Stephen Hawking wanted scientists to "create black holes" on Earth.  Physics says it's possible.


“Hope you black holes,” Stephen said with a broad smile.

We exited the freight elevator that had taken us underground to the five-storey cavern housing the ATLAS experiment at the laboratory of CERN, the legendary European Organization for Nuclear Research near Geneva. CERN Director General Rolf Heuer shuffled his feet worriedly. It was 2009, and someone had filed a lawsuit in the United States, fearing that CERN’s new Large Hadron Collider, the LHC, was producing black holes or some other form of exotic matter that could destroy Earth.

The LHC is a ring-shaped particle accelerator that was built primarily to create Higgs bosons, the missing link – at the time – in the Standard Model of particle physics. Built in a tunnel under the Franco-Swiss border, its total circumference is 27 kilometers (nearly 17 miles), and it accelerates protons and antiprotons operating in counter-rotating beams in its circular vacuum tubes to 99.9999991% of there speed of light. At three locations along the ring, beams of accelerated particles can be directed into high-energy collisions, recreating conditions comparable to those prevailing in the universe a small fraction of a second after the hot big bang, when the temperature was greater than one million billion degrees. The traces of the particle spray created during these violent frontal collisions are picked up by millions of sensors stacked like mini Lego blocks to form giant detectors, including the ATLAS detector and the Compact Muon Solenoid, or CMS.

Illustration of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS). (Image credit: Naeblys via Getty Images)

The lawsuit was soon to be dismissed on the grounds that “the speculative fear of future harm does not in fact constitute sufficient harm to confer standing”. In November of the same year, the LHC was successfully switched on – after an explosion in an earlier attempt – and the ATLAS and CMS detectors soon found traces of Higgs bosons in the debris from the particle collisions. But, so far, the LHC has not made any black holes.

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