Micro Black Holes and Particle Colliders - Unlikely but Possible?
This image of the Large Hadron Collider now forms part of a collection of CERN images freely available to use and share under the standardized Creative Commons license (Image: CERN – home.cern)

Micro black holes. Imagine standing on the brink of a vast ocean, dipping your toes into waters where the boundaries of our understanding dissolve into the mysteries of the universe. This is what scientists do at particle colliders like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. Here, amidst circuits and steel, they push the very limits of human knowledge, probing the fundamental particles of the universe to unveil the secrets of its fabric.

The LHC, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, is nestled beneath the Swiss-French border. It’s a ring 27 kilometers in circumference where protons race at speeds close to that of light before smashing into each other. These collisions recreate conditions a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, offering insights into the building blocks of everything around us.

Among the groundbreaking discoveries made at the LHC, perhaps the most famous is the identification of the Higgs boson in 2012, a particle integral to understanding why other particles have mass. But the ambitions of physicists extend beyond just understanding mass and matter. They are also exploring higher energy realms where the physics might not just be strange, but could seem ripped straight from a science fiction novel. One such speculative possibility is the creation of micro black holes.

The idea that a particle collider could create a black hole is based on theories beyond the current Standard Model of particle physics. These theories suggest that gravity might operate differently at very small scales, or that there could be extra dimensions we’re not aware of. In certain high-energy collisions, according to these theories, conditions might be right for micro black holes to form. These would be incredibly tiny, much smaller than atomic nuclei, and would exist only for a fraction of a second before evaporating via a process called Hawking radiation, proposed by physicist Stephen Hawking.

Hawking radiation suggests that black holes are not completely black but emit radiation due to quantum effects near the event horizon, the boundary beyond which nothing can escape the black hole’s gravitational pull. This radiation causes the black hole to lose energy, and thus mass, gradually shrinking until it disappears. For micro black holes, this process would be almost instantaneous.

The speculation that such exotic phenomena could swallow the Earth, however, ventures into the realm of extreme improbability. First, any micro black hole that could theoretically be produced in the LHC would have a mass much less than that of a single snowflake and would evaporate instantly due to Hawking radiation, long before it could interact significantly with any matter.

Moreover, cosmic rays—high-energy particles from outer space—have been bombarding the Earth and other celestial bodies in the solar system for billions of years. These particles can have energies far greater than those produced by the LHC. If such collisions were capable of creating planet-swallowing black holes, we would have witnessed such catastrophic events already.

Scientists have conducted extensive safety analyses and concluded that the experiments at the LHC are safe. These analyses have been reviewed by international safety committees, which have confirmed that the scenarios hypothesized for catastrophic events are scientifically unfounded.

Despite these reassurances, the public fascination with the potential dangers of particle colliders highlights a broader story about the relationship between science and society. It reveals how advancements at the frontiers of science often bring with them fears and misconceptions, as well as excitement and wonder. It shows that as we probe deeper into the unknown, the questions we ask often straddle the line between what is known and the realms of science fiction.

The LHC and future colliders represent more than just scientific experiments; they are a testament to human curiosity and our unyielding desire to explore and understand the universe. As we continue to delve into these mysteries, we may find that the universe has even more surprises in store, perhaps blurring the lines between science fiction and reality. But one thing remains clear: the Earth is safe from being devoured by black holes made by our own hands. Instead, these experiments open new windows into the understanding of the universe, ensuring that our journey at the edge of knowledge continues to be both safe and profoundly enlightening.

Don Leith

By Don Leith

Retired from the real world. A love of research left over from my days on the debate team in college long ago led me to work on this website. Granted, not all these stories are "fun" or even "trivial" But they all are either weird, unusual or even extraordinary. Working on this website is "fun" in any case. Hope you enjoy it!