Over the past 12 years, I have spent a great deal of time and energy researching many aspects of CERN, of ATLAS and of Geneva. As a result of this hard work, almost all the technical details mentioned the volumes of Time Crystal are as accurate as I can make them.
You can find many of the technical details which are referred to in Time Crystal about ATLAS here.
However on occasions I have cheated a little, bending the facts in order to suit the story. Here I try to list these inaccuracies.
Do Monopoles Exist?
In the world around us we always find magnetic poles in pairs, north and south. The Earth, for example, has two poles, and so does every fridge magnet.
On the other hand, a “magnetic monopole”, such as that featured in Time Crystal, is a particle which carries just one magnetic pole.
It is important to state that there is no evidence that any monopoles exist. However, their existence was first suggested on theoretical grounds by Paul Dirac (Quantised Singularities in the Electromagnetic Field, P.A.M. Dirac, Proc. Roy. Soc. A 133, 60 1931), available here. Dirac showed that, if at least one monopole exists somewhere in the universe, then that would explain why particles
such as electrons have a fixed amount of electric charge. He did not prove that monopoles exist, but his theory strongly suggests that at least one might. To quote Dirac:
[T]he present formalism of quantum mechanics…leads inevitably to wave equations whose only physical interpretation is the motion of an electron in the field of a [magnetic] pole…[O]ne would be surprised if Nature had made no use of it.
However, despite many searches, no evidence has ever been found for their existence. Dirac postulated the reason could be that:
[T]he attractive force between two [monopoles] of opposite sign is…4692.25 times that between electron and proton. This very large force may perhaps account for why poles of opposite sign have never yet been separated.
Trapping a Cosmic Monopole
A “cosmic monopole” is a magnetic monopole which is found outside the Earth. In Time Crystal, a cosmic monopole not only exists, but it trapped by the magnetic field of ATLAS. This is just about feasible, in my opinion. It is interesting to note that no scientist has ever assessed the risks or consequences or the feasibility of such an event.
Transformation of Cosmic Monopole into Black Hole
In the story, the cosmic monopole is trapped inside the LHC beam pipe, absorbs particles from the beam and is transformed into a black hole.
There is absolutely no scientific basis for this idea. Again, this is a piece of invention for the purposes of this story. As far as I am aware, the LHC and all the experiments in CERN are completely safe, as has been concluded by several critical safety reviews.
Quenches, Helium Leaks and Explosions
In “The Cosmic Monopole” there is a quench, a helium leak and an explosion. How realistic is this scenario?
Within ATLAS (and many other pieces of scientific equipment in CERN and around the world) there is a need for very strong magnetic fields. These can only be created by using very large electric currents. To make the current strong enough, the wires which carry it have to be very cold. This is achieved by using helium gas cooled to almost absolute zero temperature.
If part of the magnet should accidentally heat up for any reason, it stops being a good conductor. This is called a quench. The resistance of the wires increases with temperature, and it is possible that, if left uncontrolled, the heat could seriously damage the detector, costing millions of Swiss Francs to repair. To avoid this, when a quench occurs, the electricity is automatically diverted into a “quench heaters”, special electrical circuits which absorb the energy by heating up lumps of metal
away from the delicate equipment.
In “Cosmic Monopole” it is assumed that the black hole which has been created around the monopole not only burns its way through magnets, so causing one or more quenches, but also ruptures the pipes carrying the liquid helium, so creating a helium leak.
It is further assumed this liquid helium would pour out onto the floor of the ATLAS cavern and get into contact with the quench heaters. These would rapidly evaporate the liquid helium, releasing huge volumes of gas and hence causing an explosion.
Roof of SX1
In Episode 6 of the Cosmic Monopole (Volume 1 of Time Crystal), one of the three roofs of the SX1 building is blown off by the explosive heating of liquid helium in the ATLAS cavern, which lies beneath SX1. One part of the roof falls onto the SDX1 building and demolishes the lift shaft, so trapping Catriona and the others underground.Now, in fact, these three roofs are not actually designed to lift off. I stole the idea of a detachable roof from the nearby gas building, whose roof is indeed intended to blow
off in case of an explosion inside, thereby protecting the building from being demolished.
If there were an explosion in ATLAS because of a quench and a helium leak, the explosion would probably not actually blow the roof off SX1 in any case. There are concrete caps on top of both the vertical shafts leading up from the ATLAS cavern to SX1, and I am not sure there would be enough energy to blow these off. Therefore I have to claim writer’s licence in putting forward rather improbable this scenario.