If You Don’t Have an LHC, Here’s How to Create Your Own Black Hole

Artists concept of a black hole.

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Those fearful folks who have worried about the Large Hadron Collider creating a black hole that could swallow the Earth have probably been feeling pretty safe while the giant particle accelerator is still offline. But hopefully they haven’t read the latest Physical Review Letters . It includes a paper that explains how researchers at Dartmouth have figured out a way to create a tiny quantum-sized black hole in their lab, with no LHC required.

In their paper, the researchers show that a magnetic field-pulsed microwave transmission line containing an array of superconducting quantum interference devices, or SQUIDs, not only reproduces physics similar to that of a radiating black hole, but does so in a system where the high energy and quantum mechanical properties are well understood and can be directly controlled in the laboratory. The paper states, “Thus, in principle, this setup enables the exploration of analogue quantum gravitational effects.”

“We can also manipulate the strength of the applied magnetic field so that the SQUID array can be used to probe black hole radiation beyond what was considered by Hawking,” said Miles Blencowe, an author on the paper and a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth.

Creating a black hole would allow researchers to better understand what physicist Stephen Hawking proposed more than 35 years ago: black holes are not totally void of activity; they emit photons, which is now known as Hawking radiation.

“Hawking famously showed that black holes radiate energy according to a thermal spectrum,” said co-author Paul Nation. “His calculations relied on assumptions about the physics of ultra-high energies and quantum gravity. Because we can’t yet take measurements from real black holes, we need a way to recreate this phenomenon in the lab in order to study it, to validate it.”

This is not the first proposed imitation black hole, Nation said. Other proposed schemes to create a black hole include using supersonic fluid flows, ultracold bose-einstein condensates and nonlinear fiber optic cables. However, these ideas wouldn’t work as well to study Hawking radiation because the radiation in these methods is incredibly weak or otherwise masked by commonplace radiation due to unavoidable heating of the device, making it very difficult to detect. “In addition to being able to study analogue quantum gravity effects, the new, SQUID-based proposal may be a more straightforward method to detect the Hawking radiation,” said Blencowe.

Source: Dartmouth U

NASA Satellite Will Provide New Look At Cosmic X-Ray Sources

GEMS, the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer, will detect polarized X-rays from supernova remnants, neutron stars and black holes.

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NASA has announced the development of a space-based observatory to give astronomers a new way to view X-rays from exotic objects such as black holes, neutron stars, and supernovae.  Called the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer (GEMS), the mission is part of NASA’s Small Explorer (SMEX) series of cost-efficient and highly productive space-science satellites, and will be the first satellite to measure the polarization of X-rays sources beyond the solar system.

Polarization is the direction of the vibrating electric field in an electromagnetic wave. An everyday example of polarization is the attenuating effect of some types of sunglasses, which pass light that vibrates in one direction while blocking the rest.  Astronomers frequently measure the polarization of radio waves and visible light to get insight into the physics of stars, nebulae, and the interstellar medium, but few measurements have every been made of polarized X-rays from cosmic sources.

“To date, astronomers have measured X-ray polarization from only a single object outside the solar system — the famous Crab Nebula, the luminous cloud that marks the site of an exploded star,” said Jean Swank, a Goddard astrophysicist and the GEMS principal investigator. “We expect that GEMS will detect dozens of sources and really open up this new frontier.”

Black holes will be high on the list of objects for GEMS to observe.  The extreme gravitational field near a spinning black hole not only bends the paths of X-rays, it also alters the directions of their electric fields. Polarization measurements can reveal the presence of a black hole and provide astronomers with information on its spin. Fast-moving electrons emit polarized X-rays as they spiral through intense magnetic fields, providing GEMS with the means to explore another aspect of extreme environments.

“Thanks to these effects, GEMS can probe spatial scales far smaller than any telescope can possibly image,” Swank said. Polarized X-rays carry information about the structure of cosmic sources that isn’t available in any other way.

“GEMS will be about 100 times more sensitive to polarization than any previous X-ray observatory, so we’re anticipating many new discoveries,” said Sandra Cauffman, GEMS project manager and the Assistant Director for Flight Projects at Goddard.

Some of the fundamental questions scientists hope GEMS will answer include: Where is the energy released near black holes? Where do the X-ray emissions from pulsars and neutron stars originate? What is the structure of the magnetic fields in supernova remnants?

GEMS will have innovative detectors that efficiently measure X-ray polarization. Using three telescopes, GEMS will detect X-rays with energies between 2,000 and 10,000 electron volts. (For comparison, visible light has energies between 2 and 3 electron volts.) The telescope optics will be based on thin-foil X-ray mirrors developed at Goddard and already proven in the joint Japan/U.S. Suzaku orbital observatory.

GEMS will launch no earlier than 2014 on a mission lasting up to two years.  GEMS is expected to cost $105 million, excluding launch vehicle.

Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Va., will provide the spacecraft bus and mission operations. ATK Space in Goleta, Calif., will build a 4-meter deployable boom that will place the X-ray mirrors at the proper distance from the detectors once GEMS reaches orbit. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., will partner in the science, provide science data processing software and assist in tracking the spacecraft’s development.

Source: NASA Goddard

Also see Proposed Mission Could Study Space-Time Around Black Holes

Ejected Black Holes Drag Clusters of Stars With Them

This artist’s conception shows a rogue black hole that has been kicked out from the center of two merging galaxies. The black hole is surrounded by a cluster of stars that were ripped from the galaxies. Credit: Space Telescope Science Institute

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The tight cluster of stars surrounding a supermassive black hole after it has been violently kicked out of a galaxy represents a new kind of astronomical object which may provide telltale clues to how the ejection event occurred. “Hypercompact stellar systems” result when a supermassive black hole is violently ejected from a galaxy, following a merger with another supermassive black hole. The evicted black hole rips stars from the galaxy as it is thrown out. The stars closest to the black hole move in tandem with the massive object and become a permanent record of the velocity at which the kick occurred.

“You can measure how big the kick was by measuring how fast the stars are moving around the black hole,” said David Merritt, professor of physics at the Rochester Institute of Technolyg. “Only stars orbiting faster than the kick velocity remain attached to the black hole after the kick. These stars carry with them a kind of fossil record of the kick, even after the black hole has slowed down. In principle, you can reconstruct the properties of the kick, which is nice because there would be no other way to do it.”

In a paper published in the July 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal, Merritt and his colleagues discusses the theoretical properties of these objects and suggests that hundreds of these faint star clusters might be detected at optical wavelengths in our immediate cosmic environment. Some of these objects may already have been picked up in astronomical surveys. .

“Finding these objects would be like discovering DNA from a long-extinct species,” said team member Stefanie Komossa, from the Max-Planck-Institut for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany.

The astronomers say the best place to find hypercompact stellar systems is in cluster of galaxies like the nearby Coma and Virgo clusters. These dense regions of space contain thousands of galaxies that have been merging for a long time. Merging galaxies result in merging black holes, which is a prerequisite for the kicks.

“Even if the black hole gets kicked out of one galaxy, it’s still going to be gravitationally bound to the whole cluster of galaxies,” Merritt says. “The total gravity of all the galaxies is acting on that black hole. If it was ever produced, it’s still going to be there somewhere in that cluster.”

Merritt and his co-authors think that scientists may have already seen hypercompact stellar systems and not realized it. These objects would be easy to mistake for common star systems like globular clusters. The key signature making hypercompact stellar systems unique is a high internal velocity. This is detectable only by measuring the velocities of stars moving around the black hole, a difficult measurement that would require a long time exposure on a large telescope.

From time to time, a hypercompact stellar system will make its presence known in a much more dramatic way, when one of the stars is tidally disrupted by the supermassive black hole. In this case, gravity stretches the star and sucks it into the black hole. The star is torn apart, causing a beacon-like flare that signals a black hole. The possibility of detecting one of these “recoil flares” was first discussed in an August 2008 paper by co-authors Merritt and Komossa.

“The only contact of these floating black holes with the rest of the universe is through their armada of stars,” Merritt says, “with an occasional display of stellar fireworks to signal ‘here we are.’”

Source: Rochester Institute of Technology

Will the Large Hadron Collider Destroy the Earth?

Large Hadron Collider
Large Hadron Collider

Question: Will the Large Hadron Collider Destroy the Earth?

Answer: No.

As you might have heard in the news recently, several people are suing to try and get the Large Hadron Collider project canceled. When it finally comes online, the LHC will be the largest, most powerful particle accelerator ever constructed.

If there’s something wrong with it, the LHC might have the power to damage itself, but it can’t do anything to the Earth, or the Universe in general.

There are two worries that people have: black holes and strange matter.

One of the goals of the Large Hadron Collider is to simulate microscopic black holes that might have been generated in the first few moments of the Big Bang. Some people are worried that these artificial black holes might get loose, and then consume the Earth from within, eventually moving on to destroy the Solar System.

The physicists are confident that any black holes they create will evaporate almost instantaneously into a shower of particles. In fact, the theories that predict that black holes can be created also predicts that black holes will evaporate. The two concepts go hand in hand.

The other worry is that the Large Hadron Collider will create a theorized material called strangelets. This “strange matter” would then be able to infect other matter, turning the entire planet into a blog of strange matter.

This strange matter is completely theoretical, and once again, the same theories that say it might be produced in the Large Hadron Collider also rule out any risks from it.

One of the most important considerations is the fact that the Moon is struck by high energy cosmic rays that dwarf the power of the Large Hadron Collider. They were likely blasted out of the environment around a supermassive black hole.

These have been raining down on the Moon for billions of years, and so far, it hasn’t turned into a black hole or strange matter.

You can read more about the Large Hadron Collider lawsuit here. Or how it might create wormholes, a view into other dimensions, or unparticles.