TRAVIS WALTERS News Editor
At the dawn of each new year we are normally inundated with doomsday scenarios of the coming apocalypse. That did not occur this year, I think, largely because of just how bad we’re doing. War, the breakdown of our financial system, an energy crisis and many other things have the public rightfully worried. Throwing needless prognostications of “the end” into the mix would just be cruel. However, not informing the public of possible world-changing events seems even more cruel. Therefore, I provide you with a few things that may change human existence this year.
J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb and former director of the Las Alamos National Laboratory, quoted the Bhagavad Gita after the 1945 Trinity nuclear test: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one,” “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I wonder what he might say to today’s scientific achievements, one of which is the creation of a sun.
I have written on the concern of a black hole being created by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. For those actually worried that this might be a possibility, fate, destiny or bad engineering has granted a reprieve. The machine developed a problem and broke during a test of its systems. It will not be functional until the summer of 2009, or possibly further into 2010. Doubters could heave a great sigh of relief, but scientists bent on world destruction shall never be stopped.
Indeed, scientists in Livermore, Calif. will be starting up a machine this spring that will create a tiny man-made star. More specifically, they will set off a controlled thermonuclear reaction in a 32 foot wide chamber. Nuclear fusion is the engine that drives the sun, and is what scientists are trying to replicate in this chamber. Until now, nuclear fusion only seemed possible in science fiction. If everything goes according to plan, the machine will fire a laser that uses 1,000-times the electrical generating power of the United States through a mile long series of precisely placed mirrors and amplifiers to focus the beam toward a chamber that splits the beam into 192 different beams. These beams are then converted into ultra violet light, and focused on a fuel source the size of a pinhead. The high-energy X-rays compress the fuel, within a billionth of a second, which causes it to explode. The explosion causes an equal and opposite reaction that compresses the fuel and starts nuclear fusion. All of this at temperatures over 100-million degrees Celsius. The temperature and pressure created can be found nowhere else on Earth. One must look to the core of the Sun to find its equal.
The scientists at Livermore have been working on the machine for 11 years, but science itself has known about the possibility of nuclear fusion since Albert Einstein’s E=mc2. The Livermore machine only fires every five hours. This would not produce the sustained reaction necessary to create a nuclear fusion power plant. For that, it would need to fire every 10 seconds. Another laboratory being built in the UK will fire its machine every 10 minutes. Making this technology work could be considered humankind’s greatest achievement. The energy crisis we face would be solved. It may come in our lifetime.
Or it may not, for the super volcano that lies silent beneath Yellowstone National Park is stirring. The 34 by 47 miles of molten rock beneath Yellowstone has pushed the soil up a little, the first of four signs an eruption may be coming. Increased geyser activity is the second sign, and it too has occurred. In fact, the first and second signs have been going on for years. The third, earthquake swarms, began a week ago. Thirty or more mini earthquakes have rocked the caldera. The fourth sign, a release of volcanic gases, has not occurred.
The last such super volcano eruption that occurred some 74,000 years ago reduced the human population to levels near extinction. Scientists have never witnessed a super volcano eruption and are therefore hesitant to predict when, or if, the Yellowstone caldera will erupt. However in 2005, it was classified as a high threat for volcanic eruption by the U.S. Geological Survey, and that an eruption would produce “global consequences that are beyond human experience and impossible to anticipate fully.”