Discuss as:

Subatomic scare tactics

— Here's your chance to chime in on topics relating to space, science, exploration or innovation that haven't gotten their due over the past week. For example, have you heard the one about the machine that could destroy the planet?

Years ago, that's what they said about the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, the accelerator in New York. Some had feared that the machine could create a weird breed of subatomic particle known as a negative strangelet - and that such strangelets could set off a globe-gobbling chain reaction. The collider even spawned a science-fiction novel titled "Cosm."

Fortunately, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider didn't set off a catastrophe, but it did give scientists a peek at the "primordial soup" of quarks and gluons that was thought to exist just after the Big Bang.

Now some people are worrying about the world's next-generation particle collider, the Large Hadron Collider, which is due to open for business next year at CERN's facility on the Franco-Swiss border. For instance, here's a message from Ran Livneh:

"The LHC will soon be activated, creating physical environment very similar to that which prevailed soon after the Big Bang. This physical realm is unknown, and dangerous phenomena might arise. From the LHC site:

"'According to some theoretical models, tiny black holes could be produced in collisions at the LHC. They would then very quickly decay into what is known as Hawking radiation (the tinier the black hole, the faster it evaporates) which would be detected by experiments.'

"This is but one example - Any physicist will tell you that there is no way to prove that generated black holes will decay! The consequences of being mistaken are unfathomable.

"This subject deserves serious unbiased discussion."

In its FAQ file for the Large Hadron Collider, CERN asserts that the subatomic collisions "are not dangerous." Nevertheless, the issue has stirred up quite a discussion on the PhysOrg forums, with some of the postings referring to those old worries over strangelets.

So that's one doomsday vision you can discuss during this weekend's "Open Mike Night" here at the Log. Another dark topic, much closer to home, has to do with the technological dimensions of the 9/11 anniversary.

Noah Shachtman's Defense Tech homes in on how the search for Osama bin Laden went awry. At the same time, security-related research has skyrocketed in the wake of 9/11. How much can society do to save us from future terror attacks?

On a sunnier note, the space shuttle Atlantis finally got off the ground after two weeks' worth of delays. If this space mission is considered successful, NASA is likely to ease some of its post-Columbia safety restrictions - for example, the requirement to launch during daylight. Are the demons of the Columbia tragedy finally being exorcised?

Feel free to leave your comments on these or other cosmic topics - including your recommendations for the Cosmic Log Used Book Club. You just might win a book!