The LHC computers are some of the most advanced in the world... but they can still be hacked... (CERN)
As the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) circulated its first beam of particles last Wednesday, there was an electronic battle being waged inside the computer systems of the Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment (CMS), one of the four LHC detectors. The detector’s monitoring systems (CMSMON) were compromised and Greek hackers were able to upload half a dozen files during September 9th and 10th forcing CMS software engineers to scour all the systems for any more hidden files as the historic LHC “switch on” happened around them. The detector’s website displayed the Greek Security Team‘s (GST) replacement, mocking the poor security of the international particle accelerator facility, CERN.
This chain of events will of course raise a few eyebrows as to how this could possibly have happened at the multi-billion pound experiment (after all, CERN was the birthplace of the World Wide Web back in 1991), but the LHC is a huge target for hackers, if there’s a flaw, someone will eventually exploit it. CERN officials have pointed out that the security breach did not affect any experiment-critical systems, but there was bound to be some worried faces at CMS last week…
The new European proton superhighway (CERN)
The biggest experiment ever conceived by mankind was powered up today (Wednesday morning, GMT) and successfully circulated the first beam of protons. This is the first step toward LHC particles attaining relativistic velocities, completing 11,000 laps of the 27 km (17 mile) Large Hadron Collider (LHC) per second. This incredible feat of accelerator engineering is unparalleled, eventually allowing two counter-rotating beams of particles to be focused and collided within scales previously unimaginable. It is hoped the LHC will accelerate particles to such high energies that 14 TeV collisions will be possible by 2010, possibly revealing undiscovered particles, including the much sought-after Higgs Boson.
Although today is a hugely significant time for science (and a historic one for mankind), the first collisions will take place in October; today is a “dry run,” allowing the protons to circulate one-way. According to sources, today’s protons were accelerated around the instrument without issue, prompting LHC engineers to cheer when it was confirmed everything was on track…
On writing the article “Anyone Who Thinks the LHC Will Destroy the World is a Tw*t.” on Astroengine.com, I had no idea it would hit the front page of Digg.com and generate thousands of hits (booting Astroengine offline for 20 minutes). I wrote the supportive post as I believe Brian’s quote (from the Telegraph website), summed up the strain particle physicists are beginning to feel.
The original quote could be misconstrued as being offensive, but I believe the vast majority understood what he was saying. Brian was responding to reports that LHC scientists had received death threats in the run-up to the September 10th start date of the particle accelerator. With a combination of disinformation being spread by certain ill-informed individuals, media hype and mass hysteria, a solid statement was needed by a leading physicist to tame the unnecessary fear being whipped up.
I’ve been banging on about how safe the LHC is for some time, and I even vowed not to post another LHC doomsday debunking article as, quite frankly, I’m sick to death with the idiotic claims that micro-black holes, stranglets or gremlins could be produced by the LHC. The fact is that there is no danger and Brian explains why…
I’m a huge fan of Brian Cox. He’s often referred to as the “rockstar of physics,” which is a big complement considering the stereotypical physicist in everyone’s mind. From the get-go you know that Professor Cox is a guy you want in your laboratory, and you can see why from this excellent TED lecture he gave in Monterey, CA, this year. He is a tireless advocate of communicating science to the world and his outreach style is second-to-none. But like many modern scientists who are working on cutting-edge research, they are often at the mercy of public misconception, media hype and personal attacks. So when I hear news that some Large Hadron Collider (LHC) physicists are receiving death threats, I lose my faith in humanity…
Paranormal Radio with Captain Jack logo
Over a month ago, I was asked to be a surprise guest over on Paranormal Radio with Captain Jack. And what was the discussion? Walter Wagner was on air discussing his “Doomsday Suit” against the US partners of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and I had the great opportunity to put some questions to him. Critically for me, at about 99 minutes into the three-hour show (as I make my entrance), I ask Walter about his previous attempts at suing other particle accelerators (such as the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider – RHIC – back in 1999). From that point on I believe the validity of the current LHC lawsuit seemed purely academic, but it certainly made for some great discussion.
Walter put across his views in a coherent and knowledgeable way and I made a point that scientists need to be challenged so the LHC can be fully justified (but I did also point out that filing a lawsuit might have pushed it a little too far). Although enjoyable, Walter didn’t convince me to change my views…
(Listen out for how many times I say “speculative”…)
Big science at the LHC (Credit: QrczaQ)
…actually, it’s 50 days until the first particle collisions, but who’s counting?
Right, this is officially the last Astroengine.com article I will write about the fear surrounding the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. All future articles will be consumed by the stunning science being carried out at this historic facility near Geneva in Switzerland. I realised months ago that scientists are on a losing battle when it comes to using scientific reasoning to quell the misinformation being communicated about what the LHC can do. Firstly, micro black holes will most likely not be produced (and besides, if they are, they will only live for an infinitesimally short period of time). Secondly, stranglets and magnetic monopoles have a vanishingly small chance of even existing in theoretical physics (they are speculative at best), let alone the nigh-on impossible event any man-made experiment could ever generate them. They are hypothetical particles.
To put the probability of the LHC creating a doomsday scenario into perspective, there is a better probability that a) all the air in my office will spontaneously drift to the other side of the room, leaving me to suffocate; b) I will spontaneously disappear as every single subatomic particle in my body decides to return their energy to the vacuum, or c) our four-dimensional space (three spatial and one temporal) will instantaneously become more “space-like,” freezing us in a strange new Universe where nothing happens (sorry, I’m getting a little carried away now). The point I am trying to make is that there is a higher risk of something “strange” happening to us in the “real world” than there is of something “strange” happening to the entire planet after being triggered by the LHC…
Still, the LHC lawsuit grumbles on and the media is still reporting silly science needlessly worrying people, distracting them from what the LHC is really going to do: revolutionize science.
Billions of Euros have been ploughed into the construction of the largest experiment known in the history of mankind. The Large Hadron Collider (officially due to be “switched on” September 10th 2008) will eventually create proton-proton collision energies near the 14 TeV mark by the end of this decade. This is all highly impressive; already the applications of the LHC appear to be endless, probing smaller and smaller scales with bigger and bigger energies. But how did the LHC secure all that funding? After all, the most expensive piece of lab equipment must be built with a purpose? Although the aims are varied and far-reaching, the LHC has one key task to achieve: Discover the Higgs Boson, the world’s most sought-after particle. If discovered, key theories in particle physics and quantum dynamics will be proven. If it isn’t found by the LHC, perhaps our theories are wrong, and our view of the Universe needs to be revolutionized… or the LHC needs to be more powerful.
Either way, the LHC will revolutionize all facets of physics. But what is the Higgs boson? And why in the hell is it so important?