Are Black Holes the Ultimate Particle Accelerators?


Scientists say that the "universe is the largest laboratory there is", but usually as an explanation for strange signals, not an actual idea for equipment.  Now some astronomers are aiming to use a black hole as a particle accelerator. 

An international team of scientists decided that black holes can accelerate anything far faster than we ever could.  The Large Hadron Collider is twenty-seven kilometers across.  Black holes form the cores of entire galaxies and are so vast they actually break the idea of distance itself.  We're not going to be able to build those.  The ideas is that the black holes are literally the ultimate accelerators, as in "the last thing many items accelerated by them will ever see", and are already pulling in everything that exists.

The natural collisions caused by all this infalling matter will access accelerations we couldn't generate if we adapted the entire solar system to the purpose.  So why bother with accelerators at all?  Well, the clue is in the statement – the black hole is pulling in everything, and it's hard to isolate a single signal when there are millions of simultaneous "experiments" happening all the time – especially when the black hole eats most of the data by sucking in the byproducts.  Man-made particle accelerators cause a single collision in the center of an array of sensors so sophisticated they can see particles that don't even exist in our universe for a whole second.  Black holes take the same results and throw them down the deepest, darkest hole that our spacetime can conceive of.

Which is why the team worked out how to be sure of something, and it's something that there's no other way to be sure of.  By calculating the possible results of certain collisions of dark matter (using our current understanding of that almost-imaginary invention) they've worked out unmistakable signals – radiation different from anything else.  So you can scan the black hole as a positive test.  If you don't see the signal you don't know anything, but if you do it's a major advance in both our understanding and our faith in the theories.

As our understanding improves, it'll be possible to engineer a whole array of tell-tall signs coming from these ultimate accelerators, without increasing the cost of observing the black hole.  And they're interesting things to observe anyway.  And there is literally nowhere else these things happen.  This is cool science: when you can't build what you want to test your theory, you instead cross MacGyver with Galactus and use bits of cosmological structure that just happen to be lying around instead.

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