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The Question

(Submitted August 5, 2008)

My 8 yr old grandson heard something on the TV (I did not hear this) - about scientists attempting to create a black hole, and he is extremely worried that the Earth will be swallowed up and disappear. (to the point he's having trouble sleeping and is really concerned about it). This is a smart child, not normally fearful, gets good grades, etc.

Can you please give us a simple explanation that our World is NOT going to be sucked up in a Black Hole?

Thank you very much.
Helen Broadway

The Answer

There are a few ways of approaching the problem. One, my favorite, is to assure him that scientists are regular people. Most of them have children of their own. They don't want to destroy the Earth any more than anyone else does, in my experience the opposite, actually. They are just smart people that want to find out things. He can be a scientist himself.

What he probably heard about was the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_hadron_collider.
Some theories, but not the Standard Model theory, predict that the energy reached by the LHC would be enough to make a micro black hole. If the LHC did produce black holes, they would last for tiny fractions of a second before dissolving in a burst of particles. They would not have time to merge with any additional material.

Nature has been performing this experiment for billions of years through the bombardment of the Earth (and everything else) with high energy cosmic rays. If such collisions did produce black holes, and if micro black holes could destroy the Earth, it would have already happened. The only difference is that CERN is doing it in a controlled way, inside detectors, so we can see what happens. So either the collisions don't make them, or they are not capable of destroying the Earth, or (probably) both.

Jay and Jeff
for Ask an Astrophysicist

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