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The Black Hole Event

The Black Hole Event

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The Black Hole Event

Lunghezza:
422 pagine
7 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Aug 1, 2014
ISBN:
9781310385254
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

In 2017 astronomers in Hawaii discover a black hole heading in our general direction. Black holes, tiny in physical size but containing
enormous concentrations of mass, neither radiate nor reflect light, so this one will not be detected until it is almost upon us. By pure
unlucky chance it will pass through our solar system, and while it will not hit us, its powerful gravitation will tear the solar system apart,
sending the sun and each planet off in its own direction. In 2023, astrophysicists tell the world, the Earth will fly further and further
from the sun and will eventually become so cold and dark that everything unprotected on the surface of our planet will die.

Will this mean the extermination of humankind and, in fact, all life on Earth? Not necessarily. The world has six years to come up with a
solution, and every government with the resources to do so begins efforts to save at least some of its citizens. For the United States and
other developed nations, that means mobilizing their best and brightestto design enormous underground cities and to build as many of them as possible before the Earth freezes. And many private citizens make desperate attempts to stay alive by constructing their own shelters.

Once that black hole has passed and the orphaned Earth is drifting alone in space, human civilization will consist solely of isolated
underground communities around the world.

The Black Hole Event is an apocalyptic novel with a unique, scientifically plausible premise. Such a catastrophe is unlikely to happen.
But it could.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Aug 1, 2014
ISBN:
9781310385254
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Author is a retired physician and computer programmer living in northern California.

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The Black Hole Event - Craig Wilson

THE BLACK HOLE EVENT

by Craig Wilson

Smashwords Edition | Copyright 2014 Craig Wilson

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

To Nancy

1


October 14, 2023

Henry Blunt lowered himself into a comfortable wicker chair on their backyard patio overlooking Monterey Bay. His wife Julia brought out cocktails and snack food and joined him, both of them dressed warmly for the chilly California fall afternoon.

They had been told by the government that this was the day when the apocalypse would officially begin – the day when the general public, ordinary citizens, would be able to observe the first subtle effects of the phenomenon that they said would change everything. Unlike some of their neighbors, Henry and Julia believed the science of it, incredible as it sounded. They knew that by the end of the day, the predictions would either be proved or disproved.

Julia had splurged on nice cheese and pate from France for this special occasion. It seemed a perfect time for bittersweet reminiscence. They talked about some of the wonderful trips they had taken over the years both before and after Henry's retirement from medical practice. Spain and Italy had been fun but their favorites were Ireland and Scotland. Their only child, Lisa, had been trouble through high school but was a solid citizen now. They were gratified that she had been accepted as a chemist in one of the new government cities and that she and her family would be safe - as safe as anyone could be. Otherwise this would be unbearable.

They never felt any physical sensations, their drinks didn't spill, the ground didn't shake, there were no ominous noises, but the sun set a little after 6:37, about four minutes early. Julia, said Henry, I've been watching where the sun goes down the last few weeks. Last four days it's been right in line with that satellite dish on the Hodges' roof, and today it looks to me like it's a bit to the north of that. Damn. The bastards knew what they were talking about.

As was his lifelong habit, Henry arose early the next morning, just after five o'clock. He had his morning coffee in the breakfast nook, then turned the lights off and watched the skies outside. At 6:12 there was a glow in the horizon to the east and the sun made its appearance more than six minutes earlier than the almanac said. Confirmation.

Henry hadn't smoked in fifteen years but from a kitchen drawer he pulled the pack he had bought yesterday and lit up. Glorious. He made scrambled eggs and toast and sausage and took it up with coffee on a breakfast tray to Julia.

Henry, you old sweetheart. How long since you last did this for me?

Been a while, love. Should have done it more often.

No complaints. She took his hand. Any news this morning?

I haven't turned on the TV or gone out for the paper yet. Don't really need to. The sun's confused - set too early last night, rose too early this morning, just as they predicted.

So we're circling the drain.

Yep.

Julia sat up and pulled Henry into an embrace. There wasn't a lot to say.

The television news shows featured commentary by politicians who seemed unaware that they wouldn't be up for election ever again and by preachers explaining how this fit into God's plan and by scientists who told the public what to expect, and when. There were stories about private citizens who were determined to survive through one scheme or another, and news of pointless riots and protests, and incidents of rape, assault, and murder across the country on an unprecedented scale, as well as communities holding rallies for psychological support and comfort.

The day was a little cooler than the day before but not dramatically so. The family dog, Millie, seemed unusually anxious, afraid to leave her master's side, though Henry wasn't sure whether she was simply reflecting her owners' disquiet.

Over the next month it became obvious that the Earth's day was now consistently twenty-three hours and fifty-one minutes in length, and that the sun was dimming with time, and that the moon, reflecting its light, was fading as well. The weather turned more winter than fall, dropping two or three degrees each day, on average. The trees, as if aware that this would be their last opportunity to impress, displayed colors more vivid than any year in memory.

By the fourth week the temperature was not climbing above freezing. Snowfall began. It wasn't clear how long they would be supplied with natural gas and electricity; no promises had been made except that the utilities would do their best. Henry had laid up an enormous store of firewood but some of it had been pilfered. He also had a generator in the garage with a fair supply of gasoline. Julia had hoarded as much food as possible, but everybody was doing the same, so the stores were mostly bare, and eventually all the businesses had closed. What was the point?

From their living room, through the bay window looking out on Escalona Street, Henry and Julia watched the world growing darker and colder as the days passed. Early on, human activity had been brisk – neighbors going to work, driving to buy food and supplies, visiting friends. With time, the snow-covered streets and sidewalks became deserted, except for a few heavily-bundled people rushing to get back inside. They last person they saw passing by their window, slipping and sliding on December 8th as he ran toward his home in the next block, was a neighborhood kid Henry had treated for pneumonia some years back.

Finally, after just over two and a half months, the electricity shut off. No more television or internet. Henry and Julia's phone died, and the water pipes went dry. Their supply of firewood was dwindling. They were isolated from the world. With the deep overcast outside, the sun was no longer visible even at midday except as a feeble glow through the mist. Henry laid logs in the fireplace and made a roaring fire for heat and light. He curled up with Julia on their sofa, and they talked of good times shared. They hoped they would be together in heaven but weren't optimistic.

They had spoken by phone to their daughter Lisa almost daily and felt blessed that she and her family were safely quartered in one of the shelter cities, and that they and their children, and their children's children, had a chance to live a full span of years. Under what conditions, who knew, but every life is unpredictable. For instance, who could have seen this coming?

Sweet Julia, I have loved my life with you. How are you feeling tonight?

Surprisingly mellow, Henry. Cozy and warm in the arms of my man. Ready to face the music.

Henry reached over and showed her a wine bottle. I've been saving this 2013 Lafitte Rothschild for a special occasion.

When will there ever be a time more special for us than now? asked Julia.

He opened the bottle and poured some into their glasses. Ah, that's wonderful, Julia said after sipping. I wonder what the poor people are drinking tonight.

Henry got up, walked to the kitchen, and returned with a few pills and two four ounce medicine bottles. Are you sure you're ready to call it a day? We can hold out for at least another week or two.

I'm sure, baby. Let's go out on a high note. I'm not all that afraid. But her eyes were moist.

All right, then, sweetheart. This is liquid Nembutal, government issued, medicine for the smart people like us who are choosing death by sedation over carbon monoxide or one of the messier methods. It's supposed to have a slightly bitter taste, but the effects, they say, are pleasant, even euphoric. I think we should drink our beautiful wine first, get a little buzz on, then take our antiemetic pills. And when you're ready, we'll mix Millie's dose in her dog food, drink our Nembutal down, hold hands, and see what's on the other side.

Nothing, I think, said Julia, but that's all right.

2


Six and a Half Years Earlier

March 17, 2017 Mauna Kea Observatory, Hawaii

Brent Carmichael entered the office of the gnome without knocking.

Yes, Brent?

Dr. Miller, Orcus is missing!

What is this fool saying now, thought Miller. The killer whale? Your dog? What?

The plutino, sir. [1]

What do you mean, missing?

I just looked at one of the latest CMOS images of a section of the Kuiper Belt, and Orcus isn't there.

Show me.

Miller compared the current image with that taken a month ago, and indeed Orcus was present in the earlier version and not in the later. Sharp eyes, Brent. Let's take another snapshot tonight to make sure that this isn't some strange artifact.

But a repeat confirmed the observation. This might be exciting. Could Orcus have collided with some other Kuiper Belt object? Miller hoped that they were the first to discover the phenomenon.

Over the next week Miller's team concentrated their efforts on getting images of the region of the sky from which Orcus had disappeared. They found that two other, smaller Kuiper Belt objects - KBO's - were likewise AWOL from the same sector as Orcus. This was big, Miller thought, a reputation builder, but also baffling.

He established scientific primacy by sending emails describing his findings to colleagues, then placed a call to a friend at NASA, William Halberman, and discussed the situation.

Harry, said Halberman, I wonder if some massive object is passing through the Kuiper Belt.

I consider that to be the most likely explanation, Bill, but we can't see anything new. Obviously a white dwarf or brown dwarf would be visible. A big-planet-sized object would almost certainly be visible. Anything smaller, unlikely that its path would take it near enough to all three missing KBO's to affect them. That leaves a black hole or a neutron star, but I can't imagine a black hole or neutron star of any size moving through our solar system. That would be too weird.

And a little disturbing, said Halberman. "Listen, we'll be happy to assist you with this. If you could send over your data and your images, we'll get our people on it. We might be able to have the Hubble look for radiation or radio waves compatible with black holes or neutron stars. In the meantime, continue your observations of that sector. This could be an evolving process. You might find another object that's not where it's supposed to be, and the timing could give us a general idea of what path the black hole or neutron star is taking, assuming that's what it turns out to be.

And if it pans out, Harry, this is a major finding. Congratulations. You'll be appearing on Letterman - or if you're real lucky, on Oprah. He smiled, picturing the impression his tiny friend with that enormous head would make on national television.

But as more data came in, Halberman lost his enthusiasm. Faint X-ray evidence from the Hubble was suggestive of a black hole, as he had suspected. What wasn't anticipated was that analysis of the movements of the three objects initially found to be displaced plus two additional ones discovered later suggested that the black hole was a huge one, and that its general direction was toward the sun. Jesus Christ, he said to himself. What if that thing gets near the Earth?

A week later Halberman was convinced that the black hole posed a significant danger to our planet. He pulled some strings and was able to arrange an emergency meeting with the president.

Mr. President, he said. I have bad news.


[1] A plutino is a small-planet-sized object out beyond Neptune in the Kuiper Belt region of the solar system.

3


July 25, 2017

"As I'm sure you've been told, gentlemen and ladies, said Dr. William Halberman, the lead astrophysicist at NASA, addressing an emergency session of the president's cabinet, there appears to be an object more massive than the sun heading in the general direction of our inner solar system. A few months ago some of our astronomers in Hawaii noticed that several objects in the Kuiper Belt, which is the region of our solar system out beyond the last planet, Neptune, were not where they were supposed to be. We analyzed the data and have come to the conclusion that a huge celestial body is traveling through the Kuiper Belt, its gravity pulling those bodies way out of position. No other explanation makes sense. Problem is, enormous as it has to be, we can't see it. Cannot see it.

"Now since we have a general idea of the size and position of this thing, based on how it's thrown those objects in the Kuiper Belt around, we know, for instance, that it isn't a giant rogue planet or asteroid or what we call a white dwarf or brown dwarf star. Any of those big enough to do this we'd be able to see. According to our understanding of the universe, the only possibilities left are a neutron star or a black hole. Both of those are formed when stars much larger than our own sun run out of their nuclear fuel and collapse in on themselves. Since nobody has detected any radio signals, we think it's unlikely that it's a neutron star. So our working assumption is that it's a black hole, and it's coming this way.

We estimate that it is approaching our inner solar system at somewhere around 80,000 miles an hour, which gives us about six years before it reaches our neighborhood. We don't know yet on which side of the sun it will pass, and since the Earth is, of course, in orbit around the sun, we need much more precision as to the path of this black hole before we can determine how close to the Earth it will come as it sails by.

Dr. Halberman, a tall, spare fifty-year old son of Texas, laid out the problem for his audience. "There are a number of possible outcomes. One is that it could, believe it or not, impact our planet directly. If it did, it would tunnel through our planet and absorb everything in its path and cause such a huge explosion, followed by unimaginably large earthquakes and other catastrophes, that it would probably kill us all. But that's so improbable, given how small the Earth is compared to all the potential paths this object could take, that we shouldn't even worry about it.

The thing is, we believe this black hole to be so big – about three times the mass of the sun – that if it comes anywhere close to the sun its gravitational effect will toss around not just the Earth and our sister planets but the sun itself, too. It could disrupt the entire solar system and send each planet off on its own. The sun might lose all its planets or hang on to just a few of them.

My God, escaped from somebody at the end of the table.

"At that point what happens to the Earth is a matter of where, by random chance, the black hole goes. If it misses the sun by enough - if it passes by well outside the orbit of Jupiter, for example – we would probably survive unscathed, especially if we're on the other side of the sun at that time, and breathe a sigh of relief.

"But if this black hole disrupts the Earth's orbit – which I personally suspect that it will – there are several further possibilities, and it all depends on exactly where we are when the black hole passes. The most unpleasant outcome would be that we are slung into the sun or so close to it that we are incinerated. Since we have no control over whether that happens, let's disregard it and move on to the more congenial possibilities.

"If the Earth isn't real close to the black hole when it passes, but not far enough to escape its effects completely, we might find our orbit around the sun changed from one which is almost circular to a more elliptical one where our years are much longer and involve passing closer to the sun than we're used to and then moving much further away, possibly even beyond the current orbit of Mars, which might or might not still be there. We might be able to survive such a change. Or not, depending on the particulars of the new orbit.

"We at NASA have done a lot of simulations, and one of the more likely outcomes is that the black hole will disrupt our entire solar system, and we'll be slung out into space. Now that's far from a sure thing, and not everybody at NASA and other centers of astronomy and astrophysics agrees about it.

"But if the sun goes in one direction and we go in another, which is a real possibility, it will quickly get colder and darker, and all unprotected life on the surface of the Earth will die in less than a year. All the water vapor in the air will turn to rain and snow. Then carbon dioxide will turn to its own version of rain and snow. Then over the next several years each of the elements in our atmosphere will, one by one, become liquid and eventually freeze. Our atmosphere will gradually diminish. Oxygen and nitrogen will liquify when the temperature drops below minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit. Don't go outside without your mittens.

"The only way for mankind to survive such a catastrophe is to construct shelters that are shielded from the conditions on the surface. Build underground cities to house as many people as possible. I believe that you, Mr. President, have already begun thinking about that, and I wish you luck.

Hell of a thing, isn't it? I'd be happy to answer your questions, if you all have any.

In this room of big personalities and big egos, nobody said anything for over a minute. Finally, Secretary of Defense Bill Ringold, shaken to the core, his deep voice unsteady, said, Dr. Halberman, thank you for explaining the situation. How sure are you about all this? It seems strange to me that this black hole, out of all the paths it could have taken, is headed directly toward us. The odds against that, given the vastness of space, must be incredible. Are we just unlucky?

Mr. Secretary, answered Halberman, "black holes of this size are almost impossible to detect. Most of them, as I said before, are formed when huge stars collapse. Given the incredible number of stars we can see and our estimates of their sizes and the age of the universe, we believe that there are many millions of black holes in our galaxy alone, most of them, of course, far far away from us.

"When those big stars collapse, their mass gets so concentrated and their gravitational pull becomes so intense that nothing that's inside them or falls into them can ever escape – not even light. So they don't emit any light and no light can reflect off them. They are invisible. The only practical way to discover a black hole is by observing its gravitational effects on other objects that we can see.

Now if this same black hole had slid by just outside our solar system, those astronomers in Hawaii wouldn't have discovered it, and we wouldn't have known about it. So it's possible that black holes have been whizzing by the solar system all along, without our knowledge. It doesn't really matter how unlucky we are. Unlikely things happen all the time. The important point is that we are almost certain that this one is out there, and we believe it has us in its sights.

Where do you think this black hole came from? asked Secretary Ringold.

We don't know, sir. The size of it is consistent with what we believe happens when a massive star collapses, so that's how we suspect it came into existence, but where and when that happened we have no idea. Somewhere in our Milky Way galaxy, almost certainly.

Secretary of Agriculture Andrew Thigpen asked, I don't suppose there's any way to use nuclear explosions to divert this thing away from us?

No sir, said Halberman. That could work for an asteroid, but the black hole is literally almost a million times the mass of the Earth. It's going to go wherever it wants to.

When will we know for sure what our fate will be? asked the president.

We're continually updating our estimates, said Halberman. "I think within four months or so we'll be able to pinpoint the path and speed of the black hole well enough to be fairly certain where the Earth will be when it passes. At that time we'll tell you whether we've dodged a bullet or are going to be thrown out of orbit. My advice is to assume the worst and begin designing those shelters as soon as you can assemble a team.

Mr. President, I think that you will have to tell the nation about this, and fairly soon. It's unlikely that we could keep secret something of this magnitude. At this point I believe it's reasonable to explain to the public that our chances of escaping catastrophe are good, but prepare them for the worst, because a few months from now we may well have to inform you that we're in serious trouble.

4


      After Dr. Halberman sat down, President Lee MacArthur shook his head and said, "Well, I knew when I was elected that there would be shit days, but I never expected to be presiding over the end of the damn world.

People, I am inclined to take Dr. Halberman at his word. We looked at his record and he's not one to jump to crazy conclusions. Most of the other physicists and astronomers we've talked to are pessimistic as well. So as unbelievable as this situation is, we have to assume that it's real and do what we can to prepare for it. That's what they pay us for. When I first heard about this a couple of weeks ago, I put together a team - Robert Rennit, who is a physicist and mechanical engineer, William McDonald, an architect, and Ron Wattenburg, a social scientist, and various other experts in everything from chemistry and biology to city planning. We all brainstormed and have put together a preliminary document about what we believe we should do. Robert? You first.

Thank you, Mr. President, said Robert Rennit, a small bald man from Pennsylvania wearing an expensive suit. "I'm not going to go into great detail now, but here is a sketch of what we propose as our best chance of keeping some of us alive if Dr Halberman's scenario comes to pass.

"We hope he's mistaken, of course. But for the purpose of this proposal, we'll assume he's got it right – that the Earth will come under the gravitational influence of this huge black hole and will be thrown out of solar orbit, into outer space. We'll also assume that the black hole won't hit us directly, or bring the moon crashing down on us, or toss us into the sun. If any of those things happen, game over. There's nothing we can do to prevent our extermination.

"So we're going with his assumption that we'll drift further and further from the sun, and after a few months, we won't be getting much heat or light from it. We'll become what is known by astronomers as a rogue planet or an orphan planet. Incidentally, over the past decade astronomers have discovered a huge number of planets out in space, drifting freely, not orbiting around stars, and they now believe that those rogue planets actually outnumber the planets that are part of solar systems in our galaxy. Some of them were probably ejected from their parent stars, some of them were formed from interstellar debris.

"The Earth will gradually become darker and colder. It will be in perpetual nighttime, but without the comfort and illumination of moonlight. Eventually we will lose almost all our atmosphere as its gases one by one turn to rain and snow. Because of the heat at the Earth's core, the surface of our planet will never come close to absolute zero, but it will be much too cold to support life.

"Therefore if some of us are to survive, we must build shelters to protect us from what will essentially be outer space conditions.

"We could build structures above ground and insulate them. But as our atmosphere dissipates, as its gases turn to ice and snow, it will no longer protect us against meteorites. Long term we would expect, just by chance, an occasional hit on our living quarters from space rocks, which would have burned up in the atmosphere if we still had one anything like what we have today. Those collisions would damage the shelter and cause a loss of pressurization. Could kill a lot of people. So it makes sense to put our bunkers underground.

"We would have excavators dig big holes in the ground - somewhere around twenty or thirty feet deep, maybe one or two square miles in area. Pour concrete floors and concrete walls and set a bunch of posts to support beams and trusses for the ceiling. Cover the roof with several feet of earth for insulation and protection. Insulate the floor, walls, ceiling – everything. Protect the city from earthquake damage as much as possible.

"The challenge is going to be how to keep everybody alive long term – not just for the first residents but for generation after generation. We can bring in food and other essentials to supply the needs of the people for a while, but this project only makes sense if it's self-sustaining for hundreds and even thousands of years. We have to be able to grow our own food and manufacture everything we are going to use. We have to recycle everything we can and maintain a healthy environment.

"First, feeding the people isn't going to be easy. I suspect that we'll have to devote half of the square footage of the underground shelters to agriculture. The most efficient method of food production by far is hydroponic farming – that is, growing fruits, vegetables, grains, and other edible plants in water and nutrients rather than in soil, and under artificial lighting. We also envision raising chickens, rabbits, goats, and pigs. Maybe a fish pond, too. A few dairy cattle. No cattle or sheep for meat except maybe in one or two cities; they require too much feed.

"Where, you may ask, are we going to get the energy to grow the crops and, in fact, to light the underground shelter and provide livable conditions for the residents?

"The answer is that we will use existing power plants and build some new ones to provide electricity. Got to have electricity. Without electricity, we won't be able to grow plants, or illuminate our living quarters, or have any of the modern conveniences we are accustomed to. Without a reliable and abundant energy source, we won't be able to survive, and even if we could, life wouldn't be very pleasant.

"Obviously, solar power is out. Wind power is out. There may or may not be fierce winds for a while after the black hole passes, but eventually,without much of an atmosphere, the Earth will be dead calm. Hydroelectric power is out, because the rivers will freeze. Wave power is out, because the oceans will freeze.

"Most of our nation's power plants get their energy by using fossil fuels – coal, natural gas, and oil. On the bright side, we won't have to worry about global warming, but there is a problem with those power plants: they require a steady supply of fuel.

"We have a lot of coal in a lot of states in this country, from Wyoming to West Virginia. We're looking into building underground cities that would connect with existing mines. We would stockpile coal to feed power plants, but it wouldn't last all that long, so the people in those shelters will have to conduct mining operations, with all the dangers and health risks that are associated with coal mining. We'll probably recommend some bunkers next to coal mines, but it isn't a perfect solution.

"Our strategic petroleum reserves are housed in four sites in Louisiana and Texas near the Gulf Coast, and there's enough oil stored there to supply the needs of say 100,000 people underground in five or six shelters for thirty or forty years. To maintain a living environment longer than that, those folks would have to provide a continuing supply of oil to those power plants. And that won't be easy. Our planet won't have much atmosphere and it will be almost like working in outer space or on the moon, except without sunlight. Workers will have to wear space suits, and the equipment to drill wells and extract oil and transport it will have to be designed for those conditions. Far from a sure thing that they'll be able to supply enough oil to keep themselves alive far into the future. But it's worth trying. Pretty sure they'll be motivated.

"Natural gas is another energy source. We can build some underground cities near natural gas wells. The survivors will have to figure out how to replenish the supply, through conventional drilling or fracking.

"Then there's nuclear power. Just as with fossil fuel plants, a steady supply of fuel will be necessary for nuclear facilities, if they are to generate power for future generations. Uranium ore will have to be mined, transported, processed, and enriched before it can be used. Most current nuclear reactors only have lifespans of around forty years, so the residents of a shelter supplied by nuclear power would have to be able to build or activate new ones periodically, not a simple task, on top of obtaining and processing nuclear fuel. And a number of countries, including ours, have started producing modular small nuclear reactors – small in comparison with the conventional variety, and safe, but still relatively powerful.

"I've consulted with nuclear scientists and we're still working out the details but a general plan is emerging. We think that we will be able to manufacture, in fairly large quantities, nuclear reactors small enough to be transported to various locations around the country. Some would be fast breeders

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