Monday, April 07, 2008

The End of the World Is On Trial in Hawaii

Asking a Judge to Save the World, and Maybe a Whole Lot More
Source: The New York Times

Two men think a giant particle accelerator that will begin smashing protons together outside Geneva this summer might produce a black hole or something else that will spell the end of the Earth — and maybe the universe.

Apparently, it's slightly possible that the particle accelerator built in Geneva, Switzerland, could create a small black hole, or a strangelet. Small doesn't sound so bad, except a small black hole is enough to swallow the Earth. And a strangelet would reduce the Earth to a lump of matter the size of your fist.

Despite decades of science fiction movies warning us what might happen if we mess with the laws of nature, scientists are apparently determined to ignore all possibilities as they proceed to investigate the next step.

This isn't the first time scientists have crossed their fingers when playing with primordial forces. The scientists of the Manhattan Project weren't 100% certain that their first nuclear weapon wouldn't create an unstoppable chain reaction that would incinerate the planet. Apparently, they were emboldened by their success, and with each decade more and more crazy things are attempted. Ears grown on mice. Glow-in-the-dark pigs. Square watermelons. Plastic from plants.

I really don't want to stop scientific inquiry. Often, it's good. I like TiVo, I remember television in black and white before you could see the Olympics live from half the globe away.

But still. Sheesh. This isn't like shipping an order to the wrong address. If physicists are wrong -- whammo!

Maybe we all know it's coming, and that's why we're running up the credit cards.