When the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) began operations, a small but noisy group of people tried to stop it out of fear. Their reasoning: The energies produced as protons slammed into each other at close to the speed of light would be sufficiently high to create miniature black holes or other exotic, destructive things. The fruits of human curiosity would be the literal end of the world.
Particle accelerators, cosmic and terrestrial: The Crab Nebula superonva remnant (Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll, Arizona State University) and the CMS detector at the LHC (Credit: © 2008 CERN).
Those fears were unwarranted for a simple reason: Earth is bombarded by much higher-energy particles all the time, and we haven’t been eaten by a planet-munching black hole yet. In fact, the universe has many naturally-occurring particle accelerators that are far more powerful than the LHC, exceeding even anything we could build in the foreseeable future. Anything exotic we can create in our labs, the cosmos has beaten us to it.
Like colliders on Earth, astronomical accelerators use magnetic fields to whip particles up to nearly light speed. Additionally, the universe uses shock waves, the powerful compression of plasmas to speed ...