Later this month, Astronomer Royal Professor Martin Rees is releasing a new book about the risks and challenges humanity faces over the next century. The book argues that humanity's prospects depend on changing our approach to planning for the future. We should abandon such things as short-term thinking, polarizing debates, and alarmist rhetoric. That said, the book is currently in the news because Rees casually mentions that Earth could theoretically be shrunk down to just over 300 feet (100 meters) across thanks to experiments by particles accelerators.
“Maybe a black hole could form, and then suck in everything around it,” Rees wrote, reports the Telegraph. “The second scary possibility is that the quarks would reassemble themselves into compressed objects called strangelets."
“That in itself would be harmless," he explained. "However, under some hypotheses a strangelet could, by contagion, convert anything else it encounters into a new form of matter, transforming the entire Earth in a hyperdense sphere about one hundred metres across.”
This is not the first time that Rees has publically mentioned this strangelet hypothesis. It has been around in popular media long enough that it often pops up in arguments against particle accelerators. It’s either black holes or strangelets. Two law professors even used it in their argument to commission a look at the risk of the Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider destroying the Earth. (The risk is vastly exaggerated.)
So, is the risk of Earth being shrunk real?