Could a mistake in a particle accelerator like the Large Hadron Collider lead to our planet shrinking into a 300ft ultra-dense ball?
Yes, says the Astronomer Royal (although we should point out that such an event is extremely unlikely).
The Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees says that there’s also the distant possibility that such machines could rip open the fabric of space itself, causing what he describes as a ‘cosmic calamity’.
Rees describes these chilling (but extremely unlikely) possibilities in a new book, On The Future: Prospects for Humanity.
The Telegraph reports, ‘Maybe a black hole could form, and then suck in everything around it. The second scary possibility is that the quarks would reassemble themselves into compressed objects called strangelets.
‘That in itself would be harmless. However under some hypotheses a strangelet could, by contagion, convert anything else it encounters into a new form of matter, transforming the entire earth in a hyperdense sphere about one hundred metres across.’
Rees says, ‘Empty space – what physicists call the vacuum – is more than just nothingness. It is the arena for everything that happens. It has, latent in it, all the forces and particles that govern the physical world. The present vacuum could be fragile and unstable.’
‘Some have speculated that the concentrated energy created when particles crash together could trigger a ‘phase transition’ that would rip the fabric of space. This would be a cosmic calamity not just a terrestrial one.’
But the LHC Safety Assessment Group (LSAG) says that, in practice, the collider poses ‘no danger.’
The LSAG says, ‘Whatever the LHC will do, nature has already done many times over during the lifetime of the Earth and other astronomical bodies.’