Posts Tagged ‘astrophysics’

Black Holes and Those Pesky Event Horizons

October 8, 2017

In Leonard Susskind’s book, The Black Hole War, page 240, he states, “To a freely falling observer, the horizon appears to be absolutely empty space. Those falling observers detect nothing special at the horizon…” In Amanda Gefter’s book, she points out that the distant observer sees the event horizon, while the falling observer detects no event horizon at all. Of course, she took a lot of her ideas from Susskind. In the meantime, Hawking treats the event horizon as a fixed boundary where virtual particles can split apart (Hawking radiation).


I think none of these is right. The idea between the “escape velocity being faster than the speed of light” is relative to the delta between the gravitation potential of the observer and the potential at the event horizon. From an infinite distance, we observe an event horizon at a certain radius. Should the event horizon suddenly disappear if we are in an inertial frame starting our fall into the black hole? Starting at what distance? A thousand miles? A light year?

The more likely result is that the event horizon moves inward as you approach it. You are in a deeper gravity well as you approach the black hole, thus the difference between your local gravity potential and that of the event horizon, to maintain a high enough value for the escape velocity to equal the speed of light, requires that the event horizon continuously move away from you (toward the singularity) as you move toward the singularity. You never quite catch up with it. There’s a Wikipedia article that says this explicitly, but then, it’s a Wikipedia reference (Event Horizon). Sometimes they’re wrong, but usually they’re dead-on.

An interesting consequence of this is that if you maintain a certain orbit near the event horizon, and your version of the event horizon is closer to the singularity than that of a more distant observer, then a photon just outside your observed event horizon could reach you just fine, even though it cannot reach the more distant observer. Having received that photon, you could transmit the data from it outward, (boosting the frequency) as the distance from your gravity well to the distant observer requires an escape velocity somewhat less than the speed of light. Is this a loophole?

Why, then, do we think that a photon below the event horizon (for the observer at infinity) can’t escape the confines of the black hole? Is it only because it would be red-shifted to a zero frequency? Or is that false?

Escape velocity is merely a calculation of the velocity required to go from one gravity potential to another. If you are already in a gravitational well (like the outer edge of the Milky-Way galaxy) with an escape velocity of 300km/s, this has no effect on the escape velocity from Earth (11km/s), or the velocity needed to orbit Earth (7.5km/s). Likewise, consider a photon trapped just beyond the event horizon as viewed from an observer at infinity. To the guy in orbit around the black hole, the difference in potential is much smaller, and his relative event horizon is closer to the singularity. Won’t he see that photon? Can’t he receive it from the domain outside his apparent event horizon, but inside the event horizon of the observer-at-infinity? And then capture the photon and retransmit it?

So, even though a photon by itself can’t escape the event horizon of the observer-at-infinity, an intermediate process (natural or human) could conceivably pass a photon up through overlapping light cones, even though the light-cones at either end don’t overlap. This might eliminate the question of whether information can escape a black hole or not. The infalling observer can see what’s happening beyond the outer event horizon, and pass the information on, since his own event horizon is even closer to the event horizon.


Particle Pair Production in Deep Space

August 6, 2017

Many of you know that a matter-antimatter reaction results in a pair of gamma rays. Fewer of you will know that you can take a couple of gamma rays, run them into each other, and get a pair of matter-antimatter particles. This has been done experimentally, and there’s a bit of data about it under “Two Photon Physics” in Wikipedia. Generally, if a subatomic reaction can occur, then it’s reversible. Maybe not statistically probable, but still reversible. This is a concept I used in a story I recently sold to Analog SF. In an area of space with high-density, high energy gamma rays, you’ll get a lot of positrons and anti-protons produced (more positrons, since they are 1/2000th the mass, of course), but there will also be some small production of antihydrogen if the antimatter doesn’t recombine right away with normal matter. And the antihydrogen may be neutral enough to survive and drift in deep space for a while, maybe long enough to be used as a resource.

Some reactions result in the release of more than two photons. A particle and antiparticle meet, three photons are emitted. The photons are lower energy, but the reverse reaction, 3 photons meeting, is a much, much lower probability than 2 photons (gamma rays) meeting. Still, on rare occasions, it might happen.

In fact, it’s my belief that if you have enough photons, even low-energy photons, passing through the same bit of space at the same time, you can also have pair-production, spitting out particles and antiparticles. One calculation for photons from the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) estimates 400 photons per cubic centimeter, average, plus whatever higher-energy visible light and gamma rays pass through from billions of stars. And there are a lot of cubic centimeters in a light-year (about 4.9 x 1050). Even if the probability of pair production is very, very low, I still imagine that it would happen on occasion.

As a side-note, the probability of a positron and electron meeting in deep space is very high, since they attract one another, while the probability of two gamma rays meeting at just the right time in just the right way is fairly low. The reaction looks symmetric, but the probability of it happening in a certain direction is much higher one way than the other. Ditto for any two-particle reaction that creates three particles. This contributes to the increased entropy of the universe and the “arrow of time”; there’s a preferred direction for these subatomic reactions to occur.