by Sid Deutsch
There does seem to be some use for Black Holes, after all.
A Black Hole appears to be a tremendous concentration of matter, usually at the center of a galaxy (but much smaller “stellar” Black Holes also seem to be possible). The matter is in the form of neutrons, protons, and electrons; they are tightly packed together by their mutual gravitational attraction. The beautifully descriptive name comes from the fact that light cannot exit from a Black Hole.
A photon, which is the smallest building-block of a light wave (in general, an electromagnetic wave), has some effective mass; therefore, it is attracted to the central core of the Black Hole. Instead of propagating away from the core, to eventually reach the Earth and inform us about the mysteries of the Black Hole, the photon begins to spiral around the core, returning to it, to be absorbed by some surface element. In this way, since light cannot escape, only a “black hole” remains on our cosmological detector.
But high concentrations of matter are the very basis for our existence. At the heart of every atom (except hydrogen), is a dense nucleus. It is fun to do some armchair calculations for, say, the nucleus of uranium 238: The handbooks give a diameter, for the U238 nucleus, of 13.6 femtometers. [The number of femtometers (fm) in a meter is 1 followed by 15 zeros.] So the volume of the uranium nucleus is 1317 cubic fm. How much does the nucleus weigh? That’s an easy one: It contains 92 protons and 146 neutrons, but we know exactly how much each of these weighs (they are approximately the same): 1.67 times 1 with decimal point 27 places to the left – in kilograms, no less. Dividing weight by volume, we get a density of 300 trillion grams/cubic centimeter! (Now that the politicians have desensitized us to the word “trillion,” it is O.K. to use it in this cavalier fashion.) Since water only weighs one gram/cc, of course, my calculation reveals that a uranium nucleus has a density 300 trillion times that of water (3 times 1 followed by 14 zeros).
What about hydrogen? It is a special case because its nucleus is a single proton. It is most reasonable to define the volume of a hydrogen proton the same as that of its brethren in a uranium nucleus, so that its density agrees with that of the uranium nucleus. (If the calculation is done for a relatively small nucleus, which has only a few protons and neutrons, we again get a density of approximately 300 trillion.)
This is how it is with nucleii. We’ve been told over-and-over again about neutron stars where, because of gravitational collapse, a once-huge star has been reduced to a radius of a few kilometers with tremendous density. Our own sun, for example, has a mass of around 2 times 1 followed by 30 zeros (in kilograms, determined from its gravitational pull on the earth, of course). As a neutron star, with the aforementioned density of 300 trillion grams/cc, the sun would end up with a diameter of only 23 kilometers! (Of course, all of “mans” best efforts will come to naught when that spectacular event takes place.)
Nothing mysterious at all about this – we have just demonstrated that every nucleus in our body (including those of the brain, of course) is extremely dense. I already feel much heavier in this armchair.
In an ordinary nucleus, the neutrons and protons are in ceaseless motion. This has nothing to do with temperature: temperature is a measure of the average kinetic energy that an atom has, as it hurtles through space in the case of a gas, or a liquid, or as it vibrates in the case of a solid. A typical atom has a diameter of 1 angstrom (or 100,000 fm), with that minuscule nucleus at the center. The 300 trillion value given above is a measure of the empty space surrounding an ordinary nucleus; crush an atom and we get space reduction by a factor of 300 trillion.
We have considered, above, neutrons and stars made up entirely of neutrons. So how does a neutron star differ from the case of a Black Hole? Probably – one has to conjecture here – the neutrons in a neutron star are able to continue their ceaseless motion, whereas the core of a Black Hole, which may be 10,000 times as heavy as our sun, is like a solid lump of coal. Neutrons are jammed so tightly together that they cannot move! Surely a very sad ending for the once vibrant nucleus of an atom, subsequently transformed into a nucleus stripped of electrons, and finally into a dead neutron, incapable of motion. (This is highly oversimplified, of course, but, since nobody knows the correct answers here, please excuse a certain degree of hype.)
The scenario painted by the pessimists amongst us is that the universe is dying as other forms of energy degenerate into heat, and the stars cool down. How can they believe that there is but one unique period, that we are born into it, and the universe is decaying as we sit and endlessly argue about endless expansion, about the Big Bang, and so forth? And what was there before the Big Bang? It is egotistical to believe, as the ancients did, that the universe revolves about us, that we are observers living in a unique time and place. Instead, there is another school of thought that argues for a steady-state universe, that the universe is constantly being rejuvenated, and that we are part of a never-ending cosmological history. Since nothing else seems to be on the “horizon,” this essay argues that Black Holes may be the salvation of the unpopular minority that envisions a steady-state universe.
But much more than sadness should be invoked in the above demise of neutron motion in a Black Hole: If it is true, then increasing chaos – called entropy – is finally reversed by a simple mechanical locking-in of adjacent neutrons so that they cannot vibrate! What happens to the huge amount of energy that locking-in must release? Since this is a strange, unknown form of matter, perhaps it is the crucible in which hydrogen is regenerated.
Hydrogen is the raw material out of which all other forms of matter are assembled. In accordance with Einstein’s E equals mc squared, hydrogen (and some lesser elements) feeds the star furnaces that convert mass into energy. To rejuvenate the universe, therefore, we have to regenerate hydrogen. That’s easy to do in a chemistry lab, but not when we try to convert energy into mass.
“Reverse engineering” shows that a hydrogen atom (or neutron), when it disintegrates, yields a very powerful cosmic ray photon. Briefly, the frequency of a photon is proportional to its energy: a photon of an FM station, at a frequency of 100 megahertz, has minuscule power (regardless of the program material). But a typical X-ray has a frequency of 6 times 1 followed by 18 zeros (Hz). A disintegrating electron gets converted into a photon frequency of 1.2 times 1 followed by 20 zeros (Hz). For a neutron, which is 1840 times as heavy as an electron, we get a frequency that is higher by a factor of 1840, or 2.3 times 1 followed by 23 zeros (Hz).
This only highlights the mystery of cosmic rays – some of them strike the earth’s atmosphere with an energy corresponding to 1 followed by 30 zeros (Hz)! This is cited to calm those of us who are concerned that a photon frequency of 2.3 times 1 followed by 23 zeros (Hz) is rare. Rest assured that there are much higher energies “floating around” in the cosmos.
How do we manage to “see” Black Holes? Well, in the heavens, head-on collisions are very rare. Almost always, two objects approach each other a bit off center because of the vastness of space, so the lighter object ends up by spiraling around its heavier attractor. It is this way between the earth and moon, sun and earth, and so forth. We detect a Black Hole because of the objects spiraling around it; eventually, because of collisions, the material strikes the surface of the Black Hole at tremendous speed, approximately at the speed of light. This is a source of energetic photons at all frequencies, from X-rays to cosmic rays. High-energy photons can regenerate hydrogen at the surface of the Black Hole, before they are absorbed by interior neutrons, or whatever, that are opaque to photons.
The earth intercepts a “wind” of charged particles streaming away from the sun. Also, for many astronomical objects, particles are observed streaming away along the axis of rotation. So far, cosmologists have only documented the loss of matter in the universe; above is described a way in which replacement matter can be found. The point is that hydrogen formed in a Black Hole, or wherever, can act to gradually balance the doomsday image that the universe is running down and ending up as a cold cinder of “coal.” On to a steady-state universe!