What are the chances that a particle collider’s strangelets will destroy the Earth?

imageEven before RHIC began operating in 2000, some people worried that the unprecedented experiment would pose risks of potentially catastrophic scenarios. Some of the concerns included the creation of a black hole or production of strange matter that could result in the destruction of the Earth, possibly within seconds. In 1999, before the collider opened, the media attention on the subject prompted BNL to form a committee of scientists to investigate the probability of such catastrophic scenarios. A few months later, the committee concluded that RHIC was safe. RHIC has now been running for nearly 15 years, and scientists have used it to make many fascinating discoveries, such as that of a quark-gluon plasma with a temperature of 4 trillion K. This liquid-like substance is unlike any kind of normal matter and recreates the conditions that existed during the first seconds of the universe. But due to budget cuts, in 2013 a government advisory panel recommended shutting down RHIC in the coming years as funding is put toward other projects. The US Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, passed just a few weeks ago, includes a provision for the establishment of a nine-member commission to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of all of the US national labs, including RHIC. It’s called the Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories. According to Eric E. Johnson, Associate Professor of Law at the University of North Dakota, and Michael Baram, Professor Emeritus at Boston University Law School, this may also be a good time to reevaluate the safety risks at RHIC. They have written an opinion piece on the subject that is posted at International Business Times. Johnson and Baram are calling for the new commission to look into the risks of RHIC destroying the Earth in addition to evaluating the financial aspects. A large part of the motivation for their appeal is because of the ongoing upgrades to RHIC. The collider is preparing for its 14th run, where it will be operating at 18 times the luminosity for which it was originally designed. The high luminosity will enable scientists to conduct more detailed studies of the quark-gluon plasma’s properties and investigate how it transitions into the normal matter that we see in the universe today. More

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