An Interstellar Quagmire: The commonality between black holes and quicksand
I have always been fascinated by science. Ever since I was a girl, I loved to look at the stars with my father as he taught me about the constellations and planets. The study of the universe has always had a special place in my heart. When I chose to go back to school last year, I decided to take as many science classes as possible to see what practice I could benefit most. Finally, I have found my arch enemy and secret lover, Chemistry. It’s my first chemistry class, never taking it in high school, and it is incredibly challenging, yet magnificent. I worked as a cosmetologist (an applied chemist) for over 10 years, so I have a basic knowledge of some subjects. Ultimately, this class has helped me connect the dots to a few questions that I’ve had regarding black holes.
Last month, I posted about a scientific effect known as the Droste Effect. The Droste Effect is famous for its hypnotizing recursive effect that fractionalizes an image repetitively until it is unseen. Whenever I was brainstorming that piece, I began to think about how even light, the fastest known particle, could not escape this fractionization due to black holes. This led me to a thought experiment that I would like to share because now that I am in chemistry, I understand one of the concepts that scientists are trying to identify and understand when studying the nature of black holes.
When I think about black holes, I like to relate it to quicksand. Yes, quicksand. You see, quicksand occurs when sand becomes loosened when it suddenly becomes agitated through saturation. When the water in the sand cannot escape, it creates a liquefied soil that loses strength and cannot support its weight. Similar to that of a collapsing star. Our gaseous giants and quicksand both have a similarity; both contain millions of tiny particles. One of their differences is that the solid particles of sand vibrate in their stationary position, exerting little energy. While in contrast, gaseous molecules fly around at high speeds within stars, hence the massive amount of energy created from these giant balls of fire. However, we understand what agitates the sand to collapse its density creating quicksand, but we are unsure what the agitator could be to collapse a star to create a black hole. It is understood that a star’s mass determines a supernova’s outcome, but this is not what I am referring too. What I am referring to is, what is the chemical composition that black holes are made of?
Now, quicksand has been “Hollywoodified,” and you do not technically get swallowed alive by it, so it may not be the best example, but it’s the best one that I can come up with as a community college student. Still, if we understand why quicksand does not suck humans deep into the earth, we can understand how such a substance could exist and be inescapable. You see, the density of human bones is greater than the density of quicksand; therefore, you’d probably only sink waist deep if you were to step into it, but the same mathematical theory applies when we’re talking about density and blackholes.
A black hole’s density is so large that nothing can escape it, not even a photon of light, the fastest particle in the known universe. But what are black holes made of? For quicksand, it is understood that the aggregate is H2O. In chemistry, we learn that H2O, which is made up of two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen, producing an acidic chemical compound, in which the acidity creates this shift in the substance. Therefore, whenever I sit and ponder the fabric of black holes, I theorized about the chemical compound or component that could agitate the hydrogen and helium gas clouds of a supernova. What could transform them during this supernova state that would create a neutron star or a black hole? What element could possibly decide this factor?
During the 19th and 20th centuries, we began to understand the elements around us. Things like atoms were no longer theoretical but actual science after 2000+ years of debate. Then came the discovery of electrons, protons, and neutrons. After that came quantum physics, studying even smaller molecules and particles like quarks’ peculiar behavior. Which makes me wonder if this where the conversation of anti-matter comes into play? Our fundamental understanding of the universe has just begun. However, we’ve been stumped for over a century to push past Einstein’s theory of relativity.
My question about black holes may never be answered, nor discovered in my lifetime. However, I do not let that hold me back from hypothesizing about the nature of the universe. Being a cosmetologist was a great start to my educational pursuits; however, as a girl, I had always dreamed of being a cosmologist. I find myself doing thought experiments quite frequently, just as Einstein did. Everyone has these grandiose ideas; however, science reflects the world around us, and our ideas alter the face of science. So, as I finish up, I’ll leave you with some food for thought. When learning about atoms, we understand the nucleus of an atom has electrons that orbit around it just as our star has orbital planets. Perhaps, to understand the smallest molecules and particles, we needed to look to the stars, and now to understand the heavens, we must only look beneath our feet.