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a spaceship is going to land in the middle of Texas, and that aliens are going to come out and tell us that the New York Yankees are all aliens

Yeah, but would they tell us something we didn't know already?

Re: RHIC, that used to be my model for Gamma Ray Bursters, before the really firm long-hard GRB / core-collapse supernova connection because firm enough to ruin all the fun. Gamma Ray Bursters were, in my model, alien civilizations in distant galaxies turning on their heavy ion colliders and nucleating a conversion of matter in their solar system to a more stable state of strange matter, and releasing a correspondingly huge amount of energy.

(I also liked the idea that GRBs were matter and antimatter comets colliding in the Oort cloud, which went away when we knew that GRBs were at cosmological distances. Still, big explosions that have mysterious origins always make for lots of fun thinking.)


The "black hole" fear-mongering hasn't shown up on my radar, yet. But I salute posts like this for nipping such things in the bud.

Just a small point. It's not quite right when you say "Back in the 1990s, Stephen Hawking showed that black holes can emit tiny particles of radiation, which cause them to lose mass over time, gradually winking out of existence. " More accurately, Hawking showed that the theory of quantum fields in curved spacetime predicts such radiation. Whether or not black holes really emit radiation is going to have to wait for experimental observations to confirm or disconfirm.

According to John Baez, Hawking radiation was announced in 1975 , not the 1990s.

JO> The energy to make a top quark is impressive when expressed in GeVs, but extrapolate that to the macroscale, and it amounts to roughly the energy required for an adult male to perform a single pushup.

That's not even close.

1 pushup = 1 ass * 1g * 1 forearm ~ 100kg * 10ms^-2 * 1m ~ 1000 J

Energy of top quark ~ 178 GeV ~ 178 * 10^9 * 1.6 * 10^-19 C V ~ 3 * 10^-8 J .

Top quark mass taken from

Electron charge taken from

(How do you get block-quoting or italics to work in this form?)

RE: Hawking radiation, I'd definitely go with John Baez' date over mine. And I used "showed" in the more theoretical sense... of course, it remains to be experimentally confirmed.

As for the energy calculation, I don't dispute Jeremy's numbers -- and I love any equation that includes reference to the relative masses of an ass and a forearm :) -- but I did rely on a couple of physicist pals for that calculating comment, because I know better than to try such things on my own at home. ALas I can't remember exactly what the critical distinction is that I left out, but there definitely is one. I think it has to do with what happens in terms of mass/energy, density, etc, when you take things down to subatomic scales. I'll check....

Have I mentioned I type these posts really late at night? :)

Hi Jen,
I think the average person know you can't fit the Sun or any other small star into a Lab.
And even if we exploded all the nuclear weapons that already exist on earth, there are a few good places you & I could still survive on earth.
But it is unfortunate that they use the term blachkole for what they hope 'not' to see at the accelerator or collider.

A bit like turning off the light at night at your place, and saying one has created NIGHT. The night is there all one has done is turn off a light, one of many million lights burning in New York.

Incidentally you know it is night all the time, it is onlt the Sun and our orbit around it that creates the illusion of day, and longer or shorter days, unless you live in the equator and you live in a world of pretty much stable 12 hour days & 12 hour nights. Yep a totally different world, on our very own much ridiculed (loved) little planet.

Glad you liked the equation. I couldn't find an official ass/Kg conversion factor so I guessed. Ditto for forearm/m , though now I think about it I suppose a forearm is really a cubit so I probably could have found a reference if I'd been bothered.

Anyway, by the standards of modern theoretical physics a mere 10 orders of magnitude counts as a near miss, so there's no shame. If you want to cover it up, I have a cunning plan. I will spam all the Scienceblogs with a comment beginning "Ooh look! There's a Higgs particle". While teh Intarwebs is looking the other way you can re-edit your post so it looks as though you were really trying to calculate the cosmological constant. Then you claim a Nobel Prize on the grounds that an error of only 10^10 is way better than anyone else so far.

PS. Why aren't you on Scienceblogs? Still holding out against the Borg, or are they too intimidated by a team that talks the talk, walks the walk *and* looks cool in a beret?

PPS. If you have a good expanation of the Klein paradox I'm all ears.

Are you a Blackadder fan, Jeremy? "I have a cunning plan" is one of its mantras.

I'm working on finding a good way to talk about the Klein paradox, but it's a tough one. As for Science blogs, they did ask me to join the Sciblings, and I reluctantly declined on the grounds that I didn't want to give up my personalized layout. If that constitutes "holding out against the Borg," so be it. :) But I'm a big fan of the Scibloggers. I read quite a few of them regularly, and subscribe to the combined feed to keep abreast of everything...

Yes, I was referencing Blackadder. I can understand your desire to keep your distinctive look. Pharyngula never resurrected pirate mode after its assimilation. I'm a Scibloggers fan too, though I've held out against subscribing to their entire feed ... I'd never stop reading them if I did.

I know this doesn't fit this blog, but I'm so jazzed about this, and we've discussed it before that I thought I'd share with the interested readers of CPP.

My daughter was doing her daily reading this evening, poring over a book on the solar system that my parents gave to her for her seventh birthday. She came downstairs and read me long passages about each of the planets, and was obviously entranced. She expressed some confusion over how Uranus and Pluto were both tilted, but in different ways. So I got out a large balloon (the Sun) and lots of apples (with their cores being axes). In this way she understood that Uranus's pole is 90 degrees off of the rest of the planets and that Pluto is not orbiting in the solar plane. Her wonder was obvious and she went to bed mentioning that she might want to become an astronomer.

That's all, but I was so pumped up that I had to write.

Not to worry, Jennifer. If a Black Hole fell into the Earth, we would not get sucked up. It would cause Earth's core to be hot and probably generate a magnetic field. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Other websites I visit have started to worry about this, with several commenters saying that scientists shouldn't do it if there's any chance it could destroy the Earth, even when the post links to an article giving the probability as ~10^(-40).

I'm currently editing a feature on graphene, and it is indeed fascinating stuff, though I agree black holes in a pencil is a bit of a stretch!

I think this is a bit misleading though: "especially the fact that the electrons in graphene zip along at the speed of light, as if they had no mass -- contrary to special relativity, which says no object with even the tiniest bit of mass can ever exactly reach the speed of light".

As I understand it, the electrons (or to be precise, the quasi-particles arising from collective motion of the electrons!) behave as if they have no mass, but the effective "speed of light" for electrons in graphene is only a million metres per second. This is a three-hundredth of the actual speed of light in a vaccuum, so there's no conflict with special relativity.

I hope a copy of Physics of the Buffyverse will be winging it's way to me soon!

Hi Martin, Jennifer,

thank you for mentioning this interesting story... I stumbled over the Klein paradox / black hole story in spiegel online, the web site of a German weekly. This piece was written for the general public, and I guess it was really completely unclear to the average reader as to where and how and why the black hole comes into play.

I tried to explain in my post at backreaction how I understand this story: The essential point is that using the conduction electrons in graphene, one has particles at hand which behave exactly as massless Dirac particles. Technically speaking, they just have momentum proportional to energy, or a "linear dispersion relation". The speed of these particles (more exactly, quasi particles, as Martin mentions) is, indeed, slower than the speed of light - but this is not so important here.

In the Klein paradox, the tunneling probability for Dirac particles rises if the blocking potential barrier gets as high as twice the mass of the particle, since then, particle-antiparticle pairs are created. The energy for this pair creation is taken form the strong field which corresponds to the step in the potential at the barrier.

To test this effect with real electrons, huge electric fields would be necessary. Such fields are available only in the vicinity of superheavy nuclei (the end of the existing periodic table is not enough, though), or maybe around black holes. For this reason, the Klein paradox could never be checked with ususal electrons.

Now, the conducting quasi-electrons in graphene behave as Dirac particles - so, they should exhibt the Klein paradox - and, most important, they are nearly massless. This means that the Klein paradox should occur already at moderate potential barriers, with barriers taht are esay to bring into the graphene planes. And this is exactly what the Manchester people have done. Then, they could study transmission and reflection patterns at the barrier, which correspond neatly to the Klein calculation.

The relation to the black hole is far fetched, I think. Since the Klein paradox is about pair creation, one might think there is a relation to Hawking radiation. However, I think that most physicists would agree that particle creation at horizons (like the Hawking and Unruh radiation) and particle creation in strong fields (an idea going back to Heisenberg and Euler in the 1940s, and best known in high energy and nuclear physics as the Schwinger mechanism) are conceptually different things. The only relation to black holes that I see is that charged microscopic black holes could create electric fields strong enough to display pair creation for standard electrons. The problem, as mentioned before, is that there is up to now no way to create sufficiently strong electric fields in the lab, and they may not even exist in nature, if there are no nuclei with charge numbers around 170 out there...

Best regards, Stefan

The Large Hadron Collider [LHC] at CERN might create numerous different particles that heretofore have only been theorized. Numerous peer-reviewed science articles have been published on each of these, and if you google on the term "LHC" and then the particular particle, you will find hundreds of such articles, including:

1) Higgs boson

2) Magnetic Monopole

3) Strangelet

4) Miniature Black Hole [aka nano black hole]

In 1987 I first theorized that colliders might create miniature black holes, and expressed those concerns to a few individuals. However, Hawking's formula showed that such a miniature black hole, with a mass of under 10,000,000 a.m.u., would "evaporate" in about 1 E-23 seconds, and thus would not move from its point of creation to the walls of the vacuum chamber [taking about 1 E-11 seconds travelling at 0.9999c] in time to cannibalize matter and grow larger.

In 1999, I was uncertain whether Hawking radiation would work as he proposed. If not, and if a mini black hole were created, it could potentially be disastrous. I wrote a Letter to the Editor to Scientific American [July, 1999] about that issue, and they had Frank Wilczek, who later received a Nobel Prize for his work on quarks, write a response. In the response, Frank wrote that it was not a credible scenario to believe that minature black holes could be created.

Well, since then, numerous theorists have asserted to the contrary. Google on "LHC Black Hole" for a plethora of articles on how the LHC might create miniature black holes, which those theorists believe will be harmless because of their faith in Hawking's theory of evaporation via quantum tunneling.

The idea that rare ultra-high-energy cosmic rays striking the moon [or other astronomical body] create natural miniature black holes -- and therefore it is safe to do so in the laboratory -- ignores one very fundamental difference.

In nature, if they are created, they are travelling at about 0.9999c relative to the planet that was struck, and would for example zip through the moon in about 0.1 seconds, very neutrino-like because of their ultra-tiny Schwartzschild radius, and high speed. They would likely not interact at all, or if they did, glom on to perhaps a quark or two, barely decreasing their transit momentum.

At the LHC, however, any such novel particle created would be relatively 'at rest', and be captured by Earth's gravitational field, and would repeatedly orbit through Earth, if stable and not prone to decay. If such miniature black holes don't rapidly evaporate and are produced in copious abundance [1/second by some theories], there is a much greater probability that they will interact and grow larger, compared to what occurs in nature.

There are a host of other problems with the "cosmic ray argument" posited by those who believe it is safe to create miniature black holes. This continuous oversight of obvious flaws in reasoning certaily should give one pause to consider what other oversights might be present in the theories they seek to test.

I am not without some experience in science.

In 1975 I discovered the tracks of a novel particle on a balloon-borne cosmic ray detector. "Evidence for Detection of a Moving Magnetic Monopole", Price et al., Physical Review Letters, August 25, 1975, Volume 35, Number 8. A magnetic monopole was first theorized in 1931 by Paul A.M. Dirac, Proceedings of the Royal Society (London), Series A 133, 60 (1931), and again in Physics Review 74, 817 (1948). While some pundits claimed that the tracks represented a doubly-fragmenting normal nucleus, the data was so far removed from that possibility that it would have been only a one-in-one-billion chance, compared to a novel particle of unknown type. The data fit perfectly with a Dirac monopole.

While I would very much love to see whether we can create a magnetic monopole in a collider, ethically I cannot currently support such because of the risks involved.

For more information, go to:


Walter L. Wagner (Dr.)

A year ago I would have been totally in agreement with you. I remember Y2K all too well. However a lot can happen in a year.

Last June 26th I had an MIT professor make a rediculous statement in a lecture I attended. After talking to him afterward, I found that he had never heard of an alternative line of inquiry that I was questioning him on. It went home and began to write him a letter of explanation. That letter got huge. It eventually became a book, the Dominium, that I am now advancing.

Is there a possibility that LHC can create black-hole material? The answer is definitely yes. There are a number of papers that have printed on this subject. The first papers came out about ten years ago. There are even preexisting organizations fighting for a postponement of this project so that new concerns can be addressed, as well as the ones that have already defined, can be addressed:,, and LifeBoat. Papers that support this conclusion are listed on the first two sites…and there was also an article written in Nature, CERN to spew black holes, October 2, 2001.

If LHC is “successful” in generating man’s first synthetic black-hole material, is there a plan to reverse any black-hole material formed? No. The current hope by proponents of LHC is that nothing will happen that is dangerous. Is this caviler wishful thinking or equation-based prudence? Depends on who you ask—do CERN scientists have a vested interest in having the public lulled into a false sense of safety what hidden agendas to the persons asking important safety concerns have? CERN wishes to protect its $6,800,000,000 European tax-dollar investment, those asking the questions only wish to protect their families, friends, and environment.

Is there a model that suggests that LHC black-hole creations will not safely disappear? Yes, there is a new model that is being advanced that suggests that the basis of the safety assurance arguments is flawed. Debate is fierce of the Scientific American blog being used to advance discussion: All are welcome, though it is advised to read the model before entering in discussion.

LHC is slated to start up this May. That is only a few more days to take action…assuming they are successful on their first try. Chances are they will not be “successful” on the first try. But as they perfect their machine’s calibrations and increase the injection of bundle size, chances increase. There is still hope that public concern could derail the project and allow for all possible safety risks fully explored.

To Hasnuddin - I'm far from an expert on this matter, but does it seem to you that CERN might also have a vested interest in NOT destroying the Earth? I think that the outcome would affect them, too, and I'm not talking about their budget.

35 days left.

It is possible that this Universe in 35 days does not exist anymore. And these are not esoterists these are scientists who think so.

Safety of this project should be reviewed or our Universe may be gone. Sucked up into a black hole actually.

CERN LHC will be in production mode on the 21. of May 2008

Only 35 days until the end of the world? Gosh, I wish I hadn't filed my taxes. I could have spent the money on one big Doomsday Splurge.

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.