Forget black holes, could the LHC trigger a “Bose supernova”?

lhc-higgs

The fellas at CERN have gone to great lengths to reassure us all that they won’t destroy the planet (who says physicists are cold hearted?).

The worry was that the collision of particles at the LHC’s high energies could create a black hole that would swallow the planet. We appear to be safe on that score but it turns out there’s another way in which some people think the LHC could cause a major explosion.

The worry this time is about Bose Einstein Condensates, lumps of matter so cold that their constituents occupy the lowest possible quantum state.

Physicists have been fiddling with BECs since the early 1990s and have become quite good at manipulating them with magnetic fields.

One thing they’ve found is that it is possible to switch the force between atoms in certain kinds of BECs from positive to negative and back using a magnetic field, a phenomenon known as a Feschbach resonance.

But get this: in 2001, Elizabeth Donley and buddies at JILA in Boulder, Colorado, caused a BEC to explode by switching the forces like. These explosions have since become known as Bose supernovas.

Nobody is exactly sure how these explosions proceed which is a tad worrying for the following reason: some clever clogs has pointed out that superfluid helium is a BEC and that the LHC is swimming in 700,000 litres of the stuff. Not only that but the entire thing is bathed in some of the most powerful magnetic fields on the planet.

So is the LHC a timebomb waiting to go off? Not according to Malcolm Fairbairn and Bob McElrath at CERN who have filled the back of a few envelopes in calculating that we’re still safe. To be doubly sure, they also checked that no other superfluid helium facilities have mysteriously blown themselves to kingdom come.

“We conclude that that there is no physics whatsoever which suggests that Helium could undergo
any kind of unforeseen catastrophic explosion,” they say.

That’s comforting and impressive. Ruling out foreseen catastrophies is certainly useful but the ability to rule out unforeseen ones is truly amazing.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0809.4004: There is no Explosion Risk Associated with Superfluid Helium in the LHC Cooling System

32 Responses to “Forget black holes, could the LHC trigger a “Bose supernova”?”

  1. [...] Een Bose-SupernovaDe Large Hadron Collider (LHC) ligt al enige tijd plat en dat kan nog wel een hele poos duren, maar de angst dat het ding rare dingen kan produceren zoals zwarte gaten of andere spooky things is bij sommigen nog altijd niet weggeëbt. Sterker nog, vandaag kwam ik een verhaal tegen over de mogelijkheid die sommigen hebben geopperd dat de LHC in staat is om zogenaamde Bose-Supernovae te produceren. Wat dat voor dingen zijn vertel ik jullie zo, maar laat ik beginnen te zeggen dat twee CERN-wetenschappers, Malcolm Fairbairn en Bob McElrath hebben berekend dat de LHC géén Bose-novae1 kan produceren. Kan je met een geruster hart de rest van dit verhaal lezen. Het draait allemaal om zogenaamde Bose Einstein condensaten

  2. Scaredy McTrembleslacks says:

    “Ruling out foreseen catastrophies is certainly useful but the ability to rule out unforeseen ones is truly amazing.”

    Thank you for the fear injection!

    FEAR
    FEAR
    FEAR

  3. Counterfly says:

    The discussion of BEC stuff in this post is particularly ignorant. You really should delete this.

  4. Ted says:

    “no physics whatsoever which suggests” necessarily translates to “no CURRENTLY UNDERSTOOD physics”. What’s your bet: (1) Bose supernovas don’t exist, or (2) the quoted “they” have a complete understanding of the physics involved. I wonder “they” are even a million to one sure of their understanding as they take several quadrillion rolls of the dice?

  5. Larry Romero says:

    So long as we hold tight to a mostly mechanistic perspective, our blind spot is enormous. So I guess we’re all signed up for this experiment whether we like it or not…we could very well soon be undeniably reminded of our singular nature, eh? All for one, one for all :)

  6. Matt says:

    Liquid Helium, which boils at 1.9K, is a superfluid. It is not immediately a Bose-Einstien Condensate just because it’s a superfluid. The LEC superconductors needs to stay cooler than 1.9K to keep the Liquid He from flashing off, but Liquid Helium only becomes a Bose-Einstein Condensate below 0.00000001K, and at great pains to do so.

    The LHC is far to hot to cause a BEC supernova.

  7. De Bunker says:

    “no physics whatsoever which suggests” necessarily translates to “no CURRENTLY UNDERSTOOD physics”. What’s your bet: (1) Bose supernovas don’t exist, or (2) the quoted “they” have a complete understanding of the physics involved. I wonder “they” are even a million to one sure of their understanding as they take several quadrillion rolls of the dice?

    This is very well understood physics. People have been doing experiments with liquid Helium for 100 years (including putting magnetic fields on it and shooting beams into it). It’s not that there is some speculative theory with a small chance of being right that predicts an explosion. There is no such theory, and there is no chance, because we fully understand the dynamics of liquid Helium.

    By your argument, you should be very worried that your body doesn’t spontaneously explode. Sure, you never saw it happen, and it never happened to anyone else in the history of mankind, but does that mean it won’t happen today?

    Yes.

    For more, read my article on the statistics of improbable things.

  8. dave says:

    By your argument, you should be very worried that your body doesn’t spontaneously explode. Sure, you never saw it happen, and it never happened to anyone else in the history of mankind, but does that mean it won’t happen today?

    oh crap. thanks. now i have something else to worry about! ;)

  9. PsychoDad says:

    “The discussion of BEC stuff in this post is particularly ignorant. You really should delete this.”

    The display of smug in this post is particularly condescending. You really should delete this.

  10. Guy says:

    i agree with Scaredy McTrembleslacks

  11. chasterus says:

    “It’s AFTER the end of the world! DON’T YOU KNOW THAT YET!??” – Sun Ra

  12. Iggle-Piggle says:

    Iggle-Piggle!

  13. Kamron says:

    PsychoDad,
    When people are right, they get to be smug. Otherwise, all they get for being right is not stupid, and that’s just not enough of a reward these days.

  14. [...] micro-black holes to eat the Earth…the LHC and the threat of the Bose Supernova (waiting for the Oasis [...]

  15. [...] Could the 700,000 liters of superfluid helium bathed in the powerful magnetic fields of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) result in a major explosion by behaving as a supercold Bose Einstein Condensate (BEC), which have been found to explode when subjected to magnetic fields, resulting in a “Bose supernova”? (Source: http://arxivblog.com/?p=645) [...]

  16. CryptoUncle says:

    PsychoDad,

    Learn to tell the difference between “smug” and “educated beyond a minimal witch-burning level and trying not to facepalm at the stupidity of it all”.

  17. [...] as supernovas de Bose. Uau! O pessoal tá inventando mais uma? Não necessariamente, apenas foi levantada essa hipótese, pelo fato do LHC usar hélio no estado líquido. Mas deixa eu explicar rapidinho o que seria o [...]

  18. Chicken Little says:

    Just how energetic per gram are these BEC supernovae?

    Is it the strong or weak force which is involved?

    Is the resultant explosion radioactive?

    You’ve just got to know where DARPA and the equivalents in other nations must have already gone with this.

  19. Chachie says:

    I think the work at Lene Hau’s Lab warrants far more press than this story.

  20. [...] when you thought that all your fears about the LHC were assuaged now here’s something new to fear that I’ve never even heard of…A [...]

  21. Matt L says:

    Weapons potential: none. It takes way too much energy to prepare a BEC, and very stable conditions. Not conducive to a bomb. Radiation? Depends what you are talking about. Your typical wood fire puts out radiation. So does your average, non-combusting brick wall. In this case, individual atoms are sent flying off the BEC. So yes, atomic radiation. X rays? Microwaves? Don’t know but I doubt it since those are high energy phenomena. This is all very low energy stuff. Yes, the flying atoms probably gain huge percentage gains in energy, but since they started with such low energy in the first place, they don’t end up with much afterwards. Standard nuclear weapons are much more of a danger. They work at room temperature.

    Chicken Little: Chill out. Hopefully I’ve answered most of your questions. As for what forces are involved, I can’t say. Not sure that the physicists can yet either, the behavior is beyond current theoretical predictions.

  22. Jim says:

    Wait a sec…if you can make these things explode by changing their magnetic state, could it be possible to use this as a power generating device?

  23. Smuggler says:

    Scientists like to make up dramatic names which are sometimes amazingly inappropriate, and here we have a prime example: A “Bose supernova” produces a tiny puff of cold, low-density gas.

    Wow! Scary stuff!

  24. Thomas D says:

    Why didn’t you actually read the paper that this post is based on? It’s not even very long or complicated.

    Then you would find out that:
    1) the phenomenon in BEC’s is known as a ‘Bose nova’ – not ‘Bose supernova’ (which seems to have been invented just for this post)
    2) it has actually been understood rather well since 2001, as you would find by reading the references in Fairbairn/McElrath. The crucial point is the existence of a Feschbach resonance, which means (roughly) that there is a peculiar effect in the interatomic interaction which can produce attractive forces for special values of the magnetic field strength. This explains the sudden implosion of the BEC and its conversion into molecules.

    Helium does not have any Feschbach resonance.

  25. Ego says:

    Just another example of stupid people taking intelligent studies completely out of context and trying to scare the general public. Why do you run a physics blog, after all, if you don’t actually understand it?

  26. ZubbyZee says:

    Don’t you mean: “All in one, one is all!”?

  27. [...] tracked the source of the rumour to this bog site which claims that the LHC could cause a major [...]

  28. solutions needed urgently! says:

    SF fantasies inspired by this:

    If the LHC ring explodes, there is a big circular hole in the Earth surface; if then magma shoots out, this could work like the propulsion engine of a giant spaceship :-)

    If such a big BEC nova is created just at NOON(?) local time, that ‘engine’ could drive Earth a little bit AWAY from the sun!

    Calculated properly, less sunlight due to bigger distance might just counteract the anthropogenic greenhouse effect.

    Crazy solution for an even crazier species, but terraformers we are!
    Our CO2 problem is caused by egoistic luxury-over-life concepts, and the materialistic fraction of Earthlings does not seem to be stoppable by anything – and daily they create even more followers for their fuel-religion; they will burn ALL carbons, anyway… or do YOU have any working ideas for a world with a sustainable lifestyle?

    Possible problems:
    * Would it work like an engine at all? Escape velocity needed for the magma?
    * Will the new ellipse still be a stable solution (multi-planetary system!)? Will it become a spiral?
    * What day of the year is best? (How much) do we want to leave the current elliptic plane?
    * What about the moon? Will mankind ever visit the moon? :-)
    * What can be done to STOP the magma-outflow when the final cooler position is reached? Hollow Earth?

    And:
    * How can 7 billion people decide together to take such an important irreversible step, if we still (in 2008!!!) cannot even put an end to sins like war, hunger, and the pollution and even destruction of our natural spaceship Earth?

  29. Jonnyrox says:

    We can only hope.

  30. Jonnyrox says:

    And yet, with all of our planets problems caused by too much CO2, you continue to live on, putting more and more CO2 into the air with each breath that you take.

    Why not just end it and help the rest of us out?

  31. Press to Digitate says:

    Rubbish. Practically speaking, we have barely a decade of experience with BEC, their behavior and phenomenoloy are still very poorly understood, and have little to do with the pneumohydraulics of liquified gases to which you are referring.

    As for exploding humans, there are hundreds of documented cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion, and it isnt even challenged as speculative fringe science anymore, its pretty much accepted as a real, albeit as yet unexplaned actual [rare] occurence.

    If the RHIC or the LHC isnt the Big Science Machine that fails unexpectedly, then it will be the next one, or the one after that. At some point, the technology will overake our understanding, and bad things will come of it. Overcoming the arrogance of the high energy physics community with respect to these dangers is the only hope of averting what is otherwise a perfectly predictable and inevitably catastrophic outcome.

    “Ooops!” is a piss-poor way of finding out we didnt know something at the energy levels these devices are reaching.