Photo in the News: Lab Creates "Black Hole"

Photo: Particle accelerator
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March 18, 2005—A Brown University physicist believes a fireball he created in a particle accelerator may have been a black hole. Using the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (pictured above) at Brookhaven Laboratory in Upton, New York, Horatiu Nastase smashed the nuclei of gold atoms together at nearly the speed of light.

The collisions were powerful enough to break the nuclei into gluons and quarks, the most basic building blocks of matter. The particles created a plasma fireball 300 million times hotter than the surface of the sun. In a paper published on Cornell University's arxiv.org Web site, Nastase wrote that, based on his calculations, the fireball behaved like a black hole, absorbing streams of particles and radiating them as heat.

For now, any fears of the collider creating a civilization-destroying supergravity vortex are misplaced. The forces involved in the experiment were simply too weak, and the theoretical black hole was very short-lived. How brief? Divide a second by 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

—Sean Markey

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