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Don't panic: Large Hadron Collider won't spawn voracious black holes

Scientists have presented some evidence the Large Hadron Collider, a massive physics experiment, won't produce mini black holes that could gobble up the Earth.

Correction, 11:00 a.m. PDT: This story incorrectly reported the size of the particle accelerator. It has a circumference of 17 miles.

Remember the fear that the Trinity test of the first atomic bomb in 1945 might ignite the atmosphere? The Large Hadron Collider, a massive particle accelerator 17 miles in circumference that will begin operation Wednesday, comes with its own apocalyptic possibility: teensy black holes with gravitational appetites voracious enough to swallow the Earth.

Images: Where particles, physics theories collide
Click image for gallery on the Large Hadron Collider. Maximilien Brice for CERN

But you can breathe easy, because some scientists believe that worry is just as baseless as the A-bomb's flaming atmosphere.

On Tuesday, the American Institute of Physics' news update presented evidence from Steve Giddings of the University of California, Santa Barbara and Michelangelo Mangano of CERN--the European nuclear physics lab where the LHC is housed--concluding there's no threat from little black holes. If such black holes were to be created by a chance cosmic ray, for example, their runaway growth would be most evident from feasting on the super-dense matter of white dwarfs and neutron stars, but there are plenty of those stars that are very old.

Scientists once believed black holes' inescapable gravitational forces meant they'd grow inexorably, but renowned physicist Stephen Hawking later countered with the view that energy can in fact leak away from black holes, causing them to effectively "evaporate."