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Space Earth

Micro-Black Holes Make Poor Planet Killers 314

astroengine writes "Physicists are getting excited about the possibility of micro-black holes (MBH) being produced by the LHC and an international group of researchers have done the math to see what kind of impact they could have on the Earth. Unfortunately, if you're a megalomaniac looking for your next globe-eating weapon, you can scrub MBHs off your WMD list. If a speedy MBH is produced, flying through our planet, it will only have a few seconds to accrete the mass of a few atoms. It would then be lost to space where it will evaporate. If a slow MBH is produced, dropping into the Earth where it sits for a few billion years, the results are even more boring."
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Micro-Black Holes Make Poor Planet Killers

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  • by Phoenix ( 2762 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @09:19AM (#30085750)

    Sadly however, people will read this article and will still freak out about how the LHC is going to doom us all.

  • by stjobe ( 78285 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @09:20AM (#30085756) Homepage

    Ah, the fear of the unknown. Yes, a classic. "I don't understand it, and I don't believe that they do either".

    I've got news for you; this is as good (or should i say precise) model of these things as you are going to get right now. It's the cutting edge of our understanding of how MBHs work, and _that_ understanding in turn depends on a quite large, quite solid foundation of math and physics.

    So please, this isn't speculation, it's SCIENCE.

  • Re:3rd Option (Score:1, Insightful)

    by laejoh ( 648921 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @09:28AM (#30085792)

    You'd need a MDD [], not a MBH!

  • Re:As if! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by somersault ( 912633 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @09:41AM (#30085904) Homepage Journal

    I heard this months ago on /. , it's hardly news to those who had actually been following things.

    If there was any serious cause for concern, this wouldn't be going ahead. I doubt every scientist working on the project is also desiring to commit suicide/genocide/planetacide/whatever.

  • by MindKata ( 957167 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @09:44AM (#30085928) Journal
    "Calculating how quickly a micro-black-hole would accumulate mass strikes me as a great undergrad tutorial question."

    Which implies using existing theories to calculate it. What I think the grand parent post is saying is that we don't know for sure our current theories are all correct. After all, if we knew it all 100% correctly, there wouldn't be any need to build the LHC.

    Scientific evidence accumulates over time. In science, its extremely hard to say 100% correct and be very careful of anyone who claims different.

    Our current theories are our best current understanding of the universe and they do indeed work well. But we cannot be 100% sure. In the case of creating a black hole we won't know for sure until we create one under the conditions in the LHC (which due to the grouping of particle collisions in the LHC is different from a single high speed collision happening in the upper atmosphere).

    Throughout the history of science we can see time and time again where theories were overturned. We therefore cannot assume all our current theories are correct under all possible conditions. There could be factors we are so far ignoring.

    The problem is, the creation of a black hole in the LHC is kind of a unique experiment, as most wrong answers in science don't have such horrific results if our current theories are wrong.
  • by Yvan256 ( 722131 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @09:55AM (#30086018) Homepage Journal

    In this case it's quite different. It's not religious zealots crying wolf at something they don't understand. It's rational people, some of them scientists, saying that we really don't know for sure, that our current knowledge could be flawed. A real scientist should always be ready to question our current knowledge.

    Another way to put it: if we were so sure that what we know is 100% correct then we wouldn't need to build the LHC to test our theories in the first place.

  • The problem is... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by charliemopps11 ( 1606697 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @09:56AM (#30086040)
    The problem is, there is cause for real concern. Maybe not with the LHC but with science in general. 1. The universe is vast, and old. It's quite clear that, if life is as common as we think it is, the universe should be filled with ancient civilizations. 2. We have no evidence of any alien life... where are they? 3. We have a very rudimentary understanding of physics. 4. It may very well be that it is common for civilizations to evolve to the point at which we are at but then mistakenly destroy themselves through, what at first appear to be benign experiments. Not saying it will be a micro blackhole... or even the LHC. But we had better watch it. There might be a very simple reason that SETI hasn't found anything yet. They're all dead.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:09AM (#30086154)

    Well yes but just because something could be wrong doesn't mean we should give no weight at all to their proposed mathematical model. That's like saying that our current understanding of gravity and electromagnetics (or evolution or whatever) COULD be wrong, so let's take all this egghead science stuff with a grain of salt. Everyone will freely acknowledge this, but like ID folks (I'm a biologist so pardon me for leaping to this example) the logical fallacy is then, "Well you could be wrong, and I could be wrong, so let's give equal credence to both our ideas." Which is silly, because just because two things might or might not be true doesn't mean they might or might not be true equally. Similarly, if a world-renowned physicist says something, and I say he might be wrong, everyone knows that already, but since he's put together a good model of a phenomenon based on our current understanding of how the universe works, there's no reason to assume it's all speculation and hand-waving.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:10AM (#30086164) Journal
    It could be wrong, but it can only be wrong in one direction. The kind of collision that the LHC is going to be producing happens all the time in the upper atmosphere as cosmic rays hit. There are three possibilities:
    1. The theory is approximately correct.
    2. Micro black holes aren't formed at all at this energy level.
    3. Micro black holes evaporate much faster than expected (unlikely, because this would produce more radiation than we observe).
  • by ChowRiit ( 939581 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:27AM (#30086382)

    To answer point 2, current evidence is that human radio signals will be distorted by the heliopause at the edge of the solar system such that they are undetectable from outside. Therefore, an incredibly strong and likely custom-built communication system would be needed to penetrate deep space and be detectable by aliens.

    Secondly, while the Universe might be vast, we can only really stand a chance of picking up signals from within the Milky Way (and even then only fairly nearby, excluding stupendously powerful transmitters, perhaps), so the number of stars that could potentially signal us is vastly reduced.

    Lastly, you have to limit that to only stars with habitable planets on which life has formed and evolved to a high level than ours, and then transmitted signals of sufficient power that reached Earth during the 50 or so years we've been listening.

    Don't get me wrong, I think it's well worth using SETI etc to look but I don't think we should be shocked that we haven't found anything.

  • by ChowRiit ( 939581 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:30AM (#30086424)

    Black-holes are not a source of energy (excluding the monumentally tiny energy output via Hawking radiation), any energy gained harnessing black-holes would be from the accretion disk around them in which particles accelerating towards the black-hole emit radiation due to friction among themselves. However, you'd likely need a stellar-mass black-hole to get a realistic accretion disk going.

    Anyway, ZPMs aren't hard to find, you just need Ancient-built replicator civilisations or time travel.

  • by The_Wilschon ( 782534 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:35AM (#30086500) Homepage
    The argument goes like this: There are plenty of cosmic rays which impact our atmosphere, the other planets in the solar system, the sun, other stars, everything, with energies across a huge spectrum, including LHC energies. Either the LHC will produce MBH or it will not. If it will, then cosmic rays also produce MBH, and do so without destroying any of the things we can see in the sky, so MBH from the LHC would similarly not destroy the earth. If the LHC will not produce MBH, then we have nothing to worry about in that regard anyway.

    This argument works for just about any Earth destroying LHC scenario, except, I suppose, the time traveling killer Higgs ;)
  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @11:22AM (#30087088)

    Three Words (or one word and one name): Von Neuman Probes.

    It should be relatively trivial for an advanced civilization to seed every star in the galaxy with self replicating probes. The initial investment would be only enough to construct the first generation and send them out, after that they would reproduce with local resources and send out the next wave. The apparent lack of such probes in our solar system should be, in my opinion, much more concerning to the SETI crowd than the lack of radio transmissions which would probably be impossible to detect from any significant distance anyway.

  • by jimboindeutchland ( 1125659 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @11:28AM (#30087154) Homepage
    Thanks for the smart arse reply.

    I'm well aware of the power of Google and Wikipedia, but I chose to ask a question on Slashdot instead. What's the harm in that?

    If people making idiotic posts irritates you so much that you have to make a snarky response, consider that perhaps you could have posted a more useful reply - like this one [] - instead of trying to belittle someone by making an even more useless comment.
  • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @12:19PM (#30087780)

    which due to the grouping of particle collisions in the LHC is different from a single high speed collision happening in the upper atmosphere

    This statement makes no sense. The quarks have no clue if they're in the atmosphere or the LHC.

    The ignorant, murderous assholes who have been making a living for themselves inducing panic in people by waving their hands about LHC black holes have been making much of this "we don't know everything" rhetoric. But unlike the scientists who have performed these actual calculations, the ignorant murderous assholes have never produced any numbers: just vague handwaving and wild specuation that requires almost everything we know about physics to be wrong (expect for a few very carefully chosen bits they need to be right to keep thier speculations afloat.)

    In fact, if you are worried about LHC black holes destroying the Earth then you should ALSO be worried that clicking your heels together three times and saying, "There's no place like home" will turn you into a bowl of cornflakes. After all, we can't be 100% sure it won't happen, and in fact the probability of it happening is slightly higher than the bizzare balance of known and novel physics that would be required to allow the LHC to create black holes, much less have them destroy the Earth.

    So my question to the ignorant murderous assholes is: why are you making such a fuss about LHC black holes when there are so many millions of other things that pose a far greater risk to the Earth? Giant asteroid collisions caused by global warming (the atmosphere expands, increasing the odds of impact). Death by cell phone radiation interacting with the local galactic magentic field causing the Earth to fall into the sun. And so on. If you are worried about LHC black holes you have set the thresold for worry so low that if you aren't completely intellectually dishonest there are a vast array of other risks you should be in a panic about.

    So why aren't you?

  • by Late Adopter ( 1492849 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @12:42PM (#30088102)

    Which implies using existing theories to calculate it. What I think the grand parent post is saying is that we don't know for sure our current theories are all correct. After all, if we knew it all 100% correctly, there wouldn't be any need to build the LHC.

    This line of logic is ridiculous. We're building the LHC to explore many things, one of which is probing a few plausible alternate theories that predict black hole production at a measurable rate. But the assumption that that means we can't come up with logically-consistent explanations of how such a black-hole would behave is ridiculous. You can put some bounds on it, right? You can say that a black hole won't make bunnies leap out of the wall. Not because it *sounds* ridiculous, but because there's no mathematically and logically internally consistent theory under which such a thing could happen. You can keep moving this line until you start finding regimes of behavior that might be consistent with new theories allowed, compatible with previous observations but allowing new ones under these new conditions. And that's what theorists are doing!

    Any claim of unexpected behavior without a plausible and mathematically self-consistent theory to back it up is baseless. Which isn't to say one doesn't exist (the whole absence of evidence thing), but until one does, there's just as much sense to prepare for the coming bunny invasion.

  • by buswolley ( 591500 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @01:03PM (#30088330) Journal
    I don't think that there will be a problem.

    The problem with this whole situation is that I can't verify it myself in the next couple of days. I do not have the skills or foundational knowledge. The problem with this whole thing is that these scientists are asking 99.9999% of the public to trust them,w e won't get you killed by a black hole. We can't tell if they are worthy of that much trust. Maybe their calculations are tinged by self interest or tinged by interest in the the possible scientific discovery.

    The point is, most of us have no way of knowing, but black holes have a way of sounding scary. We may be ignorant, but we are definitely self serving.

  • by Late Adopter ( 1492849 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @01:32PM (#30088720)

    The main lesson of science is to be humble, all scientific models are "incorrect" in the long term.

    But they're not *equally* incorrect. They're as good as they are useful at modeling the world around us in their particular regimes.

    We don't put Newton by the wayside just because we know about GR. And likewise if GR is ever expanded on or replaced, we still might use it to correct the time-slew of GPS satellites. It's about the best tool available for the job. And right now, the best tool for making decisions about the behavior of black holes and high-energy interactions based on the evidence available is telling us not to worry. What cause otherwise *is* there to worry? The fact that the word "black hole" happens to relate to a concept that scares people?

  • by Avalain ( 1321959 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @04:09PM (#30091102)
    Well, the example was meant to explain a bit of the physics behind black holes. It's not something that will actually happen to our sun. Yes, the reg giant phase will happen first but it's not really going to break the earth up as much as swallow it. The sun is going to expand until it has a radius of 1AU, which is the size of the orbit of the Earth. Basically the Earth is just going to melt.

    After that the sun will actually shrink and become a white dwarf. It's not big enough to go supernova, and it's not going to become a black hole.
  • by popo ( 107611 ) on Friday November 13, 2009 @04:10PM (#30091116) Homepage

    Possibility #4. Micro Black holes created in the upper atmosphere dissipate (not "evaporate", btw) quickly because of a different set of unaccounted variables (ie: the environment of the upper atmosphere)

    Thinking that one understands all the variables in an experiment is a dangerous game. Chaos is everywhere.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel