 'expert', 'expert', 'expert' cry the people working at CERN, self-certifying the 'very unlikely' extinction of mankind in their self-reported LSAG, 'expert', 'expert', 'expert' runt the agency of oil spills in cozy relationship with BP - 'very unlikely that we spill oil in our life-time... And yet all the theoretical papers written about strangelets in the past decade, NOT black holes, a far smaller risk, show that CERN will produce very likely stable strangelets in lead to lead collisions that will accrete the earth and shrink you and all your mad hat rabbits into alice's wonderland. Good luck y buena muerte

    I for one am glad that the LHC is not subject to US lawmakers whims. Unless of course the US decides to ban the LHC and then decided to "bring democracy" to Europe with military force to enforce its courts orders.


    "Never has American prestige in Europe been lower."

    That quote was LIFE magazine, January 1946.    Basically Europeans have always whined about how much America stinks unless Europeans need something.   But America has done okay the other times it 'brought democracy' to Europe and American occupation has resulted in the longest period of peace in the history of Europe.

    Sure, the LHC is your expensive boondoggle, 5 years late and wildly over budget - and we are happy to have you paying for French construction workers to screw it up - but I am most chuckling at the notion that American judges are more politically correct than European ones.  What is the basis for that?  It sure isn't history.
    I'm glad to see your article taking center stage again, Johannes. I was just about to write an article (which I really didn't feel like doing) about stellar-mass black holes, supermassive black holes and micro-black holes and the difference between the three, but your article saves me the trouble. : )

    so basically there is no difference in regards to one being more dangerous (the probability that the act will be directly responsible for the formation of a black hole locally) that statistically speaking there is no difference between a blow job and a hand job except for where the seed comes to rest?


    I have spent my whole life pondering one question and believe i have the answer.
    Stephen Hawkins lead me to this answer, he nearly got it bless him, nearly as smart as me that one. The question was an ancient one and was this;

    'If once upon a time there was nothing, how could anything ever have begun?'

    (Please excuse the word 'time' here, i used the best words i could to explain anti-existance, it is clear that before anything existed there was no such thing as time/change,... or a 'before' for that matter....)

    A student of theology told me it was gods doing and the best evidence she put forward was that there are billions of coincidences that have lead me here, a walking talking thinking human being, typing to a fellow human over this thing we call 'internet'. 'How could this be an accident?' she asked. 'god must have created this universe for us'. She was correct in one thing, we are too perfect, the universe is just too perfect to be an accident, this is almost certainly undeniable.
    Afew months ago i read a little of Stephen hawkins most recent theories and they lead me to the answer ive been seeking for so long! He explained how all the universe is balenced. everything = nothing.
    Please understand that this is the first philosophical question i ever asked myself. So from a very very young age i have spent tens of thousands of hours pondering this question. This is the only theory that makes any sense to me, it can be elaborated on i expect but i think it is essentially correct.....

    ....The answer... simply, is that nothing can be created from nothing. Therefore, the only thing that can exsist is something that creates itself and amounts to nothing. All those coincidences, those billions of flukes that created humans are essential as it is the humans with there hunger for power that created the big bang in the first place. (I, like you, do not completely understand black holes but it is generally understood, and I agree, that it is entirely probable that they can distort time in ways we cannot comprihend.) We created the universe and we will destroy it, without us there would be no universe, only empty space. I expect the large collider is behind it all.(its purpose is to recreate the big bang lol) 2012 is when it goes into full swing, 2012 is probably our last year so enjoy it.

    The funny thing is, that if im right, then there is no stopping what must come to pass, otherwise the universe would never have exsisted in the first place, and therefore me writing these msgs is completely pointless. Infact, if i am right, then me writing this shows that there isnt long left atall. I hope i have opened your eyes although i do doubt it lol. Well done if u understand, and remember, theres nothing you can do about it. Have no fear, if you can follow the logic then you will see that you will live indefinalty, just like everyone else, so just enjoy your time.

    Ok, CERN has announced no signs of any black holes so far. But let's stay alert: "Physicist Guido Tonelli, the detector's spokesperson, says that by the end of the next run, the LHC should be able to exclude the creation of black holes almost entirely."