It’s the End of the World As We Know It – And Your Appeal’s Denied!

Here’s another obscure blast from the past – the European Organization for Nuclear Research, better-known by its initials (in French) CERN. Do you happen to remember the brief stir of publicity from around two years ago when that institution’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was finally built and could start smashing sub-atomic particles into each other along a 27 kilometer-circumference magnetic track? That fleeting bit of excitement (among those who cared, at least) quickly evaporated when the huge thing didn’t work quite right when they first flipped the proverbial switch, and so had to be repaired.

Don’t worry, though, because the scientists finally got the LHC to function properly late last year. Or rather, if you do need something to worry about, consider the possibility out of theoretical physics that has been looming ever since the LHC finally started operations, and which was also certainly known about before the gigantic thing was even built. When it smashes these sub-atomic particles into each other, you see, one by-product is black holes – small black holes, to be sure, but there has always been some possibility of one or more of them getting bigger and basically swallowing up the whole Earth.

But don’t take my word for it. (Although I did already write about this back at the time.) This eerie possibility is a subject that respected economics/science-writer and The New Republic contributing editor Gregg Easterbrook has also brought up from time to time. (OK, I’m only aware of his mentioning it inside of the column about the NFL that he writes for ESPN, called Tuesday Morning Quarterback, but heck, Easterbrook uses TMQ to discuss a whole lot of things, not just football.) Easterbrook has now been joined in his concerns by an anonymous complainant – apparently a female German scientist living in Switzerland (but who does not work for at CERN) – who has taken her objection to the chance of the world being destroyed all the way to the German Constitutional Court (Germany’s highest court) in Karlsruhe.

Both the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Zeit have coverage of this case (in which, I fear, her suit was rejected – so nasty black holes are no doubt continuing to spring to life somewhere under the Swiss countryside even as you read this). Die Zeit’s headline and lede are certainly best here:

Supreme Court judges have no fear of black holes
Karlsruhe judges have rejected a complaint against the LHC research. The fear that the Earth could be swallowed up is said to be not sufficiently proven.

And indeed, we are all still here, are we not? Helpfully, Die Zeit adds some quotes from Nobel Prize-winning physicist David Gross that characterize the whole flap about the Earth being swallowed up as “totally silly and absurd” and add that, if any of this were true, disaster would surely have already happened (because, again, the LHC has been going full-blast since last November). On the other hand, FAZ reporter Reinhard Müller still wants to hedge his bets, reporting that the German Constitutional Court also specified in its ruling that, should the complainant’s charges turn out to be true, she would then be free to return to a lower court to put in a claim for damages.

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