Black Holes

First time I saw an image of a spiral galaxy I was hooked, totally enthralled by the elegance, majesty and simplicity that that image represented.
  After school I'd head for the kitchen sink, turn on the faucet, partially plug the drain with a shuttlecock, add some detergent and
 watch for hours as the soap bubbles spiraled slowly around the drain.

As I watched, it became obvious that those galaxies had to have something very heavy at their centers, behaving very much like the funnels that  eventually drew all of those soap bubbles down the drain.  My first idea was suns crashing together, creating massive stars but I really didn't like the idea. Possible, but messy as hell and I couldn't really think of a dynamic to explain the how or why.  An idea I liked better was a dance: many many suns orbiting one another, all of them trying to find their galaxy's center of gravity while being enticed away by their companions.  This I could understand and the imaginary dance echoed the majesty and elegance of the galaxy itself.

That's where I left it for a couple of years as I journeyed through childhood to adolescence and then one day, as I was browsing through the book section of a local department store, I encountered a small miracle: a book titled, Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.

To understand this miracle, you have to understand how restricted information was in the 50's and 60's.  Everyone may have heard a little about pretty much everything but that knowledge was limited, no more than Key Words, generalities with no easy way to get to the specifics.  Books like the one I held in my hand were more than rare outside of academic libraries and those libraries, even the publicly owned ones, were restricted to their university's staff and students.  There was no way that a kid like me could have gotten in.  I'd tried.

So suddenly I was standing in this cubicle-like cubbyhole of a book section holding a Rare Treasure. A quick scan revealed even better news: the author was concentrating on explaining the Theory, using math to illustrate his points.  I could read it and, once I understood the point, I could puzzle out the math.  Checking my change, I had enough and was soon hurrying home worrying that some calamity would steal this treasure away from me.

The next few weeks were spent reading text, deciphering equations and hitting a curious little wall. For most of the book, the author focused on text and used equations to reinforce that text.  Then, suddenly, he reversed himself, emphasizing math over language.  He'd been talking about Gravity Wells and using Einstein's equations to illustrate how the mass of the star affected those wells and then, without warning, he fell back on the equations without explaining why.  Page after page of equations without the slightest explanation of his point, that is, until he started a virtual rant, and I was forced to solve the equations myself.  Once I had, I understood: above a certain point, roughly 12 solar masses, the solution of Einstein's equations was infinity, meaning that the gravity wells would be bottomless and that, when the star collapsed, it would collapse down into nothing.

The author obviously thought this was nonsense.  I didn't - I had my "very heavy something" that anchored spiral galaxies.

Like the author, I didn't believe in "bottomless" gravity wells so I took a harder look at the equations and found a curiosity.  They did not take into account any kind of countervailing forces, like the Strong Nuclear Force.  In fact, in 1912, no one had ever heard of the SNF, or the neutron, or understood how neutrons and protons arranged themselves in nuclei, or how suns burned ... and I began to wonder, What's going on here?

But first I needed to play with Countervailing Forces, reworking the equations to account for a single, variable countervailing force (I didn't have the numbers for the SNF).  What I found was that any countervailing force would, like Einstein's spike, have to spike towards infinity to stop the collapse.
No big surprise but, then, I evoked a related little equation from the Special Theory of Relativity, E=mc2.  This did the trick, forbidding any particle with mass from losing all of that mass.  Theoretically, the star's collapse would end when both sides of the equation reached 1.

While this fixed the infinity problem, I wasn't happy because all it meant was that a massive star would turn into an equally massive atomic bomb when it collapsed, releasing virtually all of its energy in an instant.  This is something we would have noticed, about a second before we  were fried.

So I went back to the idea of an irresistible collapse with the gravity well retaining all of its mass, this time with the second shoe dangling from my foot.

In 1912, Einstein was ignorant of the Strong Nuclear Force, or how atoms worked, or, really, any physical process, in detail.  From the atom to  suns spewing energy into Universe(s) to collapsing stars, his equations never addressed how they did what they did; those equations were, in fact, nothing more than speculation expressed mathematically.  With a start, I realized that Einstein was a mathematician, not a scientist, not a Physicist, and that his Universe, the universe of math, was virtually antithetical to our own, a kind of distorted mirror image.  This was my second shoe and ...

That was enough for me; I'd already establish that that spike towards infinity was trumped by E=mc2 so why not just assume that  massive stars could collapse into virtually bottomless gravity wells while retaining their mass through some as-yet-unknown mechanism. I could keep my very heavy somethings driving spiral galaxies.

The author of my book had given me two valuable gifts: very heavy somethings and a priceless understanding of the limits of pure mathematics.

He'd also brought me to an ending - there was nowhere left to go.

Over the following years I maintained a interest in the subject and was pleased as more and more levels of information began to emerge.  For example, part of the 60's revolutions was the opening-up of publicly owned academic libraries to the public who owned them which was followed by the media explosion that began in the mid-seventies and has continued to the present, stretching from Alex Haley's Roots to Ken Burns'  Civil War to the wealth of history, science, news, technology, economics and pretty much any specialty channel you can think of.  All followed by the Web.

Myself, around 1996, I returned to the subject of bottomless gravity wells.  By then, their existence as real bodies was acknowledged, they had a new name (Black Holes), and the mechanism stopping their collapse was labeled The Singularity which was, according to whom you talked, a point of infinite gravity, a door to alternate universes, a door to somewhere else in time or space or a weird manifestation of String Theory that only a mathematician could understand. In other words, We haven't got a clue.

And I was middle-age, single, closing my day in the traditional manner of such single males: knocking back a few at the local bar, bored as hell.  So I began wondering, What made the Big Bang go Bang?  The Singularity had already been transferred from Black Holes in general to the Big Bang in particular, so that was the key: what is a Singularity?

The answer, then, as now, really, nothing more than a word, a place keeper, a way of saying, We don't know, without having to acknowledge our ignorance.  A word meaning nothing.

Which meant that the real question is, How does a Black Hole retain its mass?  We know that they exist, we know that they're part of our physical, mechanical Universe(s) in real (synchronous) time, but we can't see beyond their Event Horizons, we can't reach the data we need to understand them; they're unknowable, except in the reality that they still hold all of their mass in the real Universe(s) in real (synchronous) time.

I bounced around a bunch of ideas for a couple of years, everything from spreading the black hole out over time to putting its mass and energy on a conveyor belt, each converting itself into the other, as mass approached the singularity and energy sped back toward the Event Horizon.  None of them panning out and I got frustrated, knowing that there had to be a real world solution, i.e., a mechanical, Newtonian solution, not some mathematical mumbo-jumbo.

Fuming, I suddenly thought, What would happen if I were a proton or an electron falling into the hole?  What if I hitched a ride on some particle falling into a hole? So that's what I imagined  doing and was shocked by the simplicity of the result.  It was a wild ride as we sped inward, our velocity approaching the speed of light and our mass approaching zero as we came closer and closer to our goal until, Woosh!, coming within a hair's breath of the Singularity, we slungshot around and headed out back towards the Event Horizon, regaining mass, losing momentum and falling back to do it all over again.  E=mc2 had struck.

We couldn't actually hit the singularity without losing all of our mass and reaching the speed of light, which is forbidden by E=mc2, making the singularity a limit.  So we swung around.

With a little more thought, I realized we'd swung around the hole's center of gravity, not a singularity.  There is no such thing as a Singularity, only the black hole's center of  gravity.  The same little equation that stopped Einstein's mathematical, infinite collapse had sent us swinging around a center of gravity that it, that little equation itself, had created.

Such a simple, obvious solution and, as the implications sunk in, there grew the biggest, most irresistible, grim I'd ever sported: it's provable.

If a Black Hole really is a maelstrom of mass swirling around its center of gravity, then it will behave like every other semi-spherical object in the Universe(s): it will rotate, bulging on the plane of its rotation and wobble, erratically, as its mass shifts within.  And it will pulse as the ratio between mass and energy fluctuates ever so slightly.

On the other hand, if singularities do exist and contain all of the Black Hole's mass, reduced to a String Theory entity yet to reach a chalkboard, then the Hole will be a perfect Sphere: no bulge, no wobble, no pulse.  If it rotates, it does so perfectly, on a perfectly rigid axis.  And the only difference between it and every other Black Hole would be it's mass and, therefore, it's size.  Just like Geometric templates; in fact, they would be a Geometric Template brought to life, absolute and invariable.  The universe of mathematics invading our own.

I liked my idea better: Black Holes, as part of our Universe(s), behaving like part of our Universe(s).

I still didn't know why the Bang had gone Bang! but, all the same, I was pleased with the result.

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