The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — a 17-mile-long particle accelerator underneath Geneva — is about to be turned on. (When? The day before September 11, we were just a tiny bit disconcerted to learn.) Although the technical details of the collider are mind-numbingly complex, its basic mission is rather simple: It’s supposed to blow up protons, which are the positively charged particles in the nuclei of atoms.
But why would anybody want to do that? And is such an endeavor really worth several billion dollars? Although scientists hope that the shards of protons will help reveal the fundamental building blocks of the universe — and in particular provide proof of the existence of the elusive Higgs boson, or “God particle” — nobody really knows what the LHC will discover. Sean Carroll, a physicist at Cal Tech, recently laid out the odds of the LHC’s finding a variety of different things, from dark matter to large extra dimensions. You may be relieved to learn that he predicts there’s only a 10-25 chance the LHC will create a stable black hole that swallows our solar system.
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