“Black holes teach us that space can be crumpled like a piece of paper into an infinitesimal dot, that time can be extinguished like a blown out flame, and that the laws of physics that we regard as sacred, as immutable, are anything but.” —John Archibald Wheeler
“Modern physics has shown that the rhythm of creation and destruction is not only manifest in the turn of the seasons and in the birth and death of all living creatures, but is also the very essence of inorganic matter… For the modern physicists, then, Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter.” — Fritjof Capra
There is something highly amusing about listening to physicists struggle to explain the nature of reality. They start out sounding sane enough, but like a comic carefully setting up a joke, once they get to the punch-line, all hell breaks loose.
Physicists sound more like mystics every day.
The second installment of Through the Wormhole, hosted by Morgan Freeman examines black holes, one of the more mysterious objects in astrophysics. Black holes are light-sucking anomalies; so massive their increased gravity punches a hole into God-knows-where and slows time. What exists inside a black hole’s mind-warping event horizon is sheer speculation. If the last time you thought about physics was in school, this show is worth a look, because things have changed.
Physicists tend to call anything they don’t understand black or dark, i.g., dark matter, dark energy, dark flow, or black hole. John Wheeler, one of the scientists on the Manhattan Project which created the first atomic bomb, invented the term black hole, which can be used to describe both an astronomical phenomenon or the personality of your ex, so no small achievement.
Astro-physicists now theorize that the heaviest object in our entire galaxy is the supermassive black hole which exists at the center of the Milky Way, located in the constellation Sagittarius. Apparently, similar black holes exist at the core of every galaxy.
There are numerous theories about how these larger black holes form. If smaller black holes are collapsed stars, then these massive black holes may be imploded gas clouds or even primordial objects formed during The Big Bang. The supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy may also have been a quasar at some point, emitting blasts of energy.
There may be billions of black holes strewn through the universe, swallowing up stars and creating them. According to Sterl Phinney of The Chandra Observatory, “Keck and VLT telescopes revealed the disk of massive young stars around the Milky Way’s black hole. These Chandra observations seem to rule out the idea that the stars formed elsewhere and were dragged in, so they probably formed from the gas around the black hole.”
Black holes also waltz, according to Julie Comerford of the University of California, Berkeley. When two galaxies collide, their respective black holes dance around each other. Dancing black holes send out waves through space and time and Julie Comford’s computers chart the rhythm and cadence of each dance. Computer animation has changed physics and it is wonderful to watch the patterns waltzing black holes create, their shapes strangely reminiscent of clovers and lotus flowers.
The gravitational patterns formed by black holes echo back to Dr. Garrett Lisi’s Theory of Everything in the first Installment of Through the Wormhole. As List explains, “This E8 Theory describes gravity the same way it describes the other forces, as part of a single, complicated shape twisting over our four-dimensional space-time, consistent with its curvature. It is unusual to describe gravity this way, instead of using space-time distances, but it is mathematically equivalent to Einstein’s formulation of General Relativity.”
Towards the end of the show, heavy weight Quantum physicists, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Suskind, affectionately known by his peers as “the plumber,” duke it out over the physics of supermassive black holes. The argument revolves around the event horizon of a black hole, (ha, ha) and whether quantum information can be lost completely (Hawking’s argument), or preserved (Suskind’s argument).
In the end, Suskind wins the day with an equation that places the information in question inside a hologram on the edge of the black hole. (I was worried there for a second.)
There it is again; the sound of one hand clapping.
Or is that the sound of a black hole laughing?
Through the Wormhole airs Wednesdays at 10 pm on the Science channel.