A Scientist Made An Artificial Black Hole In The Lab, And You Won’t Believe What Happened Next

OK, that was a little click-baity, but then again, so was the announcement this week that a scientist had confirmed Hawking radiation with a lab-grown black hole. It sure got our attention, at least.

As it turns out, the truth is both less and more than meets the eye. The article above was eventually edited to better reflect the truth that, alas, we have not yet found a way to create objects so massive that even light cannot escape them. Instead, physicist [Jeff Steinhauer] and colleagues at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed an acoustic model of black holes, which is what was used to observe the equivalent of Hawking radiation for the first time. Hawking radiation is the theoretical exception to the rule that nothing makes it out of a black hole and would imply that black holes evaporate over time. The predicted radiation would be orders of magnitude weaker than the background radiation, though, making it all but impossible to detect.

That’s where [Steinhauer]’s sonic black holes come in. In these experiments, phonons, packets of mechanical vibrations that stand in for photons, are trapped in a fast-moving stream of fluid. The point in the stream where its speed straddles the local speed of sound is the equivalent to a real black hole’s event horizon; phonons inside that boundary can never escape. Except, of course, for the sonic equivalent of Hawking radiation, which the researchers found after 97,000 attempts.

When we first stumbled upon this story, we assumed a lab-grown black hole, even an acoustic analog, would take a CERN’s-worth of equipment to create. It turns out to be far simpler than that; [Steinhauer], in fact, built his black hole machine singlehandedly from relatively simple equipment. The experiments do require temperatures near absolute zero and a couple of powerful lasers, so it’s not exactly easy stuff; still, we can’t help but wonder if sonic black holes are within the reach of the DIY community. Paging [Ben Krasnow] and [Sam Zeloof], among others.

[Featured image credit: Nitzan Zohar, Office of the Spokesperson, Technion]

53 thoughts on “A Scientist Made An Artificial Black Hole In The Lab, And You Won’t Believe What Happened Next

    1. It’s not the Hawking radiation that’s interesting – it’s the black hole itself. Hawking radiation is just an effect caused by the fact that an accelerated observer sees fields excited relative to an observer at rest (the Unruh effect), and near a black hole’s event horizon *everything’s* accelerated. The “pair creation with one falling into a black hole” bit is a bit of handwavy nonsense to sound sciency. It’s really just coming from the Unruh effect: the “vacuum” at the black hole horizon must be excited relative to the universe at large just due to the curvature. All the “information paradox” discussion between Thorne and Hawking was because no one actually knew, at a quantum level, what was going on.

      That radiation itself isn’t useful, because “harnessing” it actually means you’re *slowing yourself down*. Ultimately, the energy’s coming from the accelerated observer. In the case of a black hole, it means the black hole’s going away: or, you’re just recouping the energy used to form the black hole in the first place. Which is obviously fairly pointless, except as a weird battery.

      If you *could* somehow create a black hole and sustain it, it’s obviously much better to just keep feeding it to stabilize it and use it as a an extremely efficient heat source. In this sense you’re essentially using it as a “matter-energy converter”, although how efficient would depend on quantum mechanics stuff we don’t know (what information actually gets preserved).

    1. Similar to “The Doomsday Effect” (Thomas, 1986), where a black hole is orbiting through earth, slowly consuming it. A series of improbable events saves the day.

      It is the only book I have ever deliberately destroyed. I ran it through a bandsaw to save anybody else from reading it. It’s that bad.

      1. I don’t remember the name of the book, but I read a book to the end mainly because it was so horrid.

        It was filled to the brim with the same resolution to all problems in the book. The “heroes” needed a very specific but bizarre solution to a problem in the next 30 seconds. They needed (I’m making this up) a warp drive that fit in your nostril and was powered by happy thoughts and the smell of petunias. “Oh, we might be in luck. I know someone completely unmentioned so far but is in the laboratory next door working on something like that!!” Scene cut to lab next door: “Eureka!! Just this very second I completed the most brilliant device ever! A warp drive that fits in your nostril and is powered by happy thoughts and the smell of petunias!”

        Crisis averted in the last 3, 2, clock stopped at 1 second.

        I was gleeful tossing that rubbish.

          1. {genre-bend} Dumbledore can just dash off one of his howlers telling her to deal.

            {genre-blend} But I dunno how agrajag got from being Hagrid’s giant pet spider to confronting
            Dent in a cave.

  1. A potentially interesting story tainted by a click bait title.
    Justifying the click bate title by saying other people are doing it is going to make a poor future.
    Since HaD got rid of the other person who always wrote click-bait junk and such, the standards have been much better. Please don’t drag it back down.

    1. I think it’s forgivable when the truth is shown immediately after the title, and you don’t have to click through to the next page. It’s always worth reading the article even if the title doesn’t enthuse you just because there’s a high probability you don’t know what’s going on just from the title.

    2. When Hackaday says “You won’t believe what happens next!” I like to believe I’m savvy enough to know that Hackaday is warnng me that I’m about to be unimpressed.

      1. I agree that, at least to some degree (HaD has much abused click-bait in the past), but I didn’t think this story was unimpressive, it was quite clever and can potentially advance a hard area of research. So did it deserve a click bait title / misleading title?

      2. I’m with Lindsey on this one. “You won’t believe…” and “The Seven Things you Need to Know about…” are so clichรฉ that we could only use them tongue-in-cheek at this point.

        Here, Dan’s story is about how this is being hyped up a little bit too much in the popular press. For that, the headline is perfect, if a bit meta.

  2. Yeah, I was disappointed that there wasn’t even an itsy bitsy “real” black hole created, because (a) that’s how you get supervillains, and (b) if you can put them in a force field with holes smaller than a proton, then you can feed them electrons and move them around with electric fields (see Wil McCarthy’s Queendom of Sol books, they’re a lot of fun with superscience)

    1. Nope. It would be emitting sonic Cherenkov radiation (hence the reason Cherenkov radiation is sometimes called an ‘sonic boom for light’). Hawking radiation is a form of Unruh radiation – which is radiation observed by an accelerated observer. Cherenkov radiation is radiation produced by an observer traveling faster than the propagation speed in a medium, at a constant speed.

    1. Mock Foster all you want but I expect better from Hackaday. In 2 ways. First, click bait bullshit and, second, not even a current click bait line.

      Maybe they can get creative. Like “Massive Asteroid about to collide with Earth, film at 11”.

  3. If this is a sonic equivalent of a black hole shouldn’t it be called a silent hole? (Except for the sonic Hawking radiation, which I suppose would make it a very quiet hole.)

  4. Building a black hole, someone needs to take a look at the British Sci Fi series DOOMWATCH, and, in particular, the made for TV movie Winter Angel. Spoiler. It’s about a top secret facility that has built a black hole as means of dealing with the worlds most dangerous waste.


    Doomwatch was a brilliant UK BBC TV series, based on SCIENCE and not FANTASY (As Doctor Who ).

  5. “acoustic model of black holes” Oops, there’s that word again, “model”. I guess with the right equipment I could make an acoustic “model” of uncontained thermonuclear fusion.

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