Micro black holes could form at lower-than-expected energies

New simulations of head-on collisions of particles travelling at nearly the speed of light show that black-hole formation can occur at lower collision energies than expected, according to a team of researchers in the US. The researchers attribute this to a “gravitational focusing effect” whereby the two colliding particles act like gravitational lenses, focusing the energy of the collision into two distinct light-trapping regions that eventually collapse into a single black hole. Although the work shows that black holes can form at lower collision energies than expected, the team says that the result has no impact on real particle collisions taking place at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.

From 2008 onwards, when the LHC was first scheduled to be switched on, there were rumours about what the experiment might create – extra dimensions, sparticles and strangelets, vacuum bubbles and, of course, planet-destroying black holes. Although the experiment ran seamlessly from November 2009 for more than two years and scientists found no evidence whatsoever for the formation of micro black holes, the fascination with black-hole formation and evaporation continues – among researchers and the media.

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Michio Kaku: Space Bubble Baths and the Free Universe

Every week, Dr. Michio Kaku will be answering reader questions about physics and futuristic science. If you have a question for Dr. Kaku, just post it in the comments section below and check back on Wednesdays to see if he answers it.

This week Dr. Kaku addresses the question of how you can create a universe from nothing. “If you calculate the total matter of the universe it is positive,” Dr. Kaku says. “If you calculate the total energy of the universe it is negative, because of gravity.” So what happens when you add the two together? Zero. “So it takes no energy to create a universe,” Dr. Kaku points out. “Universes are for free. A universe is a free lunch.”

Ten Lessons from the Standard Model

The most recent Nobel Prize in physics, awarded to Francois Englert and Peter Higgs for the prediction of the Higgs boson, marks the apotheosis of the Standard Model in two ways. First, the Higgs particle is a milestone in itself: It is the last ingredient required to complete the Standard Model. But second, and more profoundly, the discovery process bore witness to the extraordinary power of the Standard Model. Higgs particles are rare and fleeting visitors to our world. Even at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), where the discovery was made, they are produced in less than a billionth of all collisions. When they are produced, they quickly decay, leaving behind just a few extra tracks among hundreds of others from more conventional sources. It is only because physicists can so reliably predict such “backgrounds,” as well as the rate of Higgs particle production and the modes of its decay, that the discovery experiments could be planned and their results interpreted.

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10 Theoretical Particles That Could Explain Everything

For ages, humankind has dug into the mysteries surrounding the exact composition of the universe. Ancient Greeks were the first to surmise the existence of atoms, which they believed to be the smallest particles in the universe—the “building blocks” of everything. For about 1,500 years, that was the most we knew about matter. Then, in 1897, the discovery of the electron left the scientific world in a shambles. Just as molecules were made of atoms, now the atoms appeared to have their own ingredients.

And the deeper we looked, the more the answers seemed to flit through our fingertips, always out of reach. Even protons and neutrons—the building blocks of atoms—are made of ever-smaller pieces called quarks. Every discovery just seems to raise more questions. Are time and space just bundles and clusters of little charged crumbs too small to even see? Maybe—but then again, these ten theoretical particles could explain everything. If we could actually find them:

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