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Mailbag: Who Could've Imagined the End of the World Was So Interesting?

Earlier this week, I talked about the new atom collider in Switzerland that some scientists think will create microscopic black holes that will swallow our world. The topic was clearly controversial, as I got nearly as many letters as when I talk about Vista or the Mac. Have a look:

I am a science buff, not a scientist, so I can't "do the math" on the risk of black holes going postal. I doubt that anyone can. Arguments against permanent black holes are persuasive but they are anecdotal, not objective. Picture the Manhattan Project with massively (no pun intended) greater energies involved. I did not sleep very well last night.
-Jim

The same henny-penny scenario was discussed when the first fission experiments happened under the University of Chicago in the '40s. Look how well that turned out!
-Brian

Wouldn't it be the ultimate irony if the scientists, the same ones that have been telling us that we are destroying the planet through global warming, beat us to the punch?

But it won't happen. Technically (if I understand it correctly), all black holes are much smaller than microscopic. They are infinitesimally small points of mass. It is the size of their gravitational influence that grades their size. If their gravitational influence is microscopic, then the likelihood of them swallowing anything is as unlikely as the black hole at the center of our own galaxy reaching out and swallowing us. These things will most likely disappear as quickly as they are created. The scientists' biggest problem will be to pull useful data from them before they do disappear. I'd be real interested in hearing from someone with the proper credentials on this topic.
-T.W.

Want to see what the experts think? Go here. Anyway, if one of the scenarios listed there or some unknown scenario occurs, we probably won't be here immediately afterward.

I'd be more worried that after all that money has been spent, humanity is no closer to understanding how the universe is put together at the subatomic level. We should all hope that new understanding is gained from the CERN experiments. Nine thousand physicists could be wrong, but what are the odds of that?

-Mike

The collider has the potential to create microscopic black holes. It's not worth the risk of destroying a billion-plus people on the Earth because a very small minority wants to be God. It's totally ridiculous.
-Ken

It's just a bunch of people practicing their religion, nothing more.
-Anonymous

I think there's an opportunity to see the bright side on this one. If we're ever going to get the chance to see the inside of a black hole first hand, it'll be tomorrow. Certainly no one wants the Earth to be swallowed up, but at least it would be a more interesting demise than many alternatives -- like being hit by a bus. Eat, drink and be merry (and you know the rest).
-Dave

And Dave also chimes in on the slightly more sobering topic of backward compatibility:

For John, the Mailbag writer who rightly worries about access to electronic documents in the future, here's an article I found interesting. It's about the PDF/A format for archiving PDFs. One of the more interesting points is that converting a PDF to PDF/A can result in loss of fidelity to the original.

And John, try to dream of more pleasant things, remembering that it might be all over after tomorrow, anyway.
-Dave

Got something to add? Let me know! Leave a comment below or drop me a line at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Posted by Doug Barney on September 10, 2008 at 11:52 AM