If Earth Collided with a Black Hole

 

Worlds Collide

A new online tool calculates just how much cosmic destruction a run-in between the Earth and a black hole would cause.
The aptly-named Black Hole Collision Calculator determines how much a black hole would expand and the amount of energy it would release if it absorbed the Earth — or any other object, since the calculator is totally customizable, Space.com reports.
 

Big Kaboom

Particle physicist Álvaro Díez created the tool, which is hosted on the calculator database project Omni Calculator. Based on his calculations, a black hole swallowing the Earth would release some 55 quintillion times the planet’s annual energy consumption.
But even that destructive event would be a light snack for a supermassive black hole — its event horizon would only expand by a hundredth of a trillionth of a percent, per the calculator.
The main flaw with the calculator? The artistic rendering of a black hole obliterating the Earth that pops up next to the results doesn’t change to match any increasingly goofy collisions.
 

READ MORE: See What a Black Hole Would Do to Earth with Online ‘Collision Calculator’ [Space.com]
More on cosmic annihilation:Two Supermassive Black Holes Are on a Devastating Crash Course
 

Crops in Martian Soil

 

Astronaut Farmer

Martian and Moon soil is surprisingly fertile, and new research suggests it may someday be possible to harvest crops grown at off-world colonies.

When Wageningen University scientists tried to grow ten different crops in soils developed by NASA to mimic that found on Mars and the Moon, nine of them grew edible parts and viable seeds, according to research published this month in the journal Open Agriculture.

While future off-world farmers will have to grapple with countless other problems — like, uh, the lack of an atmosphere — the experiment is still a tentative good sign for the future of off-world settlements.

First Steps

The plants grown in simulated Martian or lunar soil weren’t as successful as those grown in normal Earth conditions, and in most cases the mock Martian crops fared better than the Moon plants. Still, vegetables like tomatoes, radishes, rye, and quinoa grew in both types of space soil, with spinach as the lone casualty.

“We were thrilled when we saw the first tomatoes ever grown on Mars soil simulant turning red,” project leader Wieger Wamelink said in a press release. “It meant that the next step towards a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem had been taken.”

READ MORE: Soil on moon and Mars likely to support crops [De Gruyter via Phys.org]
More on Mars farming: Contaminating Mars With Microbes Could Kickstart Colonization
</small

Black Holes Dark Energy

 

Well Actually

Some of the black holes floating around our universe might actually be something else entirely.

It’s possible that some may be blobs of dark energy, the mysterious theoretical force thought to be pushing the universe’s outward expansion, according to Live Science. A pair of University of Hawaii scientists arrived at the unexpected conclusion when they were trying to make sense of that expansion — and if their work holds up it could rewrite our understanding of the cosmos.

Space Blobs

Conventional physics holds that a black hole’s singularity is an infinitely dense point that exerts a gravitational pull so strong that it absorbs anything that ventures too close. But some black holes may actually be dense masses of dark energy that grow larger as the universe expands, whether or not they feed on anything nearby, according to research published in The Astrophysical Journal in August.

In a second study posted on the preprint server ArXiv last month, the team found that the interactions of these theoretical objects could have caused some of the more bizarre and difficult to explain gravitational waves that were detected a few years back, Live Science reports.

Measure Twice

In essence, replacing black holes with these so-called Generic Objects of Dark Energy would help explain several mysteries of the cosmos. But theoretical calculations aside, their work hasn’t yet been confirmed.

And other experts are far from convinced. Vitor Cardoso, a physicist at Portugal’s Instituto Superior Técnico told Live Science that the new models are “counterintuitive and hard to digest.”

READ MORE: Black Holes As We Know Them May Not Exist [Live Science]
More on black holes: New “Chameleon Theory” Could Explain Dark Energy, How Galaxies Formed

Ufo Tech Fusion

 

Space Age

A U.S. Navy researcher with a quasi-facetious reputation for working on “UFO-like technology” just patented a compact nuclear fusion reactor that could allegedly fit inside of a vehicle — and don’t worry, we’re going to try our hardest to unpack that for you.

Salvatore Cezar Pais, the engineer who also patented room-temperature superconductors for the Navy, was granted a patent for a small nuclear fusion reactor capable of generating anywhere from 1 billion to 1 trillion watts, according to The Drive. That’s far more powerful than any of America’s operational nuclear power plants — but it’s also not clear how much, if any, of the patent represents feasible technology.

Science Fiction

As with any bizarre tech patent, it’s hard to tell what’s really going on here — it seems unlikely that the Navy has suddenly cracked the long-elusive mystery of practical fusion reactors.

But then again, The Drive reports that Pais’ tiny reactor sailed through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office without ever being rejected. That, it’s worth noting, is unusual for his seemingly sci-fi inventions. Typically, The Drive reports, he’s had to appeal patent office rejections.

Hush-Hush

The Navy hasn’t yet commented on the new patent, which says the reactor could be used in a “space, sea, or terrestrial environment.”

It remains unclear specifically what applications, if any, the Navy expects to use such a device, should it actually someday exist. But hey, maybe someday we’ll see U.S. military flying saucers zipping across the sky.

READ MORE: Scientist Behind The Navy’s “UFO Patents” Has Now Filed One For A Compact Fusion Reactor [The Drive]
More on bizarre Navy patents: US Military Files Patent for Room-Temperature Superconductor

Plan to capture of a Black Hole

 

Candid Camera

The black hole cinematic universe is growing: scientists running the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) just announced plans to capture real-time video footage of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

The EHT, an international network of observatories that combine their data to function like a planet-sized telescope, first captured that groundbreaking image of a black hole back in April. But now the team is getting more ambitious, telling Business Insider that it plans to capture actual video of a black hole.

Looking Inward

Scientists already plan to record and share video of M87*, the black hole in that image from April. But Sagittarius A* has been notoriously difficult for astronomers to image due to a massive accretion disk of superhot gas blocking their view.

But the M87* video will be months of time-lapse footage, not a real-time movie, BI reports. That’s because M87* has a larger, slower-moving accretion disk that doesn’t change nearly as rapidly.

Galactic Feast

With video footage, EHT astronomers hope to better understand the intense light beamed outward by feeding black holes.

“Imagine you could see the black hole during one of those periods of activity,” EHT head Shep Doeleman told BI. “You’d see exactly where that emission was coming from.”

READ MORE: Astronomers plan to film the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy as it gobbles up stars and planets. The video could open a ‘new field’ of science. [Business Insider]

More on black hole vids: Astronomers Say They’ll Soon Release First Video of a Black Hole

A cable from the Earth to the Moon?

 

t’s a space elevator concept that could actually work.

DAN ROBITZSKI

It would be much easier to escape Earth’s gravity if you could skip the energy-intensive rockets.

That’s the idea behind the Spaceline, a newly-proposed type of space elevator that would link the Earth and the Moon in a bid drastically cut the cost of space travel.

Described in research published to the preprint server ArXiv by researchers at Columbia University and Cambridge University, the Spaceline would be tethered to the surface of the Moon and dangle down into geostationary orbit around the Earth like a plumb bob, waiting for astronauts to latch on and ride into the cosmos. The proof-of-concept paper found that the Spaceline could be constructed out of materials that exist today, raising the possibility of easier space travel and perhaps even orbital settlements.

Instead of rocketing all the way out of orbit, astronauts would only need to reach the end point of the Spaceline, cutting back the cost and challenge of rocket launches. Once it reaches the vacuum of space, free of terrestrial gravity and atmospheric pressure, the spacecraft would meet up with the cable and latch onto a solar-powered shuttle that would climb along its length.

Zephyr Penoyre, one of the Columbia astronomy graduate students behind the Spaceline, told Futurism that “the line becomes a piece of infrastructure, much like an early railroad — the movement of people and supplies along it are much simpler and easier than the same journey in deep space.”

Earth-based space elevators would be too taxing for any existing material — Earth’s stronger gravitational pull and rotation speed would snap the cable before it could be completed. But the risk of a catastrophic collapse, the researchers say, is lower when the cable is only tethered to the Moon. Throughout the paper, Penoyre and Cambridge astronomy graduate student Emily Sandford often noted that carbon nanotubes would be the best material to use, but they can’t yet be built to scale.

Based on the calculations in the paper, it seems that several existing materials could be up for the challenge — it’s just a matter of finding the strongest thing that can be made at scale.

“That’s a good way to put it. Only thing to add is that it also needs to be able to survive well in deep space,” Penoyre said. “I have briefly looked into this, but am no expert in materials science. I often used Dyneema as an example material in calculations and it has some pretty good properties.”

As for the line itself, the researchers investigated a number of shapes, ultimately arriving at a cable that was extremely narrow at either end so it didn’t collapse under gravitational pressure but thickened at the middle to prevent snapping. At this stage, the astronomers didn’t factor in space debris collisions in near-Earth orbit, but Penoyre pointed out other projects that had grappled with the challenge.

If it all works out and the Spaceline someday comes to fruition, the researchers envision a future in which humanity uses it as a tether for orbital telescopes, research centers, and other facilities that could hover at the Lagrange point, the altitude at which the Moon and Earth exert equal-but-opposite gravitational force.

“Think of the early Antarctic basecamps, at first there might only be three engineers up there at any one time, but unlike low Earth orbit the Lagrange point is the perfect place to build,” said Penoyre. “We could (indulging in a little imagination) picture prefabricated panels being sent up the line, and assembled into an ever-growing colony. I was amazed to find that there are now thousands of people living a significant part of the year in Antarctica — eventually the same could be true of the Lagrange point.”

More on space elevators: Why Space Elevators Could Be the Future of Space Travel

“Anti-Aging” Blood

 

In February 2019, the FDA issued a warning: medical clinics offering transfusions of blood from young people as anti-aging treatments were likely scams, based on dangerous pseudoscience. The warning spelled doom for Ambrosia, LLC, a young blood transfusion clinic that shut down soon afterward.

Now, Ambrosia founder Jesse Karmazin is back. Last month, the Stanford-alum-turned-blood-tech-guru (sound familiar?) contacted Futurism to announce the foundation of his new clinic, Ivy Plasma. This time, Karmazin said the clinic will provide plasma transfusions — no longer specifically sourced from young folks — and it would do so off-label, meaning the transfusions would be administered for purposes the FDA didn’t explicitly approve and endorse.

Asked what the purported benefits of the treatment might be, Karmazin’s response was evasive.

“Off-label prescribing is legal, however the FDA does not permit companies to discuss the potential benefits or risks of off-label medications, sorry,” Karmazin wrote in an email responding to Futurism’s questions.

The FDA currently approves the use of plasma transfusions in emergency situations. But in its February warning, it listed possible side effects of young-blood transfusions ranging from infections and allergic reactions to lung injury and circulatory problems. The FDA didn’t reply to questions about Ivy Plasma or provide an updated statement on plasma transfusions (though, of note, it has been argued that the FDA retains the ability to levy a selective “functional ban” on off-label uses).

As for the theoretical benefits of young plasma transfusions, the FDA warned in February that “plasma is not FDA-approved to treat other conditions such as normal aging or memory loss. Additionally, there have not been any well-controlled studies that show the clinical benefit of the administration of plasma from young donors, and there are associated safety risks.”

Why, then, do people think young plasma would slow down aging?

One recent study showed human brain cells grown in a petri dish and treated with two proteins found in the blood of young mice grew more branches and formed more connections with other cells than those that weren’t. Mouse studies lent more evidence to the idea that young blood has rejuvenative properties.

But medical research conducted on animals often fails to translate to clinical relevance — as of yet, there’s no conclusive evidence showing the phenomenon working for humans as it does in mice. Some groups have run human experiments, but they involved such a small number of participants that their findings weren’t definitive. One Stanford study found Alzheimer’s patients better able to perform daily tasks (like taking medications) after getting a young blood transfusion. But the entire study only included 18 participants, and there was no reported improvement in their moods or other cognitive abilities.

Because of that lack of evidence, the FDA hasn’t approved clinical treatments with young plasma, which is why Ivy Clinic offers off-label services (and can’t claim medical benefits). But over the course of the two weeks that Futurism was in contact with Karmazin — all over email, because he says he doesn’t provide formal phone interviews to the press — the mystery surrounding the new clinic only grew.

Karmazin told Futurism that he believes reporters got a lot wrong about Ambrosia. He pushed back on the suggestion his company was broadly controversial, while also declining to explain what specifically he felt had been incorrect about past press coverage.

When asked if he, as an actual doctor, still believed that plasma transfusions have anti-aging effects, Karmazin explained that because he was CEO of Ivy Plasma, the FDA’s restrictions on the marketing of off-label medications still prevented him from commenting.

“I really do try both to adhere to the FDA’s rules and run my businesses in the best interests of our patients,” Karmazin told Futurism.

Ivy Plasma’s website says that the company offers treatments in San Francisco, California and Tampa, Florida. The prices are the same as they were for Ambrosia’s patients: $8,000 for one liter of plasma and $12,000 for two liters, all of which Karmazin told Futurism is sourced from blood banks.

When he talked about Ivy Plasma itself, Karmazin described outpatient clinics “staffed by doctors and nurses mostly.” But he repeatedly refused to answer questions about those staffers, the treatments they offer, or the process of setting up medical clinics in either city, citing privacy concerns.

All in all, it’s a tough sell. Ivy Plasma offers prohibitively-expensive treatments, supported by weak science, and technically can’t claim that they do any good for people. As such, it would be easy to write it off as some weird quirk of Silicon Valley, a peculiar medical trend for wealthy geeks.

But Ambrosia’s messaging is still out there, even if the clinic itself was dissolved. The high price tag also suggests that these plasma treatments are aimed at the rich — people for whom an $8,000 liter of blood bank-sourced plasma is affordable. Tech billionaires seem obsessed with extending their own lives as long as possible, an endeavor with which experimental blood treatments fall perfectly in line.

It seems like a story distinctly of the moment, but it’s not. The ages-old trope of a fountain of youth for the most privileged of the privileged among us continues apace. But try, if you will, to imagine a world where the people who have hoarded enough cash to create change at a society-wide scale focused less on extending their own lives and the maybe-kinda-supposed science of plasma transfusions, and instead dedicated their resources to the kind of wide-reaching medical research that could improve the lives of billions around the globe.

At the very least, it’d be a new story.