No, really, you need some subs Telegraph

In a chapter addressing whether mankind is doomed, he argues that scientists carrying out experiments which smash atoms together into quarks – such as protons and neutrons – could theoretically destroy humanity.

Protons and neutrons really aren’t quarks. Really.

Oh, and that piece was written by the “Science Editor.”


27 thoughts on “No, really, you need some subs Telegraph”

  1. Oh, we’ve come across Sarah Knapton before. Quite regularly, if I recall correctly. Her qualifications for the post were her amazing choice of nail varnish & her rare ability to count past 10 with her shoes on. Science Editor for the Telegraph was not her first career choice, of course. She fluffed her interview for a Kensington estate agent due to the wrong choice of mobile phone..

  2. experiments which smash atoms together into quarks

    Smashing atoms together into subatomic particles really betrays the total lack of subject knowledge of the writer.

  3. I’m also, despite being neither a Professor nor a Lord, unsure about whether the creation of microscopic black holes (which are likely to evaporate quite quickly) could, under any feasible circumstances, result in the collapse of the Earth into the black hole.

  4. It’s all make believe any way. If you smash a coffee mug you get shards. That doesn’t mean coffee mugs are made of shards.

    OK, poor attempts a humour aside, one of the differences between us advanced civilizations and the other guys is that we give the job to the person that can do it and they give the job to someone from the right tribe or who has the right uncle.

  5. @SE High-energy cosmic ‘rays’ (millions of times more energetic than anything the piddling LHC could produce) are colliding with nuclei in the upper atmosphere all the time. If microscopic black holes were produced and were a real threat to the Earth, we would have vanished into a black hole billions of years ago.

    And breathe.

  6. “theoretically destroy ”

    How do you do that? What is it to be theoretically destroyed as opposed to being actually destroyed?

    “could, in theory, destroy mankind” makes more sense.

    Theoretical destruction actually equals something more to worry-monger you with and to use to claim that big science is dangerous. As opposed to marxist “science” like Global Wankin–sorry Warming , which can offer you the bogus hope of cod salvation by destroying the economy.

  7. “…could theoretically destroy humanity.”

    Bring it on I say. I’ve booked a ride on Elon Musk’s escape pod….

  8. Chris,

    Yes. Hence why, despite not being the Astronomer Royal, I think I can have a reasonable disagreement with his pronouncements.

    Also applies, of course, to his comments about stranglets.

    Did you catch that they have now determined that the very high energy cosmic rays probably come from neutron star mergers? It was part of the latest set of LIGO / Virgo results.

  9. They are not smashing atoms into each other, that causes nuclear fission and happens inside nuclear reactors and bombs.

    They smash sub-atomic particles into one another in a particle accelerator… clue in the name.

  10. Martin Rees is bonkers, as far as I can tell.

    As for particles – pah! Strings are the things.

    Though maybe I’m a bit out of date: of what are strings constructed?

  11. “Though maybe I’m a bit out of date: of what are strings constructed?”

    Branes, apparently. Which makes sense to me. The actual statement is that the universe is a sea of foaming branes. Rather apt.

  12. I suspect it’s a garbled version of ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) at the LHC where they smash lead ions (lead atoms stripped of their electrons) into one another to produce a “quark-gluon plasma”.

    For a brief moment the constituent quarks in the neutrons and protons in the lead ions all ‘melt’ into a single blob at extremely high temperature, before flying apart. The way it flies apart tells them stuff about the forces between the quarks at such high energies.

  13. Strings are a special case of branes, and they’re made of the same stuff point particles are, whatever that is.

    The basic idea is that classical physics dating back to Newton and beyond modelled all particles as single points of zero size. But this screws with the maths in all sorts of horrible ways. So someone had the bright idea of spreading the point out into a tiny line. This seems to get rid of a lot of the mathematical problems. Then theoretical physicists thought “Why stop there?” and spread the lines out into tiny surfaces, tiny volumes, and higher dimensional versions of the same. The two-dimensional ones were called “membranes”, but then the naming all got too difficult when they realised they were going to have to come up with new words for things in up to ten dimensions, so they copped out and called them 3-branes and 5-branes and so on. A string is just a 1-brane, a one-dimensional membrane.

    The theory doesn’t specify what they’re made of, but a lot of people working in the field seem to think they’re probably knots or singularities in spacetime. As you may have heard, in general relativity empty space can be curved. If you cut a bit of spacetime, twist it up, and glue it back together you can sometimes form a ‘knot’ that can’t untwist without crossing itself. And there are a bunch of people examining the mathematics of knots and braids to see if they can match those up to the known laws of physics. Not with any notable success, so far, it has to be said.

    But that’s pure speculation. Officially, they don’t specify. They’re just strings of ‘string-stuff’.

  14. In that case, it’s eleven not twelve, Tim. When they take the second foot off the ground they fall over & have to start again..

  15. Yeah, Rees is losing it big time. Like Hawking did before he left us. There may be a theoretical possibility that a particle accelerator could create a black hole, but none has been so far detected, and it would evaporate through Hawking radiation pretty damn fast. Certainly it would need to exist in a very dense medium to have any probability of absorbing more matter before it did evaporate. We’ll be devastated by an asteroid long before the Black Hole Of Doom could be created. And conveniently, I doubt Rees made that point as it would make the article very boring – just another Old White Guy droning on about Gerbil Worming (which he has to support otherwise his reputation disappears into the Black Hole Of Twittercide).

  16. “There may be a theoretical possibility that a particle accelerator could create a black hole, but none has been so far detected, and it would evaporate through Hawking radiation pretty damn fast.”

    As I recall, the argument was that black holes might be created if some of the more exotic theories about large extra dimensions were true, and that while Hawking radiation *should* cause them to evaporate, this has never been experimentally demonstrated. We don’t know if the theory of Hawking radiation is correct.

    But as Chris Miller says above, the real argument is that cosmic rays have been doing the experiment at even higher energies for billions of years, and nothing’s happened yet.

  17. Ummm.. the exact purpose of the LHC *is* to create mini black holes: to compress matter to a state as close as possible to what must have existed right after the Big Bang.
    Which in our current universe only exists in black holes.

    It’s the art of pulling the rug out from under the laws of nature fast enough so that it takes some time to notice:

    Bang two tiny masses at relativistic speeds together, giving the tiny masses a *huge* “virtual mass” so that locally you create the conditions that cause a black hole.
    Wait until the laws of nature catch up and say: “hold on, you haven’t even got the mass to sustain…..”
    All that energy get recombined into subatomic particles.
    The emergence and distribution of which at certain energies is the focus of study at the LHC. It already gave us the Higgs…

    Now the actual “Very Dangerous” black hole that gets created has an event horizon diameter that’s about 1000 times smaller than a proton, and a lifetime that’s calculated in the 10 to minus 20something seconds.
    ( This is the bit of math that still can be done on a napkin with some reference material, even wikipedia, if you must.)
    In other words: it’s too small, and doesn’t last long enough to do anything , other than exist briefly, and go out with a Bang!

    It also shows that our current theories about black holes and their decay are not too far-fetched.

  18. “Bang two tiny masses at relativistic speeds together, giving the tiny masses a *huge* “virtual mass” so that locally you create the conditions that cause a black hole.”

    Nice image!

    The LHC gives protons a collision energy of 13 TeV, which is about 2.3*10^-23 kg (like cramming the mass of 13,000 protons inside the volume of single proton), which has a Schwarzchild radius of 2GM/c^2 = 2 * 6.674*10^-11 * 2.3*10^-23 / (3*10^8)^2 = 3.4*10^-50 metres. The proton radius is about 10^-15 metres, so you’re still a factor of about 10^35 short.

    In other words, you would need a particle accelerator roughly 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times more powerful than the LHC to produce black holes!

    That’s probably close enough for the Telegraph, though. 🙂

  19. Eerie:

    There was a Twilight Zone episode ~60 years ago in which nuclear physicists were arguing over a pending experiment. One was sure that the test would result in the fission of non-radioactive material. I.e., the whole earth.

  20. “There was a Twilight Zone episode ~60 years ago in which nuclear physicists were arguing over a pending experiment.”

    Based, I’m sure, on the discussion of Teller’s theory about Nitrogen fusion, as retold by Compton in 1959 during a magazine interview, which got a bit exaggerated by the press. See here for Bethe’s version of the story:

    this was one of the more lurid earlier versions:

  21. NiV.. they’re using lead and gold…… it’s amazing what that [squared] coupled to c does when your base mass is higher… Which is exactly *why* they use that stuff.. It’s a stable nuclear *and* damned heavy in and of itself.

    And yes, I oversimplified by using “a language more suitable to pointing out where the next batch of ripe fruit is”..
    The actual math has most people going WTF?!! , live with it.

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