Black Hole Created, Earth To Implode

Lab fireball 'may be black hole'

It was generated at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in New York, US, which smashes beams of gold nuclei together at near light speeds. When the gold nuclei smash into each other they are broken down into particles called quarks and gluons. These form a ball of plasma about 300 times hotter than the surface of the Sun. This fireball, which lasts just 10 million, billion, billionths of a second, can be detected because it absorbs jets of particles produced by the beam collisions.

[...] The Brown researcher thinks the particles are disappearing into the fireball's core and reappearing as thermal radiation, just as matter is thought to fall into a black hole and come out as "Hawking" radiation.

"Ten million, billion, billionths of a second" is one of the stupidest formulations I've seen in a while. I think that says "ten billion uh, million seconds", but I'd guess the word they were trying to avoid using was "femtosecond".

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32 Responses:

  1. jabber says:

    Wouldn't ten million billion billionths be ten million?

  2. fgmr says:

    I think they were trying to avoid saying "10 yoctoseconds."

    And they weren't creating traditional, gravitational black holes, but pion field solitons that act like black holes with gravity replaced with pion exchanges.

    The preprint is at

  3. ralesk says:

    You anti-SI Americans :P

  4. d14n says:

    10/(1000000*1000000000*1000000000) = 1.0*10^-23

    I believe that is 10 yoctoseconds.

    It's possible they mean this:
    10000000/(1000000000*1000000000) = 1.0*10^-11
    which would be 10 picoseconds, but '[t]en million, billion, billionths of a second' is a very awkward way to express that.

    Take the weird BBC phobia of expressing anything in number units larger than the billions and combine it with the typical poor science reporting done by mainstream meida, and you get stupid phrases like '[t]en million, billion, billionths of a second'.

    • lohphat says:

      The "chamerasecond".

      It measures the time it takes for your SO to get of their ass and help you unpack the groceries.

  5. treptoplax says:

    As I understand it (which is not much), Hawking radiation is very non-linear, and will cause black holes under a few million tons to quite quickly 'evaporate' in a burst of radiation. Assuming you could handle it without the whole destroying-the-earth bit, this would be a incredible power source; throw random matter in, get it out as pure energy. (But you have to feed it at the right rate, or it will get bigger or vanish...)

  6. Regardless of the (possibly fractional) number of billionths of a second this phenomenon lasts for, is anyone else inclined to write and ask them to please stop? The article concludes with "However, even if the ball of plasma is a black hole, it is not thought to pose a threat." Yeah, that's just great. Could they at least tell us whether this is the peer-reviewed kind of thinking, or the scrawled on a suspiciously damp bar napkin kind of thinking?

    • spoonyfork says:

      I bet more than one PhD in the lab had a crowbar handy that day.

    • bdu says:

      When I first read an article on these experiments a few years back (they were in the preparation stages) the article noted that there was a small chance they would create a black hole in the lab but that this was "nothing to worry about".

      I was terribly amused since, at the time, they didn't really bother to explain why there was nothing to worry about.

      • earthnative says:

        it's not an immediate threat...

        a blackhole formed by smashing a few atoms together... still weighs as much as a few atoms... just in an incredibly smaller amount of space than an atom even normally occupies...

        ...this new uber tiny blackhole doesn't have enough gravity to go around swallowing things up... and in fact, since solid matter is mostly empty, even uncontained, such a blackhole isn't likely to bump into much... (but when it does, I guess it will absorb it...

        So a small blackhole isn't an immediate threat... not till it's eaten enough that it's big enough that it's event horizon is larger than a neutron...

        and if hawking radiation exists, I think they figure it'll radiate back into regular matter before it can eat anything...

        well, that's the theory of why it's "not really anything to worry about" as far as I understand it anyway...

        It's when they start making blackholes larger than about neutron size that you gotto worry :)

        • strspn says:

          Just out of curiosity, do you know what you are talking about vis-a-vis the neutron-size part?

          Aren't neutron stars called neutron stars because they are maximally compressed?

          (I'm posting this at 1111111111 within a few seconds.)

          • pfrank says:

            they have a creamy Neutronium filling.

          • earthnative says:

            Yes, Neutrons are very small. So are protons and electrons, and you can find some of them in every atom you might encounter from time to time. Many atoms will even have more than one of each...

            neutron stars is an interesting tangent here, but unless our hypothetical mini blackhole encounters one, the point is even more moot. (and if it did, it would be a moot point anyway, since we're not near any neutron star or even neutron star material that we're aware of)

            I used neutron because, being larger, they're basically the thing a subatomic particle sized black hole is most likely to encounter.

    • mocrack says:

      As I understand it, higher energy collisions occur fairly regularly between
      energetic cosmic rays and particles in the atmosphere...We're not really
      doing anything nature hasn't done, just doing it in a controlled manner so
      we can observe it.

  7. strspn says:

    even if the ball of plasma is a black hole, it is not thought to pose a threat

    Is there a margin of error on that, please? I am not thought to pose a threat, either, but tell that to the insect kingdom.

    On reflection, as long as they are bound by strong force instead of gravitation, I suppose they're okay.

    • valacosa says:

      "even if the ball of plasma is a black hole, it is not thought to pose a threat"

      This basically translates to "our theories tell us there's no problem, but hell, or theories could be wrong."

      You can't fault the physicists for this. I mean, it's not as if anyone's been able to play with a black hole in a lab before.

  8. pfister_ says:

    Hoorj for real-life reenactment of The Krone Experiment.

  9. nelc says:

    God, you're turning into a pedant in your old age, or whatever's worse than a pedant. You'll be wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches next.

    Okay, they should have written the phrase with hyphens instead of commas for those of us who don't happen to have "yoctosecond" in our lexicon (and those who don't comprendez notation exponential), but parsing it as ten million seconds is just obtuse.

  10. Since this is a BBC article, I should point out that a British billion(th) is 10^(-)12. The bi/tri/quad prefix refers to repeated 10^6's. See

    So by consistent interpretation of British usage, it should be 1-6-12-12 ==> 10^-29 s.

    Who knows if they're actually using British or American conventions or if they haven't just screwed it up completely converting from SI to English.

    • nelc says:

      Can we just put an end to this "British billion" archaism that keeps getting brought up? Nobody in British media or anywhere else has used "billion" to mean anything other than 1,000,000,000 for at least twenty years. If you see the word "billion" on the BBC it means exactly the same as an "American" billion, unless perchance they're quoting some ancient engineering or scientific text dating from when we ruled the world.