Could black holes form on earth, gobble up the planet, and then relentlessly reach out to devour the entire solar system? Two physicists recently recalculated our chances and were startled to learn that the amount of collisional energy required to form the star-eating objects is 2.4 times less than previously believed. Oops.
William E. East and Frans Pretorius published their study in the March issue of the journal Physical Review Letters.
The two scientists noted that there was a public controversy in 2008 when the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) started an experiment in high energy physics that led to complaints that they might produce tiny black holes by accident. Any self-respecting science fiction fan can tell you what comes next. The powerful gravitational core within the tiny black holes pulls in more particles and the beast begins to feed.
Soon, it’s buh-bye, earthlings, and hello, solar-system devouring black hole.
East and Pretorius said: “The controversy has subsided after several years of ‘black-hole-free’ operation at the LHC, but interest still remains in the theoretical possibilities.”
The two physicists noticed that the previous calculations of how much energy a black hole would need to form hadn’t allowed for the energy created in the head-on collision between particles. They performed computer simulations taking the so-called collisional energy into account and, sure enough, it wasn’t quite as difficult to create a mini black hole as the earlier reports had suggested.
The Hubble space telescope, in conjunction with an international team of astronomers from around the world, actively seeks out evidence for the existence of black holes. This photo of galaxy NGC 4261 shows how gas and dust are swirling around what could be a possible black hole at the core.
But don’t be concerned. Stay in your homes and remain calm.
Even though the older calculations for how much energy it takes to create a black hole were too high, East and Pretorius assure us that the LHC still doesn’t come anywhere near the level required to produce them by accident.
The planet is still safe from the earth-gobbling menace of accidentally generated black holes — at least for now.
[photo NGC 4261 courtesy Walter Jaffe/Leiden Observatory, Holland Ford/JHU/STScI, and NASA]
[artist’s rendering of a black hole courtesy NASA]