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Synthetic Black Hole Event Horizon Created in UK Laboratory

An artists impression of a black hole
Researchers at St. Andrews University, Scotland, claim to have found a way to simulate an event horizon of a black hole – not through a new cosmic observation technique, and not by a high powered supercomputer… but in the laboratory. Using lasers, a length of optical fiber and depending on some bizarre quantum mechanics, a “singularity” may be created to alter a laser’s wavelength, synthesizing the effects of an event horizon. If this experiment can produce an event horizon, the theoretical phenomenon of Hawking Radiation may be tested, perhaps giving Stephen Hawking the best chance yet of winning the Nobel Prize.

So how do you create a black hole? In the cosmos, black holes are created by the collapse of massive stars. The mass of the star collapses down to a single point (after running out of fuel and undergoing a supernova) due to the massive gravitational forces acting on the body. Should the star exceed a certain mass “limit” (i.e. the Chandrasekhar limit – a maximum at which the mass of a star cannot support its structure against gravity), it will collapse into a discrete point (a singularity). Space-time will be so warped that all local energy (matter and radiation) will fall into the singularity. The distance from the singularity at which even light cannot escape the gravitational pull is known as the event horizon. High energy particle collisions by cosmic rays impacting the upper atmosphere might produce micro-black holes (MBHs). The Large Hadron Collider (at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland) may also be capable of producing collisions energetic enough to create MBHs. Interestingly, if the LHC can produce MBHs, Stephen Hawking’s theory of “Hawking Radiation” may be proven should the MBHs created evaporate almost instantly.

Hawking predicts that black holes emit radiation. This theory is paradoxical, as no radiation can escape the event horizon of a black hole. However, Hawking theorizes that due to a quirk in quantum dynamics, black holes can produce radiation.
The principal of Hawking Radiation (source: http://library.thinkquest.org)
Put very simply, the Universe allows particles to be created within a vacuum, “borrowing” energy from their surroundings. To conserve the energy balance, the particle and its anti-particle can only live for a short time, returning the borrowed energy very quickly by annihilating with each other. So long as they pop in and out of existence within a quantum time limit, they are considered to be “virtual particles”. Creation to annihilation has net zero energy.

However, the situation changes if this particle pair is generated at or near an event horizon of a black hole. If one of the virtual pair falls into the black hole, and its partner is ejected away from the event horizon, they cannot annihilate. Both virtual particles will become “real”, allowing the escaping particle to carry energy and mass away from the black hole (the trapped particle can be considered to have negative mass, thus reducing the mass of the black hole). This is how Hawking radiation predicts “evaporating” black holes, as mass is lost to this quantum quirk at the event horizon. Hawking predicts that black holes will gradually evaporate and disappear, plus this effect will be most prominent for small black holes and MBHs.

So… back to our St. Andrews laboratory…

Prof Ulf Leonhardt is hoping to create the conditions of a black hole event horizon by using laser pulses, possibly creating the first direct experiment to test Hawking radiation. Leonhardt is an expert in “quantum catastrophes”, the point at which wave physics breaks down, creating a singularity. In the recent “Cosmology Meets Condensed Matter” meeting in London, Leonhardt’s team announced their method to simulate one of the key components of the event horizon environment.

Light travels through materials at different velocities, depending on their wave properties. The St. Andrews group use two laser beams, one slow, one fast. First, a slow propagating pulse is fired down the optical fiber, followed by a faster pulse. The faster pulse should “catch up” with the slower pulse. However, as the slow pulse passes through the medium, it alters the optical properties of the fiber, causing the fast pulse to slow in its wake. This is what happens to light as it tries to escape from the event horizon – it is slowed down so much that it becomes “trapped”.

We show by theoretical calculations that such a system is capable of probing the quantum effects of horizons, in particular Hawking radiation.” – From a forthcoming paper by the St. Andrews group.

The effects that two laser pulses have on eachother to mimic the physics within an event horizon sounds strange, but this new study may help us understand if MBHs are being generated in the LHCs and may push Stephen Hawking a little closer toward a deserved Nobel Prize.
Source: Telegraph.co.uk


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Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • penny February 18, 2008, 9:41 PM

    Dear Darren,
    What we mathematicians call calculus or ” the calculus” is not the study of symbols, but the study of certain infinite limit processes.

    What you are referring to is the OCCULT study of symbols–so called “sacred math”–which has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with “the calculus”.

    Fractals are in fact used by mathematicians–we call it geometric measure theory, and I have published extensively on it. Fractals are not “Fractions”.

    Indeed the ancient Kem ( aka Egyptians) were very intested in what you describe, which is the mathematical
    theory of approximation by continued fractions. It has its uses and is mathematics. The ancient greeks tried to base
    a theory of physics on it–See the classic book “Dynamic Symmetry”, which can be obtained from Dover publications.
    But, ” the calculus” is a better description of physics–that is
    it predicts better and with less ad hoc assumptions.

    The “all seeing eye” aka the Eye of Horus has nothing to do
    –except poetically to occultists–with the square root of minus one.

  • penny February 18, 2008, 9:55 PM

    As to your comment on the hypersphere:

    It is true that one of the main interests of occultists in the 19th
    and early 20th century was hyperdimensional geometry. That is why Flatland was written by an abbot, and why the occultist
    Hinton (who was also a talented amateur mathematician) wrote a prize winning popular book on synthetic four dimensional geometry.

    However, as a multidimensional geometer (that is: as a
    researcher in differential geometry), I can assure you that modern mathematical investigations of hyperdimensional geometry ( such as hyperspheres) has NOTHING to do with the occult. It’s just pure math!

    As to the ” giant atom” at the center of the galaxy idea–
    it is a bit odd—but, of course a neutron star is just a giant atomic nucleus.

    Sometimes occult people are laughed at, and we just have to understand that some of their ideas are not totally bizarre
    ( though many are). For example, I have neodruid friend who is very into “crystals” as a source of power over nature.
    I informed her that modern technology is, in fact, largely based on crystals–such as quartz crystal oscillators, synthetic ruby crystal lasers etc.

    For a better understanding of gravity ( in the context
    of General relativity–which does use four dimensions), a non-mathematician should take a look a “Relativity for the Million” and other popular classics. I cut my teeth on them as a child–shortly after reading Flatland–and just before reading HInton’s ” The Fourth Dimension simply Explained”,
    which is available from Dover.

  • penny February 18, 2008, 10:08 PM

    As an example of my comment on “a proof is a proof”.
    Their was a 19th century mathematician named Wronsky,
    yes, the same Wronsky as in ” the Wronskian”.
    Wronsky believed many strange things–he was a major figure in the occult ( in fact, the teacher of Elphias Levy!), but
    –all that aside– the theorm of the Wronsky Determinate ( aka the Wronskian) is correct and useful mathematics taught in
    a first course on differential equations to all engineers, for example.
    A theorem is a theorem, a proof is a proof, and we mathematicians don’t care if the creator of the theorem and proof worshipped invisible unicorns from Mars.
    The proof stands on its own.

  • Handymanny February 18, 2008, 10:34 PM


  • penny February 19, 2008, 4:55 AM

    You might be referring to a more recent “all seeing eye”–the masonic syncretic one on the dollar bill. But it doesn’t matter.

    The use of the letter i for the square root of minus one is due to i being the first letter of the word imaginary. That is because
    –before the modern definition of complex numbers as ordered pairs of real numbers with a special multiplication and addition– people thought that the square root of minus one was an “imaginary” number.

    It has no other significance in math.

    All of this is getting fairly far from a discussion of black hole horizons. So, I think I am done here.
    Sorry for the tangency–but, I was addressing the comments of others in –I hope–a helpful way.

  • Ella Kosta February 19, 2008, 6:47 AM

    For Jose Garcia

    The black hole will not get more massive. These virtual particles are formed from the gravitational energy of the black hole (the energy is transformed in matter). One particle falls into black hole, and one particle escapes, so the black hole will lose gravitational energy, therefore it will lose mass.

  • Bill February 20, 2008, 3:42 PM

    Far be it to belittle the importance of math. I will say that all mathematical results do not have physical correspondence. There is still debate, though many will not countenance it, regarding the existence of black holes. There are alternate explanations for the high energy phenomena such as “black hole jets”. Recenty brown dwarves were found to have similar jets, and by their definition there is no singularity (nor a thermonuclear core!), so perhaps the jets need no singularity anywhere.

  • Sam February 21, 2008, 4:24 AM

    Hawkins in nothing but a pure waste of oxygen. He is not alone though. Einstein, Newton, Plank et al and there idiotic ideas are not necessary for a full and happy life. There is a theory of everything and I know what is. For all you pathetic arsehole academics out there listen up ok.

    The only all encompassing theory of everything is that there is’nt one. There will never be one ever! – since the theory itself will disprove that which is not the theory. All of you lazy, useless, pasty, unfit to live on this planet measuring maniac control freaks do something useful or f off and die!! YEAH – especial you Hawkins you fame seeking bullshit artist!

  • penny February 21, 2008, 8:44 PM

    Dear Bill,
    Actually, the “black hole jets” are NOT caused by the singularity but by the gravitiational tidal effects. There are many types of jet like phenomena in the universe.

    Try this instead:

    It’s a strong experimental observation that fits black holes and nothing else known.

  • Nada February 22, 2008, 9:10 AM

    M.B. Altaie, a scientist at Yarmouk University in Jordan, have shown that the created particle of Hawking can only exist in a region below 1.5 times the Schwarzschild radius (in fact within a region that is 4/3 times the Schwarzschild radius), then according to general relativity such particles will eventually fall again into the black hole and none can escape. This may explain the non-existence of Hawking radiation. But the black holes may then inflate. For reference see
    Hadronic Journal 26, 779-794, (2003)
    also see full text of the paper at


  • Sam February 22, 2008, 6:44 PM

    Forget about black holes. Like all things black they can be sidelined or marginalized or reduced or starved out of existence by A-Holes that spend hundreds of billion on pathetic experiments to satisfy some craving for fame and to prove that their fantasies are right.

    There are only two holes of any concern. The A-Hole and the Pink Hole. A-Holes do not get enough Pink Hole and get frustrated and contract, retaining toxic waste. This fogs the brain which becomes delusional and is unable to create an event horizon around the pink hole. The pink hole , now starved of charm retreats into a singularity and devours all that crosses it’s path. A-Holes, in an effort to reduce this ferocious suction, feed the Pink Hole mega tonnes of bullshit to expand the event horizon so they have a better chance of getting some. The more complicated the bullshit the tastier it is for the pink hole which oozes in appreciation and takes on the new spin and jumps to a brand new energy level. This in turn excited the A-Hole in new and unexplored territory where entire languages are invented to further excite the Pink Hole.

    Now it hasn’t happened yet but one day the event horizon will expand to include the A-Hole in the Pink Hole territory and an explosion only measurable in Schwarzschild/Hawking cumletmefucku units will occur, obliterating all traces of the A-Hole and the Pink Hole, and sadly the poor old black holes.

    Ahhh nature – so unforgiving!

  • Edward February 29, 2008, 3:28 AM

    Penny wrote:
    “The use of the letter i for the square root of minus one is due to i being the first letter of the word imaginary. That is because
    –before the modern definition of complex numbers as ordered pairs of real numbers with a special multiplication and addition– people thought that the square root of minus one was an “imaginary” number.”

    I used to teach mathematics and I think the square root of -1 is not real ie imaginary!!! In fact, try ordering a set of complex numbers and all you get are contradictions! Real numbers can be ordered and no logical contradictions are created.

    If I am not correct, please correct me.

  • davidos March 5, 2008, 7:30 AM

    Yes, cosmology is in a parlous but interesting state.
    90% of mass is missing in galaxies but the ‘universe’ is expanding too rapidly – hence
    ‘dark energy’.
    On negative mass, it seems that if a negative mass and a positive mass were in orbit around each other, they would rotate around a centre with nothing in it!. Hmmmm.
    Newton shortly before his death remarked –
    ‘I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have only been like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocaen of truth lay all undiscovered before me’.
    – oh and by the way hospitals use positrons, ie. anti-electrons, in their PET scanners….

  • Ryan McIlvenna July 21, 2008, 10:09 PM

    I can create all of this in a program of viruses based on math and fundamentals. A Universe, a million galaxies at the dial of a mouse. As users of this program we can travel at the speed of whatever we feel. Gravity, magnetism, radiation, atoms, molecules. I can manufacture life that sees itself as real through the program. The animal kingdom and its instinct or the program within a program like I would like to call it could potentially grow like a mirror looking into a mirror for ever. How long could we keep the program running?

  • Angie September 13, 2008, 2:11 AM

    You idiots! This could ruin the whole world! great job at killing all of us!

  • flowerchild September 15, 2008, 4:44 AM

    How big does a black hole have to be before it doesn’t disappear?

  • Andrew December 19, 2008, 3:20 PM

    “How big does a black hole have to be before it doesn’t disappear?”

    Black holes will evaporate no matter what their size. Large black holes (millions of solar masses) can’t evaporate right now because the cosmic microwave background gets absorbed by them and is enough to sustain their mass. In the far distant future the cosmic microwave background will be much weaker and won’t be able to sustain the larger black holes.

  • reevesAstronomy December 19, 2008, 3:21 PM

    Hope he gets a Nobel prize before he dies. He truly deserves it for his great contributions to science.

  • Wayne March 1, 2009, 9:06 AM

    If dark matter has a mass then does a black whole suck in this dark matter and if so then will a large black whole ever evaporate?

  • How to Get Six Pack Fast April 15, 2009, 10:29 AM

    The style of writing is quite familiar . Did you write guest posts for other blogs?