It ought to be causing headline posters like END OF WORLD NIGH, or maybe AUSTRALIAN LINK: DOOMSDAY LOOMS.

And Melbourne University, the source of this week’s ripper science yarn about reviving the extinct Tasmanian Tiger, is beside itself with anticipation of another PR coup. The story in question is guaranteed to bring out lunatic theologians and other assorted ratbags in droves once it sinks in.

In as little as five weeks from today (but probably longer) the “on” switch will be thrown at the CERN laboratory Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, and evil mankind will (if all goes according to plan) make mini black holes in a gigantic underground machine recreating the “God moment” when the big bang gave rise to the known universe.

And so forth. It is the nevertheless the moment that the most intractably complex fields in theoretical physics collide with populist theocratic scaremongering if general media coverage of the event abroad is any guide to what will happen.

There is even a law suit, listed for conference on 16 June in the US District Court in Hawaii, in which CERN and others are opposing an application by a former US nuclear laboratory safety officer, Walter Wagner, for a stay of experimentation order on the grounds that there is a risk that a man-made black hole will DESTROY THE PLANET by sucking everything into it.

Wagner and his supporters have been throwing around multiple doomsday scenarios. The machine might create massive streams of quarks, which might turn into an even more exotic particle called a “strangelet” and turn earth into a seething mass of crackling hissing matter, or the mini black holes that its builders hope it will create might start devouring matter around them, grow larger, and SWALLOW THE UNIVERSE.

Meanwhile, in Parkville, the Melbourne connection is Professor Geoffrey Taylor, who from the School of Physics, is in Switzerland for the God moment, as part of its involvement in designing the complex particle detectors for the massive device which will allow science to observe, measure and identify the fleeting particles that will be created and derive insights into the origins and nature of matter and learn more about how the universe works.

While the hysteria machines crank up, this is what happens in the collider.

Super magnets some 200,000 times stronger than earth’s magnetic field will drive sub atomic particles around a 27 kilometre long circular speedway at temperatures of –217 C at 99.99999999% the speed of light into perfectly aligned head on collisions, where among other things, the temperate will briefly and microscopically exceed several tens of billions of degrees C.

Just like it was in the infinitesimally tiny moment after the Big Bang, when time began, and a universe that has always from that instant been of infinite size and mass also began to expand, into the present. Sound weird. It is. Get a physicist to explain this over a few bottles of fine red and it is actually really quite straightforward.

But why won’t the black holes appear from “nowhere” and start to gobble us up? Well, because they are very tiny, and tiny black holes inversely emit more “Hawking energy” than they can suck in the smaller they become, and that means that they, rather than us, evaporate.

Professor Taylor and his colleagues have already given many interviews patiently explaining that high energy cosmic rays would have created similar micro black holes in the upper atmosphere of this and other planets and destroyed them long ago if this risk was real.

Hawking radiation was described and predicted by the famous cosmologist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in 1974 as the mechanism by which the universe prevents self cannibalisation.

Of course, he might be wrong. But if he was, we’ll soon never know.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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