There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about the LHC, and considering that I’ve been looking forward to this thing for, oh, 3 years or so, I’d like to clear up some of the concerns. I’ll offer simplified answers that save you the trouble of parsing through Wikipedia, and REALLY really simplified answers that you can tell your friends when they say, “OH SHIT, I HEARD THAT THING IS GOING TO BLOW UP EARTH.” Note: I’m not a scientist, I’m just a nerd that cares enough do some research. If you ARE a scientist and I got something wrong, contact me and let’s be friends.
Let’s get started.
Is the LHC going to create a micro black hole that grows exponentially and eats the planet?
Short answer: No. Everything we know about the Standard Model says there isn’t enough energy to create a black hole. There are some theories that might allow for it, but EVEN IF micro black holes were created, Hawking radiation would cause them to decay before anything bad would go down. But Hawking radiation, which physicists are really pretty sure exists, hasn’t been directly observed. But EVEN IF Hawking radiation doesn’t exist, the micro black holes won’t have enough energy to eat up any notable amount of matter. Beyond that, if these micro black holes had the ability to eat the planet, they would have by now. Cosmic rays collide with the Earth’s atmosphere all the time, and with more energy than the LHC collisions. In fact, 3*10^22 cosmic rays with energy equal to or greater than that of the LHC have struck Earth since it’s formation. That’s equal to over 100,000 LHC experiments, and we’re still here. So unless everything we know is wrong, we’re going to be fine.
Really short answer: No. Nature does the same kind of particle smashing the LHC will do all time. So far, there have been about 100,000 collisions equal to the LHC’s energy here on Earth, with no problems, obviously. Beyond that, the universe crashes particles together just like the LHC is going to 30,000,000,000,000 times. That’s 30 trillion times. Every second. We’re going to be fine.
Is the LHC going to create Strangelets that turn Earth in to a giant star?
Short answer: No. Stranglets, which are only hypothetical, are unstable and would decay instantly. A hypothetical form of these hypothetical strangelets could bond with matter to form strange matter that would grow exponentially and eat everything. But that’s clearly very hypothetical. Plus, big problem: the temperature in the LHC is too hot for strangelet stability (they like the cold), and the probibility of strangelet creation decreases the greater the energy is. Earlier colliders like the RIHC had a much greater chance of creating strangelets, and those odds were, “like you winning the major prize on the lottery 3 weeks in succession”. And this was back in 2000.
Really short answer: No. Stranglets only exist in theories so far, and even if they were real, the LHC doesn’t provide the kind of conditions necessary to create them.
So what’s the point? This thing is expensive and big and scary.
Short answer: Science! Looking for the Higgs boson(s), supersymmetric particles, dark matter and dark energy, extra dimensions required by string theory, and, oh yeah, if time travel is possible. It’ll help us figure out what the heck is going on around here.
Really short answer: Science! It’s complicated. Just trust them.