The LHC shakes things up — the nuts, that is

Since writing about the first official test of the LHC on September 10th, I’ve noticed I’m getting a significant amount of hits.  This is a bit strange, since my post was pretty much the least informative post about the LHC, among many good ones.  Then I noticed the nature of some of the searches that led people here:

earthquake sept 10 related to lhc

lhc earthquake

earthquake lhc

lhc caused earthquakes sept. 10

lhc +earthquake

Ah; my post had been primarily critical of CNN’s lede concerning the LHC, and I mocked it by modifying other ledes of that day, including the story about the Iranian earthquake.  But why were people searching for the words “LHC” and “earthquake” together.  A quick Google search found the following:

This is not a joke. This is not a ploy. This is real. 4 major earthquakes in a single day, and it just so happened to be the day the LHC was powered on. I’m not saying one caused the other because I have no definite proof, but I’m also not saying that it isn’t possible. If you dismissed the fear of what the LHC could possibly bring to the earth, I asked that you take another hard look and consider the possibility that you could be wrong. Consider the possibility that you don’t know everything and also consider the possibility that there are forces out there which are much greater than our understanding, some of which are not meant to be tampered with.

*Sigh*  Other articles and comments can be found making similar claims (and one spoof).

Let me, as a physicist, be completely, unambiguously clear about this: the LHC had absolutely nothing to do with any earthquake anywhere on the Earth, and it never will.

If you need more reassurance, go below the fold.

The initial hysteria about the LHC concerned the suggestion that the high-energy collisions produced by the accelerator might spawn mini-black holes.  The words ‘black hole’ put together instill instant fear in the uninformed, even though a black hole the size of two protons will evaporate immediately without any ill effects. This fear has been debunked endlessly by numerous physicists who point out, correctly, that ultra-high-energy cosmic rays are hitting the Earth all the time, and at energies far exceeding that of the LHC: if a particle collision was going to destroy the Earth, it would have happened already.

At least the fear of black hole destruction had a veneer of plausibility, though an exceedingly thin one.  The idea that the LHC had anything to do with any earthquakes anywhere is utter nonsense.  Let’s look at some reasons:

1.  The LHC didn’t even do any collisions on the 10th.  The event on the 10th was mainly symbolic, a first time for protons to go around the entire accelerator loop.  Nothing was collided, and the energy of the protons (450 GeV) was even lower than that currently used at the Tevatron at Fermilab, which to the best of my knowledge hasn’t destroyed the Earth yet.

2.  The ‘high-energy’ in ‘high-energy collisions’ is insignificant compared to the energy of an earthquake.  The top energy of a proton collision at the LHC will be 14 TeV, which is 14000000000000 electron volts!  That sounds like a lot, but in terms of Joules, it is 0.0000022 Joules, or 2.2 μJ.  Considering a Joule is the amount of energy required to lift 1 kg to a height of 1 meter, the energy of an LHC collision is orders of magnitude less than the energy involved in slapping my hand on my forehead (which I did when I first read the ‘lhc earthquake’ theory).  A category 5 earthquake, incidentally, involves the release of about 130 TeraJoules: 130000000000000 Joules.

3.  The earthquake activity on that day was not particularly unusual.  The conspiracy post mentioned above suggested that it is somewhat shocking to have 4 category 5+ earthquakes on a single day.  Just as a check, I chose a random day — Jan 01, 2008 — and looked for the number of category 5+ earthquakes on that day, according to the National Earthquake Information Center:

FILE CREATED:  Sun Sep 14 01:43:03 2008
 Global Search   Earthquakes=         4
 Catalog Used: PDE
 Date Range:   2008/01/01   to    2008/01/01
 Magnitude Range:   5.0  -   9.9
 Data Selection: Historical & Preliminary Data

                                                              NFO          km

 PDE    2008  01 01 063227.96  40.29   72.99   6  5.6 MwGCMT  5DM .......
 PDE    2008  01 01 100851.24 -35.76 -103.69  10  5.0 MwGCMT  ..M .......
 PDE    2008  01 01 185459.01  -5.88  146.88  34  6.3 MwUCMT  .FM .......
 PDE    2008  01 01 191305.11  -5.90  146.97  35  5.8 MwGCMT  .FM .......

There were four, one of which was a 6.3!  The reality is that the Earth is an incredibly seismically active planet, and plenty of earthquakes are happening all the time.  The LHC isn’t causing any of them.  What it will do, however, is lead to incredible new insights into the nature of the universe we live in.

P.S.  The update of the ‘LHC earthquake’ post that I quoted above includes a screenshot, supposedly of all the earthquakes that happened on the 10th.  It is mislabeled: that picture shows all of the earthquakes over that week.

P.P.S.  On reading my post again, I should point out that the “nuts” that the title refers to are those who are spreading crazy conspiratorial theories without any evidence, not people who are Googling for more information about said theory.  It’s never crazy to want to look for more information.

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9 Responses to The LHC shakes things up — the nuts, that is

  1. Blake Stacey says:

    So, I pulled some data from the Advanced National Seismic System catalog and ran it through a Python script. As it happens, if you count the number of quakes-above-5.0 per day, more days have 4 quakes than any other. Picking a day at random, the probability is about 55% that it will have four or more quakes of category 5+.

    (My dataset started at 1 January 2002 and ends at 8 September 2008, safely before the LHC turned on.)

  2. Blake Stacey says:

    Er, that should read, “more days have 4 quakes than any other number of quakes”.

  3. Blake wrote: “So, I pulled some data from the Advanced National Seismic System catalog and ran it through a Python script.”

    Nicely done! You’ve made me want to go learn Python again, a task that I’ve started numerous times but never quite followed through with.

  4. Pingback: LHC Powers On, 4 Earthquakes Hit |

  5. Personal Demon says:

    Very nice smack-down! 😀

  6. PD: Thanks. These sort of refutations are important, not only because baseless fear-mongering hurts science in general but, as Blake pointed out, sometimes this fear-mongering can kill.

  7. David Carroll says:

    Actually I was one of those “nuts” who Googled “LHC + Earthquakes”, and ran into this site. It never occurred to me that the the boys and girls at CERN would cause quakes. I wanted to know about the odds of any seismic activity damaging the LHC.

    Due to the enormous amount of “noise” created by all of these nut-bars worrying about the bosons wreaking the planet, I can’t seem to find the answer to my question.

    Reminds me of all of the idle speculation of wide-spread catastrophe surrounding the breaking of the sound barrier, not to mention “Teller’s Super” creating black holes!

  8. David: Actually, that’s a fair question. I’m sure that the LHC planners would have had an earthquake risk assessment done for the project. You might try contacting directly some of the bloggers who are more ‘plugged in’ to the LHC research, like the folks over at Cosmic Variance. If they don’t know the answer, they could probably contact someone who would.

    I hope you read my P.P.S. above, incidentally, about the “nuts”!

  9. Nuts says:

    The LHC’s Magnetic force can rip apart a city bus. That is per CERN’s website and that is before considerations of being an electromagnet which can multiply its magnetic force up to 75x depending on the electrical current that runs through this massive halo. Its magnetic force is 10,000 times the gravitational force of the planet and once again that is per CERN. How much of a magnetic force could manipulate or initiate seismic activity that would cause an earthquake? Is that a fair question?

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