Ever heard of the "Heavy Ion Super Collider" project? Essentially, gold ions are accelerated to speeds approaching that of light (of course never reaching it) in a head-on collision. The result is a "quark plasma" that contains elementary particles that may give us some indication as to how the forces of the Universe unify under extreme conditions.

Scientists working for the project claim that there is an infinitesimal possibility that a black hole could be created during a "run." Apparently it hasn't happened yet, as I suspect the results would be devastating and instantaneous. If there was enough of a vacuum around the miniature black hole, it might stand a chance of annihilating itself due to Hawking Radiation. However, if the black hole were large enough to exceed the duration of time necessary for it to starve to death, it may very well "fall" towards the ground like any other heavy object.

The black hole would begin to accelerate towards the center of the Earth, dragging the crust of the Earth towards its center, creating massive shockwaves throughout the planet. I suspect that before anyone could react to the sudden change, the whole planet would be consumed and converted into a far more massive black hole. Feeding from the light of the sun and asteroids and other stellar objects in its proximity, the former Earth would eventually gravitate towards the sun, converting the entire center of the solar system into a black hole, which would then swallow the surrounding planets in a matter of minutes, hours, years? It's all speculation at this point..but it's fun to think about it.

Black holes are like sections of space that have been pulled downward and inside out; a near-perfect "sphere" of space-time, approaching the impossible state of singularity. I contend that eventually all light energy will be exhausted, and all that will remain will be black holes. Inevitably they will draw together and collapse the entire Universe on into itself, creating yet another state of nothingness leading to an inevitable big-bang once again.

They say that without a Cosmological Constant (Einstein's "greatest blunder" that has recently been given new credibility) the Universe would cave in on itself eventually. Recent research has indicated that the Universe is still accelerating in its expansion; it has given no indication that it intends to cave in any time soon...but time is forever, and the Universe is patient. Eventually, all that will remain will be black holes and background radiation...eventually it must all come together. We are arrogant to think that the Universe is "already" 10-20 billion years old, as if that means it should be headed towards annihilation. Indeed its age is probably in that range, but who's to say we (well, the Universe) doesn't have another 999,999,999,999,999 trillion gazillion years to go before it's ready to collapse, or at a state of heat death?

Eternal life may come not from god, but from an infinite re-arrangement of matter that through one shot of incredible luck created you. Obviously the probability of a "you" existing is not impossible, just rare. Given infinite expansions and contractions, I'd say it's possible for you to exist again and again and again. It's already happened once. My faith is that the Universe will collapse at some point, leading to an inevitable explosion once again. I cling desperately to it and see everything around me as evidence for it, just as the dedicated Christian is devoted to God and finds "holiness" in everything...well maybe not everything. That's the difference between them and I; I don't blame the bad parts on some mysterious evil force that was created by an even more mysterious good force. Ambivalence..what a concept. But I fortunately don't have to restrict my happiness in order to please some concept; I accept my successes and failures as part of a destiny that is granted by chance and influenced by decision; even if the decisions are merely an illusion.

There is no good, no evil, no mere existence, no simply non-existence, there just is -- a homogenized blend of all that can exist. Existence implies non-existence, and vice versa. The Universe is everythingness and nothingness at once -- a landscape of substance infused with an empty air of void.

Remember, you needn't believe in god to believe in eternal life. If the Universe does collapse and expand forever, you will always stand a chance at living -- this life, or maybe another. Since we don't have any way of knowing what the Universe is going to do, believing that life ends immediately or repeats forever (or repeats in infinite variations) is a matter of subjective faith; inasmuch as we don't know for sure if we'll die forever, just as much as we don't know whether we'll come back.

Right. So anyway...

The "doomsday scenarios" that people mention in reference to the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) are indeed 1) black hole creation as well as 2) strangelet production causing the universe to leave a supposed metastable ground state for the true vacuum. Both of these scenarios have been addressed scientifically and shown to be impossible* in

Jaffe, Busza, Sandweiss, and Wilczek, Reviews of Modern Physics v.72, pp.1125-1140 (2000), http://arXiv.org/abs/hep-ph/9910333
In addition to sophisticated arguments, they use arguments like: a) the moon is being constantly bombarded by high energy cosmic rays and has been for millions of years b) the moon hasn't been eaten by a black hole or turned into stranglet soup c) the collisions at RHIC are of lower energy than the cosmic rays; ergo d) it'll all be okay.

*Using a reasonable definition of "impossible".

This is an interesting idea tackled in Greg Bear's book The Forge of God.

I(also)ANAP, but Bear's description is quite illuminating. Aliens who don't like us throw a micro-black hole at the Earth. The people who see it arrive get a pretty awful dose of radiation. The black hole manages to pass through the Earth almost frictionlessly, so it settles into a nice regular orbit inside earth.

This becomes noticable to us earthlings as an increase in earth tremors. Current seismological technology allows us to estimate not only the position, but the depth of earthquakes. So with a bit of work, international teams of geologists manage to track the motion of the black hole by correlating vibrations (a kind of solid-medium sonar). That's when we figure out what they hit us with.

The first large-scale effects are an increase in intensity of earthquakes and tsunami. In Bear's book, it is eventually the vibrations of the oscillating black hole that destroy the earth*, not simply loss of matter. IIRC, this takes two weeks, not a matter of seconds.

On a side note: I found reading this book unusually exciting because it fell apart. For the most part I was reading a big bundle of pages that had fallen from somewhere in the middle of the book. This meant that I had no idea how long the book was until I finished the loose bit - I really had no idea what the ending might be, because I couldn't guess how many pages the author had to wrap the story up.

* or maybe they don't, I'm not going to spoil it for you : )

Sorry to burst your bubble, lordaych, but you've got several of your facts wrong. You start off on what sounds like the right track (although I Am Not A Physicist) -- the micro-hole would most likely be pulled in by the Earth's gravity and eventually engulf the entire Earth (since it wouldn't reach escape velocity, it would gradually scoop up matter as it fell through the Earth repeatedly). However, the addition of all the Earth's matter would merely expand the event horizon to about 10^-2 meters (thanks Xpander!), and the resulting black hole would still occupy the Earth's existing orbit and exert the same gravitational attraction. A black hole isn't some sort of magical vacuum cleaner. The hole would orbit the Sun harmlessly, accreting the occasional passing asteroid, until the Sun reached its Red Giant stage. At that point the hole might have a chance to begin slurping off the outer layers of the Sun's atmosphere in the few million years before the Sun's dying gasp would expel its atmosphere and leave behind a White Dwarf. At that point, you would have an Earth-sized white dwarf, circled by a black hole perhaps 10^-1 to 10^0 meters across after gorging itself on stellar gas. The latter would quietly orbit around the former until the end of the Stellar Era.

There's also a problem with your idea of black holes pooling together and reversing the Big Bang. Everybody knows that neither matter nor energy can travel faster than the speed of light; however, one of the trickier concepts of General Relativity is that space can. In fact, a lot of astronomers seem to think that beyond our little 15 billion LY pocket of space, there are other little pockets of space, speeding away from each other at faster than the speed of light. It is thus impossible for matter to travel between the pockets, unless the rate of expansion slows down. But guess what? The expansion of the universe is speeding up. (This made major news last week; the article on Slashdot has quite a few links: <http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=01/04/04/1327235&mode=nested>) If this turns out to be correct, The Heat Death of the Universe will inevitably be the outcome several trillion years down the road.

Ah well. There's always the Many Worlds interpretation of QM if you need some sort of warm fuzzy feeling that the Universe goes on.


Addendum 04/11: Some great followups by pjd and Xpander. I've corrected my numbers (my old figures were off about 10^3 too large), and it's fascinating (but not unexpected) to find out that Hawking Radiation evaporation can be calculated so precisely.

The ratio of the mass of a black hole to its diameter is much larger than most people realize. Were the Earth ever to actually get completely consumed by a black hole, the resulting black hole would be less than one centimeter across.

Having done some physics, I feel I must point out a couple of things! A black hole is basically a lump of matter so dense that even light will not escape its gravitational well before it hits the surface (if there is one). When a black hole is created, you still have exactly the same mass but squashed into an incredibly small space. When you're talking about making a black hole with only a couple of elementry particles, the event horizon (the point of no return for light) would be so small that the chances of any light interacting with said black hole are equally as small.
If you're worried about the black hole hitting other particles, first of all, you will be using a huge particle accelerator - these things are filled with a vacumn. The only particles you get in there are the ones you put in.

Looking at it from a maths point of view:
G = 6.67259 * 10-11 N m2 kg-2 - the gravitational constant
m = 1.672 52x10-27 kg - mass of a proton
c = 3x108 m/s - the speed of light

the event horizon has a radius r of:
r = 2 G m/c2
r = 2 x (6.67259 * 10-11) * (1.672 52x10-27) / (9x1016)
r = 2.48000893929x10-54 m

Pretty small!

The time it would take such a black hole to evaporate (via Hawking Radiation) would be:
tau = c2/(3 K) mu3

K = 3.563x1032 - K is is related to sigma and thus the luminosity of the black hole, the surface area and temperature.
mu = 1.672 52x10-27 m - the initial mass of the black hole which is the mass of a proton.

tau = 9x1016 /(3 x 3.563x1032) x 4.678x10-81
tau =4.1813902213747281232309388314513x10-97 seconds

This is not really enough time to do any serious anihilating!

Thanks to Blush Response for pointing some things out and spotting some mistakes!

http://www.alcyone.com/max/writing/essays/black-hole-evaporation.html - some equations for black holes.

There's actually a Larry Niven story on this speculation. Its called The Hole Man, and is about how this group of scientists in an expedition to Mars finds this alien apparatus that uses a quantum black hole to communicate with gravity waves. A chain of events leads to this black hole being released from the apparatus and falling into Mars. The story was written just before Hawking came up with his theory so its probably possible to fault it on the Science now.

Anyway, for all we know there may be no Hawking Radiation after all(for it has never been experimentally verified)! What would this black hole do then. It would drill a neat hole to the centre of the Earth. Of course more than what it consumes, the greater damage would be because of tidal efects. This black hole would then oscillate about the centre of the Earth eating up matter and growing larger. It would be interesting to try and calculate how much time this would require but eventually it would eat up all of Earth and we would be left with a black hole about a centimeter acoss between Venus and Mars!

Of course it would continue to orbit harmlessly around the sun, but just imagine the immense possibilities that exist with such a black hole. Its possible to feed charge into a black hole, and then control it pretty easily. So if part of the human race survives, they would have a great technological tool at their disposal!

Actually, if the black hole were to be created, and even if there were no Hawking radiation, then we're still quite safe. After all, the black hole was created in a particle accelerator, so it's moving pretty damn quickly.

Yes, the constituent particles were being collided, and that would soak up a considerable portion of their kinetic energy. But consider the accelerator geometry at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven (the main suspect for creating a potential black hole). The beams cannot meet exactly head-on. Thus, they have significant net momentum that can't be shed without external interaction. Furthermore, the shared component of the two momenta is in a direction tangential to the Earth's surface. Given the angle and typical collider energies, a particularly slow case would have a velocity around 1% of c (note, this example is so slow it is not even the example put forward as a risk).

You might think that in passing out of the chamber the microhole would pick up enough mass to slow down a lot. Probably not. After all, the Schwartzschild radius of this black hole is around 2.5* 10^-54 meters. If we're throwing out Hawking Radiation, then it only interacts via gravity (otherwise 'no Hawking Radiation' is an ad-hoc nonsense rule). Black holes only have additional gravitational power because you can get close to them as a concentrated mass. At a normal interaction radius, they behave normally. So if it is to scoop up matter, it will have to do it by 'direct collision'. Now, quantum particles don't really collide. They just get close enough that the chances of them interacting via a force-carrying boson gets to be reasonable. The problem is that to get scooped up in the black hole, the scoopee has to be within let's say 10^-50 meters (2,500 Schwarzschild radii, an unreasonably generous amount) of the black hole in order for an interaction to be likely. However, protons are normally smeared out over a region 10^35 times as wide (i.e. the nucleus). Considering that Gravity is so weak, the hole would pretty much have to wait for the constituent particles to wander into it by accident, rather than suck them in by attraction. But the black hole isn't sticking around waiting for the probability of the proton having been caught to accrete to a significant amount. Moreover, nuclei themselves have 10^-5 the radius of an atom, which means they have 10^-10 the cross section. Passing through 3 meters of a densely packed solid material would thus provide around two cases of the black hole passing through a nucleus. As established earlier, it would probably (on the order of (1 - 10^-69) probability) zip right through without picking anything up or shedding momentum each time.

The net effect: there is only a vanishingly small chance that the black hole will pick up anything on its way out. If it does, it will probably grab mass-insignificant electrons, or possibly a nucleon, either picking it up or shedding some momentum to shred it and create a particle shower.

Suppose it does pick up a nucleon. Then the momentum of our two-gold-atom microhole will have to be shared among its existing mass and an additional nucleon mass. Whatever, that's like a 1% change in velocity. Now for the sake of paranoia assume that the microhole completely gobbles up every nucleus it touches. Then the first collision will add a heavy-atom mass, effectively dividing its velocity by 3/2. Note that c/150 is around 130 times the escape velocity for the solar system from the surface of the earth. So our intrepid microhole would have to pick up neither one nor two (the expected range given our extremely generous assumption), nor even a few dozen, but two hundred more nuclei to even remain within the solar system. It would have to gather an additional eight hundred to be stuck on the Earth.

Also note that the orientation of the lab is such that these particles will never be aimed at the sun or other planets, but always have a north/south component, heading out of the plane of the system. Yeah, one of those hitting the sun would make us a touch uncomfortable. But they aren't going that way.

So, any black hole the RHIC creates would leave the Terran system and the Sol system at a speed best described as a fraction of the speed of light, never to be seen again. They could have already done so many times, and we would never know.


A few last notes:

  • I have not gotten into the issue of how insanely difficult it is to create a black hole even at those high energies.
  • All that was assuming that Hawking radiation doesn't exist, because if it does, the black hole wouldn't last long enough to get out of the chamber.
  • In the far-future science fiction novel Hyperion, it is ancient history that the Earth was gradually destroyed by an accidentally released artificial black hole.

It takes so little to produce a media frenzy. Sometimes nothing at all. But this media frenzy over nothing at all is the winner of my personal Tempest in a Teapot Award.

It all began and ended in the pages of Scientific American. In March 1999, an article written by Madhusree Mukerjee reported on efforts at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. The brand new particle accelerator would smash gold atoms together in an attempt to produce a "quark-gluon soup" that is theorized to have existed immediately after the Big Bang.

In its July 1999 issue, Scientific American published a letter in response to Mr. Mukerjee's article. Walter L. Wagner, also known for pointing out radiation threats in California tile glaze, expressed fear that the collider could produce a mini black hole which would consume the Earth in a few minutes. As it often does, the magazine printed a rebuttal immediately below the letter. Written by Dr. Frank Wilczek of Princeton, New Jersey's Institute for Advanced Study, it explained that a black hole was impossible given the energies involved, but speculated on the possibility of a disaster resulting from strangelet production.

For some reason, world news organizations picked up on this exchange, and of course, never let facts get in the way of a good story. The London Sunday Times asked "Will the Big Bang Machine Destroy the Earth?". An ABC News article by Fred Moody2 was accompanied by phrases like "Playing at God" and "Doomsday Scenario". From here the frenzy became self-reinforcing. Brookhaven National Laboratory's telephones and email servers became very busy indeed.

One cannot fault Mr. Wagner for his well-intentioned efforts, which in his own mind, are attempts to protect the public. Even if some of us consider him part of the tinfoil hat set. One can, however, rightly condemn the press for blowing everything out of proportion, exploiting ignorance and fear of the unknown to generate sales.

In December 1999, one of the scientific tidbits Scientific American printed in its regular feature "Science and the Citizen" reported on the media frenzy generated by the letter. "Apocalypse Deferred"3 had a tone of, well, I can't help but recall the look on Orson Welles's face in the press conference he gave the day after his 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast.

1You can read this at http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=0006E278-78C1-1C72-9EB7809EC588F2D7

2Fred Moody, "Atlas Shrugs", http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/tech/FredMoody/moody990914.html. Moody responds to criticism in true Bill O'Reilly fashion at http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/tech/FredMoody/moody_current.html

3You can read this at http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=0008626D-3501-1C74-9B81809EC588EF21

You might find a true scientific investigation into the problem interesting: "Disaster caused by Heavy Ion Collisions at RHIC? Another kind of a "Cup of Theory"" by Vincent Brindejone, and Hendrik van Hees. I found an electronic version at http://theory.gsi.de/~vanhees/publ/cup.pdf

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