Black Hole Battles

lenny susskind, kc coleSomehow, I only learned about this today, and it is already standby tickets only, but you never know. If you’re in LA and interested in a different kind of conversation, consider taking in the event (part of the Aloud series) at the downtown Los Angeles Central Library tomorrow night at 7:00pm. It’s between two friends and colleagues of mine, the science writer K C Cole and the scientist Lenny Susskind! The event is entitled, “The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics”, and presumably will be about Lenny’s reflections on some of the exciting squabbles over various important issues in black hole physics that took place (and still take place) in our field of physics. The above turns out to be (I just learned from a Google search) the title of a book he’s written, so you might be interested in it for your Summer (or other) reading.

Some of you may recall her really great conversation with Alan Alda that took place at USC earlier this year. I reported on it here. K C tends to run these sorts of […] Click to continue reading this post

At Last – GLAST!

GLAST launch in progressGood news everyone! GLAST has been launched successfully. GLAST stands for Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, and it does exactly what it says on the packet. It is an instrument designed to look more closely at gamma rays from outer space. More here. It will help (alongside other instruments such as SWIFT) get better understanding of a wide range of gamma-ray emitting objects, that pertain to a wide range of issues, astrophysical to cosmological.

“Gamma ray bursters” are obvious super-powerful sources of gamma rays out there, largely due to macroscopic astrophysical objects (collapsed stars or stars in the process of doing so, or merging with each other – see earlier posts) doing violent things, or interacting violently with their surroundings. So are active galactic nuclei, powered by black holes. We’d like to better understand all of the processes that allow these objects to generate gamma rays.

Other sources could include particles and antiparticles annihilating each other and (by […] Click to continue reading this post

Some Unusual Recipes

Quark  Gluon Plasma RecipesWell, I’ve been quiet here because I got rather swamped with lots of things over the last few days. The biggest thing was yesterday. I gave a colloquium at Caltech entitled “Cooking with Quarks and Gluons: Recipes from the String Theory Kitchen”. The abstract is given below. It is mostly based on what I wrote about last Summer.

With all the other things I had to do (including writing and giving two fun two hour lectures on cosmology in my undergraduate GR class) I still decided that it was time to totally rethink how I tell this exciting physics story, and how I present it. This meant designing and building many new slides. Each slide can take a long time to prepare, so this took two solid days of hiding away while designing and building them, only breaking for the other stuff.

Well, it was fun in the end, and today I am exhausted. I decided that you should not miss out entirely on the treats, so I made a little movie of the first parts of the talk to […] Click to continue reading this post

So What Are the Odds?

John Howe’s Glorund vs Turin imageWell, I’ve said (and pointed to) enough on the matter, but I could not resist a quote from today’s essay by Dennis Overbye in the New York Times (do have a look at the rest of it):

Besides, the random nature of quantum physics means that there is always a minuscule, but nonzero, chance of anything occurring, including that the new collider could spit out man-eating dragons.

Excellent! Proper flying, armoured, fire-breathing, talking, treasure-hoarding, […] Click to continue reading this post

All Creatures Great and Small

The previous post was a farewell to black holes in the class, not here on the blog. (And it was not quite a farewell there either, since the midterm yesterday was all about the properties of the Reissner-Nordstrom black hole, representing a black hole with an electric charge, and a nice computation involving cosmic censorship.)

There have been two rather notable discoveries in the black hole astrophysics world this week. The first is the discovery of what seems to be another case of an intermediate mass black hole (there was only one example known before). Not the supermassive ones that live at the centers of galaxies (tens to hundreds of millions of times the mass of our sun), and not stellar mass ones of a few times the mass of our […] Click to continue reading this post

A Farewell to Black Holes

Yesterday here at USC was my last lecture in the class about black holes (see also here). We’ve got to move on to other topics (Cosmology, Einstein’s equations, etc) and so cannot do any more. It was a fun last lecture though. I pulled together a few scraps of things I did not finish in the previous lecture (such as the extraordinarily high percentage of binding energy per unit rest mass you can extract with rotating black hole orbits – just what you need to power things like quasars) and then finished with:

  1. A taste of Hawking radiation, the Bekenstein-Hawking entropy and the wonderful and beautiful subject of black hole thermodynamics that opens up when you combine gravity with quantum mechanics*, followed by…
  2. A quick discussion of the Penrose process for extracting energy from rotating black holes. (I’m sure that all (past, present or future) super-advanced civilizations must be using them as the ultimate emissions-free means of generating energy for heating their homes and so forth. No, really.)

*Of course, all undergraduates commonly hate it when you dare bring in stuff from other classes, so to […] Click to continue reading this post

More Trouble for LHC?

[Update:- NB: This was an April Fool joke. -cvj]

CMS detector - New York TimesSome breaking news for a change. I’ve only heard snippets of this and so I’ll update later with more as I get it. That silliness that was in the news about two physicists pursuing a lawsuit against the Large Hadron Collider has suddenly become serious. (Image right: the CMS detector at the LHC, taken by Valerio Mezzanotti – from a NYT article last year.)

Recall that the issue was that there would be the possibility of the experiment creating mini black holes that could gobble up the earth and that the CERN scientists have not done enough to demonstrate that this was not a safety issue. Of course, and has already been said in several places (see e.g., Phil’s general level post about the physics and the case here), this is utterly ill-conceived and in any case certainly not the way to go about things, but it seems that the legal route can be quite damaging for science, in the right hands.

What seems to have happened is this. Since the suit was filed in Hawaii, it falls under US Federal jurisdiction, and has been taken up as an emergency issue before the Supreme Court. Somehow the litigants got a hearing on this with the help of powerful friends who have what can only be thought of as another example of the anti-science agenda we’ve a lot of in various branches of the government in recent years.

The upshot is that the Supreme Court has announced today that they are requiring all […] Click to continue reading this post

Law Vs Law

A silly lawsuit vs the search for physical law, that is. What’s the story?* An attempt to stop the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva from operating over fears that the experiment will destroy the earth by creating a black hole that will swallow it up. Or some other bogeyman. Article by Dennis Overbye here, or here, and there’s a Fox News story by Paul Wagenseilhere.

The lawsuit, filed March 21 in Federal District Court, in Honolulu, seeks a temporary restraining order prohibiting CERN from proceeding with the accelerator until it has produced a safety report and an environmental assessment. It names the federal Department of Energy, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the National Science Foundation and CERN as defendants.

Quite an entertaining read can also be found at the two plaintiffs’ website. The main […] Click to continue reading this post

Bigger than the FCC

We’ve been studying rotating black holes in my class this week, which has been fun. We get to apply the techniques we’ve been honing in the context of the Schwarzschild solution (link to recent posts below) to a bit more complicated solution, the Kerr solution, which includes rotation. Some equations follow, although you needn’t be put off by them. Most of this will make sense without really understanding them much. Just so you can see the shape of the things we scribble, I’ll show you the equation that captures this curved spacetime geometry, with no real explanation (sorry):

kerr solution

Here [tex]\Delta\equiv r^2-2Mr+a^2[/tex] and [tex]\rho^2\equiv r^2+a^2\cos^2\theta\ .[/tex] The parameter [tex]a[/tex] is the ratio of the solution’s spin or angular momentum [tex]J[/tex] to its total mass [tex]M[/tex], measured in appropriate units. It’s a very important solution to get to grips with, since it’s not just fantasy physics, but highly relevant for astrophysics since black holes that are “out there” are unlikely to be non-rotating, and in fact, one can expect them to be rotating at quite a clip in many cases. A good many black holes – including some of the […] Click to continue reading this post

Tipping the Light Cone: Black Holes

Black Holes by Tamsin Van Essen: http://www.vanessendesign.com/

Black Holes, by Tamsin Van Essen. Part of a series of lovely ceramics with a physics theme. For more, visit the websites here and here.

As you may recall from the post I did some time ago, the “Light Cone” is a rather important concept in physics, and keeping track of it in a given physical scenario is an extremely important tool and technique for understanding many physical situations. (I urge you to review that post before continuing reading this one.)

One way to understand a most important concept – the event horizon – is by keeping track of lightcones, and so let’s go ahead and explore that here. The outcome is that […] Click to continue reading this post

Beyond Einstein: Fixing Singularities in Spacetime

Not long ago David Morrison (UCSB) came to the mathematics department here at USC to give a colloquium.

David Morrison Colloquium at USC

This was a treat for me for many reasons. Here are three:

  1. It’s always good to see Dave. He’s one of the people I’ve known in the field was since my very first postdoc when I was learning to survive in the big bad world on my own after graduate school. I mostly could not understand a word he or anyone there else said in those days (IAS Princeton, right in the belly of the

[…] Click to continue reading this post

The Universe Tomorrow

Over on Correlations, I talked a bit about the History Channel’s science show “The Universe” (as I have here), and pointed out that the new season (season two) has already begun being broadcast. Here’s hoping that it’s a good series of programmes that will be enjoyable and informative. The show’s website is here.

Well, I’ve learned that the second episode, tomorrow’s (showing at 9:00pm), is one of those that i did some shooting for over the last two months at a number of places around LA. Rather than repeat, here’s what I said:

The next one, to air on Tuesday the 4th December, is called “Cosmic Holes” (yeah, I know), and the subject matter will be right on the edge of the known and the unknown, talking about black holes, white holes, and wormholes. While we know that the first are out there, the second two, while also solutions of Einstein’s General Relativity, are still theoretical constructs (and not without problems). The show explores some of the ideas and the prospects for the ideas surrounding

[…] Click to continue reading this post

Warped Ambitions?

Just spotted this in the Guardian:

starship enterprizeNext Thursday, the British Interplanetary Society is bringing together physicists for a conference entitled Faster than Light: Breaking the Interstellar Distance Barrier. “The main purpose is to raise awareness of this obscure field of research within general relativity and quantum field theory and attract new and particularly young researchers to work on the technical problems,” said organiser Kelvin Long.

Wow! I had no idea there was such a meeting. Did anyone reading go?! What is the British Interplanetary Society? From their site I found this quote: […] Click to continue reading this post

Lookin’ For Some Hot Stuff

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Hot, hot, hot, hot stuff
hot, hot, hot
hot, hot, hot, hot stuff
hot, hot, hot

– from “Hot Stuff”, by Donna Summer (1979). I refer to not only the physics but the c. 100 oF temperatures we’ve been having here every day recently.
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On my way back from the conference, I spotted this book (left) last Saturday in Foyles (the booksellers) in London 1. Quark Gluon Plasma book It is a collection of reprints of a lot of the papers forming the foundations of the physics of the quark-gluon plasma (QGP) idea, going back the early to mid 1970s with such papers as Collins and Perry (Gosh, I had no idea Malcolm was one of the early workers on this idea. He’s much more thought of as associated with black holes, gravity, strings and so forth, ideas which – ironically – have recently turned out to be relevant to the discussions of the physics too. See my recent post, and there are also various popular articles to be found2).

Putting aside the usual ridiculous price that Springer Elsevier charges for books, I found myself in two minds about this book, in view of the surprises being uncovered about the properties of this remarkable state of matter at the RHIC experiment. Is this collection of early papers a useful working tool, or is it now just of historical interest, since many of the basic expectations about the properties of the plasma seem now to be incorrect?

rhic collision of gold ionsWell, after a bit of thought, I decided that the latter view would be way too hasty. First and foremost, on a general level, even if some of the computations in some papers were done in the “wrong” light (it’s a strongly coupled liquid that flows, not a weakly coupled gas of quarks and gluons), much of their content will still be useful in many ways – good and correct calculations last for all time, it is the sense of the words decorating them that may crumble over time. More specifically, one can worry about whether there were assumptions (and approximations based on those) that went into the computations that will render […] Click to continue reading this post