blunt essays with sharp points

How To Blow Up the World

by Scrvpvlvs
Nov 19, 1999 8:11 PM–
[Our Universe] may simply be a fluctuation of a vacuum, the vacuum of some larger space in which our universe is imbedded. In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.
Edward Tryon¹

The most likely way for the world to be destroyed, most experts agree, is by accident.
Nathaniel Borenstein

If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can’t be done.
Peter Ustinov

SCRVPVLVS has an idea for a science fiction story. Sometime in the future, high energy physicists tore a hole in our universe. In the earth beneath Long Island, a huge tunnel was dug, the birthsite of a machine called the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. This machine was designed to send particles of pure gold moving towards one another at such high speeds (99.995% of the speed of light) that they would effectively pass through one another when they collide, melting the particles as well as the empty space around them. When this occurred, a “fluctuation of a vacuum” was created: a region of pure energy. Within this space, matter was nearly massless and the temperature was a million times hotter than the center of the sun. The physicists claimed to be recreating the conditions which prevailed only a few billionths of a second after the birth of the universe.

Nobody was sure what would happen next. On earth, the fluctuation was a new state of matter. Most theorists expected it to explode, condensing back into particles just as droplets form in cooling steam, possibly revealing novel particles not found in our universe. Some speculated that the decay of the fluctuation might produce an “excited vacuum” having different properties than the normal vacuum of space.

Nobody realized that meant a Big Bang.

Expanding rapidly, a newborn Universe “simply happened” as the excited vacuum destroyed its Creators – along with Long Island, the state of New York, and everything else.

The End.

* * *

An idea for a science fiction story, except that sometime in the futureis actually coming this November. Paid for by the United States Government, the RHIC has already been built and will be used to create this region of pure energy, called a quark-gluon plasma.² ³ ⁴ ⁵ ⁶ ⁷ ⁸ ⁹ ¹⁰

The only thing uncertain about this story is the actual outcome. Listen to what researchers told Newsday

Everyone is sitting on the edge of their chairs waiting for the first beam to see what in the world is going to come out there.
Miklos Gyullassy

As an experimentalist, it’s very exciting. We hope to see things no one predicted.
Sam Aronson

The theoretical speculation is that there are other forms of nuclear particles that nature could have made as part of our universe but didn’t.
Thomas Ludlam

It’s exploring new turf. It’s like the Star Trek thing where you are going where no other ship has gone before. You are dealing with incredibly small distance scales, incredibly high temperatures and densities of particles. It’s a whole new regime.
David Hertzog

Large pumps already roar in the main tunnel, maintaining a vacuum within the huge magnets that form the tunnel walls. Newsday says that the tightness of the vacuum in the magnet cores must be assured, and that technicians are repairing some discovered leaks. Soon … soon their work will be tested.

This reminds me of the story told about Enrico Fermi, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist: that he offered bets at the time of the first atom bomb test in New Mexico that the test would destroy the world (or at least New Mexico).¹¹ ¹² (Fermi is also said to have taken the other side of the bet, figuring that if he lost he wouldn’t have to pay up.)¹³

This idea is also attributed to Edward Teller, who suggested the possibility that fusion bombs, essentially mighty fireballs, might ignite the atmosphere or the oceans and burn up the world.¹⁴

SCRVPVLVS would like to make a personal appeal to the RHIC high energy physicists: don’t blow me up.


1. Theodore Schick Jr., “The ‘Big Bang’ Argument for the Existence of God”.

2. Earl Lane, “Where Atoms And Cosmos Meet”, Newsday.

3. The Phobos Collaboration, “PHOBOS: The Physics Background for non-scientists (go Wayback)” or “PHOBOS: The Physics Background for non-scientists (go Wayback)”.

4. Frank Close, “Ions in the fire”, The Guardian.

5. Phillip F. Schewe and Ben Stein, “Physics News Update”, The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News.

6. Sorensen, Soren Pontoppidan, “OARS Faculty Information System (FIS) record”.

7. Johann Rafelski, “Quark-Gluon Plasma and Nuclear Collisions”.

8. David Charlton, “Particle Physics at Birmingham”.

9. Elizabeth Rangel, “Quarks Come Ungluoned”.

10. Gary Crawley, et al., “Nuclear Physics in the 1990’s”, from Nuclear Physics: Basic Research Serving Society.

11. Miguel A. Bracchini, “The History and Ethics Behind The Manhattan Project: Atomic Bomb Design”, from Undergraduate Engineering Review, Mechanical Engineering Department, The University of Texas at Austin.

12. National Atomic Museum, “Trinity Site: The First Atomic Test”, U.S. Department of Energy.

13. Michael A. Burstein, “Broken Symmetry, an original story”.

14. “Archimedes Plutonium”, “Fusion Electricity Barrier Law”.

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