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Scientists Reach for Event Horizon With Man-Made Black Holes

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Blithely disregarding the doomsday predictions of numerous filmmakers, scientists at Dartmouth College are trying to figure out how to build their own itty bitty black holes. It’s a daunting task, and it better be, because black holes are no laughing matter (or anti-matter). Their unrelenting gravitational pull sucks in everything around them, even light. And according to the 1997 flick Event Horizon, traveling through black holes — which seems like such a time saver — causes hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and extremely antisocial behavior.

So why would anyone want to manufacture a baby black hole? Because the energetic photons that might emerge from it could explain what happens to matter at the edge of a big black hole, and shed light on the physics of black holes in general. There are a number of obstacles to overcome, though. First, no one has yet successfully strung together enough superconducting devices to create a black hole in a laboratory. And second, if Sphere is to be believed, accidentally falling into a black hole could shoot you back in time and to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean — which doesn’t sound like much fun at all, even if Sharon Stone is there, too.

Some researchers are taking the safe route and using supercomputer simulations to investigate black holes. A new study by astrophysicists at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology demonstrates the powerful effect the universe’s first black holes had on their galaxies, although way back then, black holes were rather small and slow to expand. Not like the monsters we have now! These extraordinarily powerful objects are so damn serious that Disney’s first foray into PG territory was called The Black Hole, although in that movie, things don’t turn out so badly, all things considered.

The possibility of conjuring black holes on earth makes plenty of people uneasy, even those you’d think would be excited. As scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) were preparing to fire up the Large Hadron Collider last fall, German chemist Otto Rossler sued to delay its launch. Rossler claimed that the giant particle accelerator had the potential to create tiny black holes, which could get larger and larger and swallow up everything. “My own calculations have shown it is quite plausible that these little black holes survive and will grow exponentially and eat the planet from the inside,” Rossler said. Of course, if it’s between non-existence and slipping into a Hell dimension with Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne, non-existence doesn’t seem all that bad.

But Brian Greene, famous string theorist and exceptionally photogenic Columbia University professor, begs to differ. In a New York Times Op-Ed piece, Greene writes “Work that made Stephen Hawking famous establishes that tiny black holes would disintegrate in a minuscule fraction of a second, long enough for physicists to reap the benefits of having produced them, but short enough to avoid their wreaking any havoc.”

That’s all well and good — unless of course Dr. Greene has suffered the same fate as Neill’s Dr. Weir and is under the influence of an evil presence. The European courts think not, and have declined to halt the LHC project, but Rossler may have had the last laugh: A mere nine days after the LHC was first turned on, it had to be shut down because of damage to its superconducting magnets. (In case you’re curious, we’re all still here.) It’s scheduled to begin smashing particles again in September, so start making your end-of-the-world plans now.

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