Ten Notable Apocalypses That (Obviously) Didn’t Happen- page 5 | History | Smithsonian
The 2012 doomsday prophecy isn't the first to predict the end of civilization. Such warnings have been around for millenia. (iStockphoto)

Ten Notable Apocalypses That (Obviously) Didn’t Happen

Apocalyptic predictions are nothing new—they have been around for millennia

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(Continued from page 4)

The Independent newspaper warned of possible “nuclear war,” caused by glitches in early-warning systems; the International Monetary Fund predicted economic chaos in developing nations; Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan worried that panic over the Bug would prompt U.S. businesses to stockpile goods, leading to widespread shortages, and CNN reported that the U.S. milk supply would dry up because dairy farm equipment might malfunction.

Still, panic over the Y2K Bug never quite reached the fever pitch that many anticipated. A Gallup Poll reported that by mid-December 1999, only 3 percent of Americans anticipated “major problems,” compared with 34 percent the year before.

Billions of dollars were spent worldwide to fix the Y2K Bug, and debate still rages over how much of that spending was necessary.

10. A Man-Made Black Hole?

Ever since the early 1990s, the media has reported that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) could potentially create a black hole that would swallow the Earth.

The LHC—which was switched on in September 2008—is 17 miles in circumference and buried 570 feet beneath the Alps on the Swiss-French border. The collider has the capacity to smash together proton beams at velocities up to 99.99 percent of the speed of light. In doing so, it can simulate the conditions and energies that existed shortly after the start of the Big Bang—thereby providing insights into critical questions as to how our universe was formed.

Still, some skeptics worry that the high-energy collision of protons could create micro black holes. One reason this doomsday rumor persists is that quantum physicists have a tendency never to say never. As long as certain physical laws are obeyed, potential events are placed in the rather broad category of “non-zero” probability. Or, as Amherst physicist Kannan Jagannathan explains: “If something is not forbidden, it is compulsory… In an infinite universe, even things of low probability must occur (actually infinitely often).” However, by that same standard, Jagannathan adds, quantum physics dictates that it is theoretically possible to turn on your kitchen faucet and have a dragon pop out.

And that explains why physicists (with the possible exception of those who are dragon-phobic) are not terribly worried. “The world is constantly bombarded by energetic cosmic rays from the depths of space, some of them inducing particle collisions thousands of times more powerful than those that will be produced by the LHC,” says Stéphane Coutu, a professor of physics at {Penn State. “If these collisions could create black holes, it would have happened by now.”

Meanwhile, technical difficulties prompted the LHC to be shut down after just nine days. Operations are scheduled to slowly resume in late 2009 and early 2010.

If the world does end, check this Web site for updates.

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