LHCWatch: Countdown to the strangelet apocalypse
Discover has a good liveblog-style entry about booting the Large Hadron Collider back up. As you may recall the LHC had a run-in with Deep Time a couple months back, and more recently was taken out by a bird with a piece of bread. No kidding. Provided that a bee doesn’t get into the beam channel, the LHC will be colliding things that weren’t meant to collide within weeks.
Now, maybe you’ve heard rumblings about the sci-fi-ish dangers of the LHC, but didn’t know what they were about. Well, I’ll tell you. Protons have two up quarks and one down quark. Neutrons have two down quarks and one up quark. There are six flavors of quark total, including top, bottom, strange and charm. Don’t question it, that’s just how it is.
A strangelet is a hypothetical particle that has an up quark, a down quark, and a strange quark — or at least equal numbers of them in that ratio. The worry is that the LHC will create a strangelet in one of its experiments. When a strangelet collides with regular old matter, like what the Earth is made of, it will convert that matter into another strangelet, which will make more strangelets, and turn the whole world into a dead mass of strange matter (provided that some theoretical boundaries hold, which is why this will never happen).
If it does happen though, the only way to avoid joining all that strange matter is, when you see the strangelet conversion wave rushing at you, time it just right and jump. With luck, it’ll miss you and you’ll land on the strange matter Earth, and you can go about your day.