Red Harvest

<continued> Al’s coffee shop was filling up as word got around about Anne in her white satin.  I saw a few selfie-takers in the physics crowd surreptitiously edge over to get her into their background.  She was busy thinking so she didn’t notice.  “The entropy-elephant picture is starting to come together, Sy.  We started out with entropy measuring accumulated heat capacity in a steam engine.”

“That’s where Carnot started, yes.”

“But when Jeremy threw that hot rock into the black hole” <several in the astronomy crew threw startled looks at Jeremy>, “its heat energy added to the black hole’s mass, but it should have added to the black hole’s entropy, too.  ‘Cause of Vinnie’s Second Law.”white satin and black hole 3

Vinnie looked up.  “Ain’t my Second Law, it’s thermodynamics’ Second Law.  Besides, my version was ‘energy’s always wasted.’  Sy’s the one who turned that into ‘entropy always increases.'”

“So anyway, black holes can’t have zero entropy like people used to think.  But if entropy also has to do with counting possibilities, than how does that apply to black holes?  They have only one state.”

“That’s where Hawking got subtle.  Jeremy, we’ve talked about how the black hole’s event horizon is a mathematical abstraction, infinitely thin and perfectly smooth and all that.”


“Hawking moved one step away from that abstraction.  In essence he said the  event horizon is surrounded by a thin shell of virtual particles.  Remember them, Jeremy?”

“Uh-huh, that was on my quest to the event horizon.  Pairs of equal and opposite virtual particles randomly appear and disappear everywhere in space and because they appear together they’re entangled and if one of them dips into the event horizon then it doesn’t annihilate its twin which — Oh!  Random!  So what’s inside the event horizon may have only one state, so far as we know, but right outside the horizon any point may or may not be hosting, can I call it an orphan particle?  I’ll bet that uncertainty give rise to the entropy, right?”

<finger-snaps of approval from the physics side of the room>

“Well done, Jeremy!  ‘Orphan’ isn’t the conventional term but it gets the idea across.”

“Wait, Sy.  You mentioned that surface area and entropy go together and now I see why.  The larger the area, the more room there is for those poor orphans.  When Jeremy’s rock hit the event horizon and increased the black hole’s mass, did the surface area increase enough to allow for the additional entropy?” <more finger-snapping>

“Sure did, Anne.  According to Hawking’s calculation, it grew by exactly the right amount.  Mass and area both grow as the square of the diameter.”

“How come not the radius?”

“Well , Vinnie, the word ‘radius‘ is tricky when you’re discussing black holes.  The event horizon is spherical and has a definite diameter — you could measure it from the outside.  But the sphere’s radius extends down to the singularity and is kind of infinite and isn’t even strictly speaking a distance.  Space-time is twisted in there, remember, and that radial vector is mostly time near its far end.  On the other hand, you could use ‘radius‘ to mean ‘half the diameter‘ and you’d be good for calculating effects outside the event horizon.”

“OK, that’s the entropy-area connection, but how does temperature tie in with surface gravity?”

“They’re both inversely dependent on the black hole’s mass.  Let’s take surface gravity first, and here when I say ‘r‘ I’m talking ‘half-diameter,‘ OK?”


“Good.  Newton taught us that an object with mass M has a gravitational attraction proportional to M/r².  That still holds if you’re not inside the event horizon.  Now, the event horizon’s r is also proportional to the object’s mass so you’ve got M/M² which comes to 1/M.  With me?”


“Hawking used quantum physics to figure the temperature thing, but here’s a sloppy short-cut.  Anne, remember how we said that entropy is approximately heat capacity divided by temperature?”


“The shell’s energy is mostly heat and proportional to M.  We’ve seen the shell’s entropy is proportional to .  The temperature is heat divided by entropy.  That’s proportional to M/M² which is the same 1/M as surface gravity.” <boos from all sides>. “Hey, I said it was sloppy.”

~~ Rich Olcott


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