Gold-Plated Black Holes

I have this concept I’ve been running around with for a while. It’s called the “Fourth Grade Nightmare Fantasy.” It functions on two basic scales: Microcosmic and Macrocosmic. Both sides of the spectrum, however, share the same basic gesture of being a worst-case scenario situation envisaged by your average ten year old (in this case, myself, but run with it). Microcosmic FGNFs entail things we have all endured: forgetting your memorized poem during the talent segment of the Junior Rose Princess qualifying pageant, for example. Macrocosmic FGNFs, however, are ludicrously misinformed — and yet staggeringly logical — conclusions and hypotheses about the universe (Universe) come to by children who are still at the age where they think that hand-building a spaceship is a realistic game plan. You know: What if you fell through a hole in the earth and then went through its core until you started falling up, What if Dinosaurs weren’t dead but actually just hiding, What if Scientists could create mini black holes on earth which would then suck up the earth and destroy the universe? The key thing about the Fourth Grade Nightmare Fantasy is that the level of importance and the depth of the implications of both Microcosmic and Macrocosmic FGNFs are completely equivalent in the mind of the fourth-grader. A healthy balance, in my opinion.

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However, I’ve recently found that the ultimate tripped-out science news moments happen when a former Nightmare Fantasy, or something which might as well have been one, is enacted in reality. This happened to me some time ago as I was reading up on the most recent crashings of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven Laboratories in Long Island. Physicists there have been colliding stripped-down gold ions at each other at frighteningly close to the speed of light, and have found, in physics-news-dork-parlance, that they “haven’t been behaving as expected.” They were trying to trounce particles together so hard that they would break down into quarks and somehow become quark-gluon plasma, a super-dense substance allegedly present in the moments after the Biggest Bang. Physicists at the CERN in Switzerland (where, incidentally, my uncle works) nearly accomplished this in 2000. In any case, the physicists at Brookhaven ended up losing the gold ions — on impact, they would just vanish in these little fireballs that were quickly dubbed by the now-recalcitrant New York Times as “very small black holes.” Doomsday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Any fourth-grader worth their trapper-keeper could conspiratorially inform you that Black Holes, by nature, swallow up everything in their path, only growing in power and strength as they go, like Katamari Damacy or the Blob. Humanity’s inherent fear of the amorphous aside, the relativistic collisions at Brookhaven are terrifying on a pure FGNF level. The Brookhaven collider — a 16 million dollar piece of equipment — then Long Island, then the United States, the world, then the oceans, then the expanding Universe: all swallowed up by a pulsing, hyper-dense, golden black hole? It’s almost as bad as getting caught wetting your pants in grade school by Christina Bushnell, who would immediately rat on you to all the other girls. Scary, right? Scary in a totally unrealistic and crippling way, right?

This is to say, of course these subatomic black holes — which only exist for the briefest of nano-instants anyway — are not going to suck up the earth, hidden dinosaurs and all (“Before Brookhaven began its gold collision experiments in 2000, it issued assurances that the experiment could not accidentally create a black hole that would destroy the earth. Laboratory officials say that is still the case.”). It is news items like these, however, that awaken the fourth-graders in all of us and send them quivering under their apple juice-soaked lefty desks. The ostensible adults we have turned into are then faced with a hard task: to grab those clammy, grubby hands and thrust them (US, man) back into the real world — a world sadly void of giant lizards or the potential for galactic apocalypse.

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