“But I’m not holding my breath..”

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN is due to go fully online in late August and, whilst legal concerns about the experiment rumble on, to celebrate that fact the Guardian has an avalanche of articles – part of a special supplement to today’s paper. They include, among others, an introduction by Steven Hawking, Astronomer Royal Martin Rees on the building blocks of the universe, Simon Singh on WIMPs, MACHOs and DUNNOs, even philospher AC Grayling has a go, and on a lighter note Chris Morris on a “zone weaponised to boggle” – complete with podcast.. full cerncast here. As an aside there was a fascinating interview with physicist Peter Higgs earlier. Brian Cox has been visiting and working at CERN for over a decade, and it’s he who Slate’s Timothy Noah turned to in a recent article on the pros and cons of the planet’s survival.

You read on the web, well, what happens if these black holes fly straight through the planet before they have a chance to eat it? Whereas the one that the LHC could [create would] just sit there and perhaps sink to the center of the earth? It turns out that when you do the calculation the black holes are so small that even if they didn’t decay and they just sat there they wouldn’t come close enough to any matter—because matter is basically empty space—to dissolve and to [inaudible] the matter and to grow so they wouldn’t do any damage. Okay; why don’t you ignore that? Well the final piece of wonderful evidence which confines these idiots to the bin is that you look up into the sky and you see white walls—some neutron stars—very, very dense stars. Cosmic rays are hitting those with energy greater than those seen at the LHC so if you can make black holes, black holes will be created on that surface. It turns out that they’re nuclear dense, these stars, so the black holes are not going to fly through there; they’re going to sit there and they’re going to eat away and they’re going to eat away much quicker than they could eat away the earth because the matter is much denser. So people have calculated how many neutron stars or white walls you would see in the sky if this were happening. If they were getting eaten by little mini-black holes and it turns out that there’d be very few indeed—in fact probably pretty much none, and you can do the calculation. So there’s a whole layer [laughs] that—I don’t need to reassure you anymore, I’m sure, but there are layer after layer after layer of—of tests and some of them are observational and some of them are theoretical and it turns out that it’s utter nonsense.