Coded gray.

Saturday 9 September 2000

Shrinking earth

Pic of the day: Here today, gone tomorrow?

The black hole

I still have a hard time believing it. It sounds like bad science fiction. It sounds like Lex Luthor could have thought out, or something from a bad James Bond film. People are trying to create black holes on Earth? And nobody cares?

I hoped the night would make me feel better about it. The opposite happened. I woke up and I was still as shocked as I had been, if not more. I looked out on the fluffy clouds and the blue sky and the large pine tree swaying in the wind, each needle a masterful piece of craftmanship. Life seemed so precious to me, so intricate and beautiful. And we're willing to put it all on the table in one gamble? To play dice with God? I could not hold back my tears. You don't do that kind of thing to your birth planet, you bastards! It's not your property, to play with at your will!


Let us take a quick look at the phenomenon that is supposed to save all our lives when the black hole manifests. Hawking radiation. To understand it, let's first repeat the basics of black holes:

A black hole is a mass compressed to such a degree that nothing can escape its gravity, not even light. (That's why it is black.) It is assumed that all mass inside a black hole exist in one point, the singularity. We'll never know, because the singularity is hidden from view. As we remember, gravity diminishes with the square of distance; at the distance where escape velocity exactly equals the speed of light is the event horizon. No one can see what happens inside it.

Next we have to take a look at quantum physics. Contrary to what we are used to, there are no absolute blocks of matter when we get down to the quantum level. Every elementary particle has instead a certain probability of being in any given place. For your ordinary atom-building proton, there is a really high probability of it being in one certain place, and very little probability of it being anywhere else at any given time. Electrons, on the other hand, have their probability smeared out in a sphere at a certain distance from the nearest proton(s). Other objects are different again.

Now in addition to all the things that usually exist, there are also lots of elementary particles who don't usually exist, because they have a very low probability of being in our universe at all. However, the theories assume that lots of these actually have a small probability of existing. And so they will occasionally manifest in our universe, just briefly, in the form of pairs: For instance, an electron and a positron. For the duration, they actually exist despite a negative energy, which we could say they "borrow" from the vaccuum around them. They immediately annihilate each other, being opposites, and the energy released fills the negative energy from their creation, leaving the universe unchanged from their appearance.

If you think this sounds like sheer madness, you should really talk to your congressman (or member of parliament) about it, because this theory is a prerequisite for our planet surviving the experiments of the Large Hadron Collider. But there is more.

If such a quantum duo appears at the exact location of a black hole's event horizon, one of the particles may be sucked into the hole while another stays outside, at least for a while. Unable to annihilate and go back to oblivion, it has no choice but to stay in our universe, and becoming real. The energy for this is supposedly subtracted from the black hole. Another way of putting it might be that the hole has just swallowed a particle with negative energy. That's bound to be a bad thing. If this happens more often than the black hole can feed on particles with positive energy, it will eventually evaporate. The newly created electrons, positrons, or whatever critter pops by, these are the Hawking radiation.


Now, for a tiny black hole to evaporate before it can start swallowing up the nearby atoms, there must be a lot of this "quantum boiling", with non-existent particles appearing and disappearing without a trace. Being without a trace, we can of course not observe them. But to boil off a microscopic black hole before it starts to grow, these can't be rare events like once a second in a cubic meter of air, or some such. No, we're talking about millions of these critters hopping in and out of existence in each of your body's cell every second. If you think that's unlikely, I urge you to talk to your congressman. I'm just trying to convey just how suspicious this thing is.

Now, mind you, I have a lot of respect for Hawking. The man is after all a hero. While his body gradually dies around him, the man has continued to deliver some of the most astounding theoretical science known to mankind. But ... it is theoretical. And even if many other scientists believe him, that does not make it foolproof. A hundred years ago, there was hardly one man who didn't believe Newton had the final answer on gravity. They were all wrong. I believe we should give this thing a few generations to mature before we start to whip out black holes on Earth.

There is some unrest already in regard to the concept of Hawking radiation. It seems to randomize information in a way that violates our basic concepts of physics. Natural laws should be accountable - as Einstein put it, "God does not play dice". But in this case, new information seems to be created without causal connection to the old information. This is enough to upset many people.

I'm not so upset about that. I'm upset about the chance, large or small, that my home planet may disappear into a black hole and never come back. Now that would really suck.

Yesterday <-- This month --> Tomorrow?
One year ago

Visit the Diary Farm for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.

I welcome e-mail:
Back to my home page.