Strangelet - Dangers

Dangers

If the strange matter hypothesis is correct and its surface tension is larger than the aforementioned critical value, then a larger strangelet would be more stable than a smaller one. One speculation that has resulted from the idea is that a strangelet coming into contact with a lump of ordinary matter could convert the ordinary matter to strange matter. This "ice-nine"-like disaster scenario is as follows: one strangelet hits a nucleus, catalyzing its immediate conversion to strange matter. This liberates energy, producing a larger, more stable strangelet, which in turn hits another nucleus, catalyzing its conversion to strange matter. In the end, all the nuclei of all the atoms of Earth are converted, and Earth is reduced to a hot, large lump of strange matter.

This is not a concern for strangelets in cosmic rays because they are produced far from Earth and have had time to decay to their ground state, which is predicted by most models to be positively charged, so they are electrostatically repelled by nuclei, and would rarely merge with them. But high-energy collisions could produce negatively charged strangelet states which live long enough to interact with the nuclei of ordinary matter.

The danger of catalyzed conversion by strangelets produced in heavy-ion colliders has received some media attention, and concerns of this type were raised at the commencement of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) experiment at Brookhaven, which could potentially have created strangelets. A detailed analysis concluded that the RHIC collisions were comparable to ones which naturally occur as cosmic rays traverse the solar system, so we would already have seen such a disaster if it were possible. RHIC has been operating since 2000 without incident. Similar concerns have been raised about the operation of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN but such fears are dismissed as far-fetched by scientists.

In the case of a neutron star, the conversion scenario seems much more plausible. A neutron star is in a sense a giant nucleus (20 km across), held together by gravity, but it is electrically neutral and so does not electrostatically repel strangelets. If a strangelet hit a neutron star, it could convert a small region of it, and that region would grow to consume the entire star, creating a quark star.

Read more about this topic:  Strangelet

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