- 16 December 2007
Landmark experiment to unlock secrets of Big Bang could cause end of the world, say scientists in court bid to halt it
It has cost £4.4billion and is designed to unlock the secrets of the Big Bang.
But rather than providing vital information about the beginning of life, the world's biggest experiment could cause the end of the world, say scientists.
They fear that the Large Hadron Collider - due to be switched on in nine days' time - will create a black hole that could swallow the planet.
By smashing sub-atomic particles together at close to the speed of light, the LHC aims to recreate the conditions that existed a fraction of a second after the birth of the universe or Big Bang, shedding light on the building blocks of life.
But critics claim that the 'time machine', which has been built 300ft beneath the French-Swiss border near Geneva, could instead spawn a shower of mini-black holes.
Within four years, one of these 'celestial vacuums' could have swollen to such a size that it is capable of sucking the Earth inside-out, said Otto Rossler, one of a group of scientists mounting a last-minute court challenge to the project.
They claim the experiment violates the right to life under the European Convention of Human Rights. However, the case at the European Court of Human Rights is not expected to delay the switch on, scheduled for Wednesday of next week.
Professor Rossler, a German chemist, said the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or CERN, has admitted its project will create black holes but doesn't consider them to be a risk.
He warned: 'My own calculations have shown it is quite plausible that these little black holes survive and will grow exponentially and eat the planet from the inside. I have been calling for CERN to hold a safety conference to prove my conclusions wrong but they have not been willing.'
Those involved in the project have dismissed the claims as 'absurd' and insist that extensive safety assessments have found the experiment, which is funded by 20 countries, including the UK, to be safe.
A report written earlier this year stated: 'Over the past billions of years, nature has already generated on Earth as many collisions as about a million LHC experiments - and the planet still exists.'
The lifespan of any mini-black holes would be 'very short', it added.
CERN spokesman James Gillies said the arguments before the European Court of Human Rights had been answered in 'extensive safety assessments'.
He told the Sunday Telegraph: 'The Large Hadron Collider will not be producing anything that does not happen routinely in nature due to cosmic rays. If they were dangerous we would know about it already.'
Scientists have used large particle colliders to smash atoms and pieces of atoms together for 30 years, but this machine has attracted so much attention because it is the most powerful ever built.
In the LHC beams of protons will be propelled through an 18-mile-long circular tunnel. More than 5,000 magnets lining the tunnel will accelerate the hundreds of billions of tiny particles to almost the speed of light, allowing them to complete one circuit in one-11,000th of a second.
There will be two beams going in opposite directions, each packing as much energy as a car travelling at 100mph.
When they reach almost the speed of light, they will be smashed head on into each other, breaking them into their constituent parts, including, perhaps, the building blocks of the universe.