Are we living in a baby universe that looks like a black hole to outsiders?

Baby universes led to black holes and dark matter, proposes a new study.

Are we living in a baby universe that looks like a black hole to outsiders?

Baby universes could have branched off the main universe after the Big Bang and may appear to us as black holes.

Credit: Kavli IPMU
  • Researchers recently used a huge telescope in Hawaii to study primordial black holes.
  • These black holes might have formed in the early days from baby universes and may be responsible for dark matter.
  • The study also raises the possibility that our own universe may look like a black hole to outside observers.

A new paper takes a deep dive into primordial black holes that were formed as a part of the early universe when there were still no stars or galaxies. Such black holes could account for strange cosmic possibilities, including baby universes and major features of the current state of the cosmos like dark matter.

To study the exotic primordial black holes (PBHs), physicists employed the Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC) of the huge 8.2m Subaru Telescope operating near the 4,200 meter summit of Mt. Mauna Kea in Hawaii. This enormous digital camera can produce images of the entire Andromeda galaxy every few minutes, helping scientists observe one hundred million stars in one go.

In their study, the scientists considered a number of scenarios, especially linked to the period of inflation. That is the time of quick expansion following the Big Bang, when the universe we know today came into existence with all its structures.

The researchers calculated that in the process of inflation, the climate was ripe for creating primordial black holes of various masses. And some of them reflect the characteristics predicted for dark matter.

Another way PBHs could have been created during inflation is from "baby universes" – small universes that branched off from the main one.

Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC) is a gigantic digital camera on the Subaru Telescope

Credit: HSC project / NAOJ

A baby or "daughter" universe would ultimately collapse but the tremendous release of energy would lead to the formation of a black hole, explains the press release from the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU) in Japan, one of the institutions participating in this study.

What's also fascinating, some of the bigger baby universes might not have gone so quietly. Above a certain critical size, the theory of gravity developed by Albert Einstein permits that such a universe may be perceived differently by observers. If you were inside it, you'd see an expanding universe, while if you were outside, this baby universe would look like a black hole. A conjecture that leads to wondering – are we potentially on the inside or outside of such a universe ourselves?

If you follow this multiverse logic, it also may be possible that while primordial black holes would appear to us as black holes, their true structural natures could be concealed by their "event horizons" – the boundaries surrounding black holes from which not even light can escape.

It should be noted, while strange or counter-intuitive, this is not the first go-around for these types of ideas. A study earlier in 2020 found that so-called "charged" black holes may include within them endlessly-repeating fractal universes of various sizes, including miniature, that can be stretched and deformed in all directions.

To solidify their theories and to find a primordial black hole, the researchers will continue using the Subaru Telescope, with some promising PBH candidates already emerging.

The international team of particle physicists working on the research came from the University of California, Los Angeles and the Kavli Institute. The group included cosmologists and astronomers Alexander Kusenko, Misao Sasaki, Sunao Sugiyama, Masahiro Takada and Volodymyr Takhistov.

Check out their new paper "Exploring Primordial Black Holes from the Multiverse with Optical Telescopes" in Physical Review Letters.

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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