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Large Hadron Collider: Harbinger of death or key to secrets of life?

It was about nine months ago when news of a massive magnetic machine that many were convinced would be the end of our planet began to make many, many headlines. This machine is known as the LHC or Large Hadron Collider and was scheduled for its highly anticipated, and also highly dreaded, green for “go” light in September of last year.

With as much controversy and attention that the turning on of the LHC received, it’s a wonder how almost a full year later most people don’t even know what happened to it. So what did happen to the LHC? It obviously didn’t rip the world in half, kill a large percentage of the population via cosmic rays, or serve Earth a similar fate to that of Vulcan in the latest Star Trek film by creating a black hole that would suck us all into a place only theory can imagine.

Before we delve into the latest information, I think it might be best to freshen up our knowledge on this most important scientific device, potentially the most important ever created.

The LHC is the largest and most powerful particle accelerator on the planet. It is made up of a 16.7-mile ring of superconducting magnets that along with a few other particle accelerating structures, will propel protons to collide with one another at 30 million times per second. Each collision will spew thousands of particles at nearly the speed of light.

The LHC was designed to recreate conditions that occurred after the supposed Big Bang. The main idea is that the experiment could possibly unlock some of the biggest keys to the universe, such as what it’s made up of, what makes it expand and what may lie ahead for the cosmos in the future.

The biggest concerns surrounding the LHC regarded the possible formation of tiny black holes and the creation of hazardous cosmic rays.

Black holes, of course, are formed naturally when certain stars collapse, concentrating a massive amount of matter in a very small space. If you’ve seen any space movies that feature one of these mega monsters of space and matter, you’re familiar with the disastrous affects one can yield. They’re like the biggest vacuums in existence, for lack of a better comparison.

Backed by the properties of gravity established by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, some scientists believe that it would be impossible for the LHC to form any sort of black holes. Others cite the fact that no one really knows for sure what will happen when the LHC turns on, that the high velocity these particles will be traveling at could cause a lot more than just the formation of black holes.

The other worry is about cosmic rays, or forms of ultra-high radiation. It’s true that particle accelerators recreate the natural phenomenon of cosmic rays. It’s also true that when these rays are created, they are under controlled laboratory conditions.

In an article from the U.K.’s Telegraph online, Stephen Hawking, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge said, “The world will not come to an end when the LHC turns on. The LHC is absolutely safe.”

Is this true? Should we trust arguably one of the most intelligent people on the planet with a question of indefinable science on the fate of the globe?

Before you decide for yourself, let’s take a look at some more pros to the LHC.

Not only could turning this thing on provide some of the most important answers to some of the most allusive questions ever thought, but it could prolong the existence of the human race on earth. According to Dr. Hawking, turning on the LHC is “vital if the human race is not to stultify and eventually die out.”

Probably the most controversial aspect of the LHC is the idea that it may help us identify what is known as the Higgs boson particle, or God particle. It is theorized that this particle can create matter. Its discovery would help solidify the Big Bang theory and help us understand more about the origin of the universe.

So what’s happened to the LHC? The LHC was actually turned on as scheduled. Unfortunately, an unanticipated liquid helium leak occurred that has extended the new start date to some time this summer or early fall as repairs continue.

So now that you have both sides of this most controversial and important global event (really), you can decide for yourself as to how you feel about it, not that it will make much of a difference considering that the machine will be turned on at some point.

Something I want to make sure that you keep in mind, however, when considering this is that in all the research I’ve done on this topic and all the people I’ve talked to, not one was certain about what would happen when the LHC is turned on. The fact of the matter is that there is such limited knowledge on the facts and figures of our universe and what happens when particles collide at astronomical speeds that we cannot know for sure if it will mean the end of life on earth as we know it, or whether it will send all of our current technology thousands of years in the future in an instant. We can only wonder and wait to find out.