BATAVIA, IL—In October, Fermilab scientists joined a growing number of physicists around the world in warning that the Very Large Earth Collider—a $117 billion electromagnetic particle accelerator built to study astronomical phenomena by colliding Earth into various heavenly bodies—could potentially destroy Earth when it sends the planet careening headlong into Mars, Jupiter, or even the sun.
"The Large Earth Collider will surely gain us priceless scientific insight by offering a brief glimpse of the universe at the moment of its destruction," Fermilab director Gordon Josephs said. "But because the Collider achieves this by hurtling Earth into another large celestial object, there are some who feel the risks associated with annihilating our world are too high. All I know for certain is that this rigorous debate will only end when we activate the VLEC, make the Earth collide with another planet, and obtain results through firsthand observation."
"That's just good science," Josephs added.
Physicists at CERN and Brookhaven National Laboratory, who underwrote the VLEC's construction with donations from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, agree that there are "some troubling variables" whenever attempting to launch Earth through the vacuum of space into a massive body of solid matter. Yet, they insist, the academic benefits of a planetary collision outweigh any risk of annihilating the Earth.
"When we boil the oceans, tear the tectonic plates from the globe, and peel back the layers of the Earth to expose its molten core, we'll be seeing firsthand what end-times researchers have only theorized about," said Greg Giddings, a planetologist at the University of Michigan. "It might be worth the chance—which, if you ask me, is very small—of destroying the Earth in the process just to see that."
"There will always be Chicken Little types," theoretical physicist and futurist Michio Kaku said. "When the first nuclear reaction was achieved, there were those who said its very existence made it a weapon of unspeakable power, and there is evidence they may have been right. It's probably worth asking if the Very Large Earth Collider may in fact pose some minute danger to the Earth."
While the project remains controversial, physicists agreed in late November to reconvene and evaluate the risk factor of the project after a small-scale field test, during which the Very Large Earth Collider will be turned on at 10 percent capacity, catapulting Earth into the moon at only half the speed of light.