Local man-made black holes could end the world
by Mike Smith Daily Lobo
Occasionally, when a star explodes, its field of gravity will cause the star’s remains to collapse in upon itself in a world-shaking cascade of unstoppable force and motion.
With relentless and self-destructive inertia, such implosions will then continue inward until the atoms they’re made up of crumple and cave in. If a star is large enough — at least three times the size of our sun – it may continue imploding until it becomes so dense, it ceases to be at all. It starts to be something else, nothing else – a black hole.
“Black holes, as we understand them today, comprise almost entirely empty space,” physicist Jim Al-Khalili wrote in Black Holes, Wormholes & Time Machines. “In fact, they are literally holes in space, inside which the properties of space and time are completely altered.”
In a black hole, there is only gravity, rushing everything nearby and everything inside to a single unseen point of unbearable density. Any star or asteroid, or anything that comes too near a black hole, has its every atom torn into microscopic shreds, instantaneously rearranged and compacted, and perhaps – some scientists suggest – whisked away to another place, in another form.
In the Milky Way, it’s estimated that there are more than 10 million black holes, hidden among the darkness between stars. At the Milky Way’s center, scientists say there is what is called a “supermassive black hole,” a black hole as many as tens of billions of times larger than our sun. A black hole around which our entire 400-billion-star galaxy revolves. There are even some black holes that move, propelled through space by the force of exploding stars, quietly devouring everything in their paths. Astronomers noted one such rogue black hole in the Milky Way in 2002, moving at almost 250,000 mph in our direction, and another larger one, farther off, in 2005.
Perhaps the most surprising black holes, however, are the ones in New Mexico.
In Albuquerque, at Sandia National Laboratories, in and beneath a nondescript, flat-roofed compound, scientists have created an amazing piece of technology they call the Z Machine. Inside the Z Machine, power is discreetly siphoned from the city and drawn into concentric circles of enormous generators. Electricity from these numerous generators is then shot through switches, hurled into a vacuum chamber, torn across a vein-like network of fine steel filaments and blasted from every side into a miniscule space barely as big as a spool of thread. There, the machine’s more than 20 million amps of electricity slam to a sudden, violent, fiery halt. nd there, for an instant, that tiny space can get hotter than the inside of the sun. In the moment that follows, that captive little star collapses in on itself to become a miniature black hole —- a man-made black hole, roiling, pitch-dark and deep, in the Duke City’s suburbs.
With increasing power since the late 1990s, the Z Machine has given scientists the chance to study the effects of intense radiation without having to detonate nuclear bombs. It has melted diamonds into puddles. It has allowed physicists to study the effects of black holes and types of stars on iron. It has taken scientists thrillingly close to harnessing the power of fusion – a clean, limitless, almost miraculous power. It has provided the potential to change our lives forever, or to end them.
The black holes created by the Z Machine generally evaporate immediately, but if one ever happens to be stable, it might destroy the planet.
“If you were to play back the tape of what went wrong very slowly, you would see something very peculiar,” according to Exitmundi.nl, a Web site devoted to end-of-the-world scenarios. “Suddenly you would see the Earth deform. Obviously, not a very good sign. Our planet is flattened out to become a disk. Beams of radiation shoot out from where the poles used to be. And then, zzzp, the planet’s gone.”
And that would be it, the end – not just of life on Earth, but of the Earth itself – and it would be brought to you by New Mexico.