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What Would Happen if a Small Black Hole Hit the Earth?

Article Updated: 26 Apr , 2016
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We can all guess what would happen should a massive black hole drift into our solar system… there wouldn’t be much left once the intense gravitational pull consumes the planets and starts sucking away at our Sun. But what if the black hole is small, perhaps a left over remnant from the Big Bang, passing unnoticed through our neighborhood, having no observable impact on local space? What if this small singularity falls in the path of Earths orbit and hits our planet? This strange event has been pondered by theoretical physicists, understanding how a small black hole could be detected as it punches a neat hole though the Earth…

Primordial black holes (PBHs) are a predicted product of the Big Bang. Due to the massive energy generated at the beginning of our Universe, countless black holes are thought to have been created. However, small black holes are not expected to live very long. As black holes are theorized to radiate energy, they will also lose mass (according to Stephen Hawking’s theory, Hawking Radiation), small black holes will therefore fizz out of existence very rapidly. In a well known 1975 publication by Hawking, he estimates the minimum size a black hole must be to survive until present day. The PBH would have to be at least 1012kg (that’s 1,000,000,000,000 kg) in mass when it is created. 1012kg is actually quite small in cosmic standards – Earth has a mass of 6×1024kg – so we are talking about the size of a small mountain.

So, picture the scene. The Earth (any planet for that matter) is happily orbiting the Sun. A small primordial black hole just happens to be passing through our solar system, and across Earths orbit. We are all aware of how a rocky body such as a Near Earth Asteroid would affect the Earth if it hit us, but what would happen if a small Near Earth Black Hole hit us? Theoretical physicists from the Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics in Russia, and the INTEGRAL Science Data Center in Switzerland, have been pondering this same question, and in a new paper they calculate how we might observe the event should it happen (just in case we didn’t know we had hit something!).

PBHs falling into stars or planets have been thought of before. As previously reviewed in the Universe Today, some observations of the planets and stars could be attributed to small black holes getting trapped inside the gravitational well of the body. This might explain the unusual temperatures observed in Saturn and Jupiter, they are hotter than they should be, the extra heat might be produced by interactions with a PBH hiding inside. If trapped within a star, a PBH might take energy from the nuclear reactions in the core, perhaps bringing on a premature supernova. But what if the PBH is travelling very fast and hits the Earth? This is what this research focuses on.

I’d expect some catastrophic, energetic event as a primordial black hole hits the Earth. After all, it’s a black hole! But the results from this paper are a bit of an anti-climax, but cool all the same.

By calculating where the energy from the collision may come from, the researchers can estimate what effect the collision may have. The two main sources of energy will be from the PBH actually hitting Earth material (kinetic) and from black hole radiation. Assuming we have more likelihood of hitting a micro-black hole (i.e. much, much smaller than a black hole from a collapsed star) originating from the beginning of the Universe, it is going to be tiny. Using Hawking’s 1012kg black hole as an example, a black hole of this size will have a radius of 1.5×10-15 meters… that’s approximately the size of a proton!

This may be one tiny black hole, but it packs quite a punch. But is it measurable? PBHs are theorized to zip straight through matter as if it wasn’t there, but it will leave a mark. As the tiny entity flies through the Earth at a supersonic velocity, it will pump out radiation in the form of electrons and positrons. The total energy created by a PBH roughly equals the energy produced by the detonation of one tonne of TNT, but this energy is the total energy it deposits along its path through the Earths diameter, not the energy it produces on impact. So don’t expect a magnificent explosion, we’d be lucky to see a spark as it hits the ground.

Any hopes of detecting such a small black hole impact are slim, as the seismic waves generated would be negligible. In fact, the only evidence of a black hole of this size passing through the planet will be the radiation damage along the microscopic tunnel passing from one side of the Earth to the other. As boldly stated by the Russian/Swiss team:

It creates a long tube of heavily radiative damaged material, which should stay recognizable for geological time.” – Khriplovich, Pomeransky, Produit and Ruban, from the paper: “Can one detect passage of small black hole through the Earth?

As this research focuses on a tiny, primordial black hole, it would be interesting to investigate the effects of a larger black hole would have on impact – perhaps one with the mass of the Earth and the radius of a golf ball…?

Source paper: arXiv


46 Responses

  1. Phil Plait says:

    Well, they left off one important aspect: from a centimeter away, such a black hole exerts a gravitational force roughly 70,000 times the gravity of Earth. Anything it fell through would have a hole torn through it a few centimeters across. I’m not sure how that would affect the radiation it emits.

  2. Kurt.eh says:

    There’s a fun little book of fiction, titled “Singularity” by Bill DeSmedt about this very situation!

    You can view his website here: http://billdesmedt.com/

    And it’s also available in a free serialized podcast novel format (ie: 1 chapter per episode), and read by the author!

    You can download that at: http://podiobooks.com/title/singularity

  3. steven garrett says:

    No matter what it’s size when first born, wouldnt a PBH have been growing since it’s creation? (oops) Drifting through the Universe for billions of years it has to pick up something; even dark matter would contribute to it’s mass. Unless micro-black holes can be created through a collapse of a massive black hole or other event; there may not be very many left.

  4. old man says:

    I think one hit my head and sucked off part of my brain. Coulda been the Whiskey though.

  5. The 327th Male says:

    Brian – In his science fiction book “earth” david brin talked of a micro black hole entering the earth and orbiting the core, slowly sucking up mass.

    My guess is that any real micro black hole we encounter will be travelling too fast to enter such an orbit – it would zip straight through and continue on its merry way.

  6. ron says:

    if a micro-sized blackhole hit the earth, wouldn’t it increase steadily in mass and eventually become more destructive?

  7. Brian says:

    There was a movie made several years ago (“The Void”, I think), that depicted something similar to this happening. It was an artificial black hole though, but it might have a similar result to a real one. Wouldn’t it pass through the Earth, eating as it goes, and keep looping through the planet due to gravity pulling it back?

  8. Cato says:

    Here come the Langoliers!

  9. David Madison, Sr. says:

    A PBH loses mass through Hawking Radiation, but gains it through material it encounters since its creation. The issue of how massive it was at the beginning is not as relevant as how massive it is now.

    What the article did not explore is how much mass would infall the PBH during the encounter, and the infall rate should a planet like Saturn possess a PBH now.

  10. Chuck Lam says:

    Hey Phan An! You are correct. Hawking does have a life. I suspect a good one in spite of his handicap. However famous he is, I believe he is out of the main stream of science. He appears to dabble in too many things that can not be scientifically tested. Is this dabbling good or bad for science? I don’t know. Maybe it is a necessary first step to something worthwhile.

  11. Ed2 says:

    Again, this is scientific imagination in it’s finest hour.. What if two blackholes coming from opposite directions hit earth at the same time. Which blackhole gets the earth?

  12. prospero says:

    So Larry Niven in “The Hole Man” has finally been proved right.

  13. Rev. says:

    … “Hawkins, you’ve been dwelling too long in your electric wheelchair… you need to get a grip… stand up… and get a life! Your thinking too much bout’ PBH’s, and other weird sh** their size, speed, and “what if’s.” Don’t we have enuf’ to worry bout’ without considering what a “Microscopic Black Hole” might do to our planet? Fear not, just look what we’re doing to it…”

  14. Rev. says:

    Hey Ed2… you hit on something… “What if, two micro black-holes hit each other, as in a super collider… what would happen?” A micro-Bang?

  15. Phan An says:

    Rev , I believe Hawking is living a life . But that life is his life , not yours . And he can stand , but not on his legs like you do, he do on his brain . That’s why you can not understand him . Hawking loves to think about PBH whatever it is useful for you or not .
    I don’t know what sh** means , but I guess it is what you think , isn’t it ? .

  16. Dave Kinsley says:

    Could a collision with a PBH explain the mass extinction at the end of the Permian. A black hole could have punched its way through the earth and opened up a way for all the magma to escape?

  17. Dennis Baer says:

    Micro black hole hitting the earth? Sure, I even have the evidence: My wife’s boss has one in her desk drawer and uses it for a filing system.

  18. Phan An says:

    “Is this dabbling good or bad for science? I don’t know. Maybe it is a necessary first step to something worthwhile.”
    Chuck Lam , I agree with you that it may be a necessary first step to something worthwhile. And for that dabbling , it may be not good , but never bad , I think .

  19. joe says:

    The only important thing to me is am I more likely to win the lottery or die from being hit by a blackhole?

  20. Nutty Professor says:

    Thanks for the funny papers!!!

  21. Sven Gudenboiker says:

    Yo! Chuckie Dude!

    It has taken us 100 years to START proving a lot of Einsteins predictions correct. How can you say Hawking is out of main stream because we can’t prove him wrong or right – RIGHT NOW???

    Einstein was rarely wrong so we need people like Stevie boy! It takes guts to predict anything new
    knowing the entire scientific community is going to attack your work .

  22. old man says:

    Which is more likely; I will write something intelligent or be struck by a black hole?

  23. old man says:

    What are the odds of me typing “Hamlet” while copying it from the actual play?

  24. BobLakewood says:

    “…one with the mass of the Earth and the radius of a golf ball…?”

    I thought that black holes were singularities. If so, why would the above mentioned black hole have the “radius of a golf ball”? Unless this defines the radius of its event horizon?

  25. anonymous says:

    I recall seeing this in a couple of places and never saw a followup. Something about stranglets passing through the earth in 1993.

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/682006/posts

    Does anyone know if there is anything to this?

  26. Colonel Slade says:

    Yo, Sven, he prefers to be called Charles–not Chuckie. If were the man I was five decades ago, I’d take a FLAMETHROWER TO THIS PLACE!

  27. Daniel Hazelton Waters says:

    What if little black holes pop in and out of existence everywhere in the quantum foam. what if soon we will harvest them and create infinite computer power. Time travel with information and communication with alternate realities.

  28. Dark Gnat says:

    I sometimes wonder if black holes are lodged in some peoples’ skulls. 😀

    BobLakewood: I think the “radius” does refer to the Event Horizon.

  29. JUAN says:

    if if if if if if if everithing its a “if”

  30. DavidG says:

    A few years ago I saw some articles about a possible strangelet-Earth encounter. My memory is rusty because I thought it had been a fast moving microscopic black hole. I also thought it was more widely reported.

    The only reference I can find now is “Earth Punctured By Tiny Cosmic Missles” @ http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/682006/posts

    I have no idea what if anything came of this. Or if it is still a viable theory?

    Does anyone know?

  31. Alex says:

    “And he can stand , but not on his legs like you do, he do on his brain .”

    Sounds like you may have been standing on your brain for too long : )

  32. John Mendenhall says:

    There is a lot about this on other BAUT threads. Essentially, nothing much happens, even if the black hole goes into orbit inside the Earth. The Schwarzchild radius of the black hole is too small to interact with much of anything.

    Yet another counter-intuitive aspect of GR.

  33. DavidG says:

    I recall reports from 2002 about research looking into earthquakes. The reports indicated two events around 1993 that were from small fast moving dense objects passing through the earth. My recollection was tiny black holes but the only articles (search on “cosmic missiles”) I can find now indicate stranglets.

    I’ve never heard followup on this and wondered what came of it.

  34. Phan An says:

    “And he can stand , but not on his legs like you do, he do on his brain .”
    Sounds like you may have been standing on your brain for too long.
    Yes, Alex , I like to stand on my brain, but unfortunately I’m not smart enough to do that.
    Sven Gudenboiker, you are right. But I don’t know weather those people have any interests in theoritical physics ? If they do , why do not they have any daring in thinking instead of having lots of fears. People shouldn’t think theoritical physics is the wonderland of Alice or a hell of the world. It’s just the wonderland of theoritical physicists where if you decide to take part in, you have to follow their rules.

  35. Crissysdad says:

    I love this site! The comments here hace given me at least 3 SF books to read, and no one even mentioned Robert L. Forward’s Dragon’s Egg, in which, one of the heroes (all of Forward’s heroes are scientists) is trying to prove the existance of a previously unknown, in the book, FIFTH PBH orbiting within the Sun.
    Maybe the PBH’s that hit earth in the early 90’s are drunk-driving Cheela! Think Daffy Duck in ‘Duck Dodgers In The 24th and a 1/2 Century’ saying “I had the silly thing in reverse’.

  36. nicky nichols says:

    To: Rev,

    Your remarks above would appear to constitute disability hate speech.

    As an ordinary member of the public, I take great exception to this.

    It is my fullest intention to bring this matter to the direct attention of the authority which is most likely to be concerned.

    From: Nicky Nichols

  37. Bob says:

    Back to the issue at hand. If the Earth was “hit”: by a pbh it would go unoticed. It is theoreticaly possible ( not very probabe) it could pass through and not hit a single piece of mater. And any matter it did come into contact with would be swallowed up on it’s way through. Radiation left behind would be so slight as to be almost undectectible by anything we have today. And given it’s speed it could not be “captured” by the gavity of the Earth.

  38. toodle-pip says:

    hi people

  39. Banoon says:

    I know it’s stupid, but I am honestly scared of these black holes @_@

  40. Lilly says:

    IF a bunch of micro black holes were created by the
    Large Hadron Collider, and they became trapped in
    our atmosphere, some might get the impression that
    the “Rapture” had occurred, when it did not, IF the
    micro black holes, of undetermined size were the
    reason that a large number of people randomly
    go missing. FYI, Mr. Hawking, though I admire
    his work, is not infallible.

  41. JTankers says:

    Do you know what you get when you mix high energy colliders with Professor Otto Rossler?s charged micro black hole theory?

    Answer: a golf ball (in 50 months to 50 years…)

    http://translate.google.com/translate?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.20min.ch%2Fnews%2Fwissen%2Fstory%2F24668213&hl=en&ie=UTF8&sl=de&tl=en

  42. Soron says:

    Well lets say if a blackhole it earth there would be nothing left.
    Blackhole is a wrong name I may be wrong but some people believe that blackholes are compressed matter like a compressed star.
    And if a star large enough to become a blackhole hit earth….XD

    (um the idea of compressed matter is a theory most likely true but not 99% proven.)
    The matters not lost!!!!! 🙂 though it becomes light -_-

  43. Tom says:

    LOL

    I think it will be so cool

    hahaha!!!!!!!!1

  44. Joel S says:

    Who was the first to come up with the theory about black holes?

  45. Joel S says:

    Also the theory of black holes shouldn’t be scaring anyone. Black holes have about a 0.00000000164 cahnce of hitting earth. It’s practically impossible for us to come across something as catastrophic as a black hole. I hope one day we will advance enough to one day see a black hole.

  46. Joel S says:

    Sorry a 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000164 chance of hitting earth.

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