Rockin’ Round The Elephant

<continued…>  “That’s what who said?  And why’d he say that?”

“That’s what Hawking said, Al.  He’s the guy who first applied thermodynamic analysis to black holes.  Anyone happen to know the Three Laws of Thermodynamics?”

Vinnie pipes up from his table by the coffee shop door.  “You can’t win.  You can’t even break even.  But you’ll never go broke.”

“Well, that’s one version, Vinnie, but keep in mind all three of those focus on energy.  The First Law is Conservation of Energy—no process can create or destroy energy, only  transform it, so you can’t come out ahead.  The Second Law is really about entropy—”

“Ooo, the elephant!”white satin and black hole 2

“Right, Anne.  You usually see the Second Law stated in terms of energy efficiency—no process can convert energy to another form without wasting some of it. No breaking even.  But an equivalent statement of that same law is that any process must increase the entropy of the Universe.”

“The elephant always gets bigger.”

“Absolutely.  When Bekenstein and Hawking thought about what would happen if a black hole absorbed more matter, worst case another black hole, they realized that the black hole’s surface area had to follow the same ‘Never decrease‘ rule.”

“Oh, that Hawking!  Hawking radiation Hawking!  The part I didn’t understand, well one of the parts, in that “Black Holes” Wikipedia article!  It had to do with entangled particles, didn’t it?”

“Just caught up with us, eh, Jeremy?  Yes, Stephen Hawking.  He and Jacob Bekenstein found parallels between what we can know about black holes on the one hand and thermodynamic quantities on the other.  Surface area and entropy, like we said, and a black hole’s mass acts mathematically like energy in thermodynamics.  The correlations were provocative ”

“Mmm, provocative.”

“You like that word, eh, Anne?  Physicists knew that Bekenstein and Hawking had a good analogy going, but was there a tight linkage in there somewhere?  It seemed doubtful.”

“Nothin’ to count.”

“Wow, Vinnie.  You’ve been reading my posts?”

“Sure, and I remember the no-hair thing.  If the only things the Universe can know about a black hole are its mass, spin and charge, then there’s nothing to figure probabilities on.”

“Exactly.  The logic sequence went, ‘Entropy is proportional to the logarithm of state count, there’s only one state, log(1) equals zero,  so the entropy is zero.’  But that breaks the Third Law.  Vinnie’s energy-oriented Third Law says that no object can cool to absolute zero temperature.  But an equivalent statement is that no object can have zero entropy.”

“So there’s something wrong with black hole theory, huh?”

“Which is where our guys started, Vinnie.  Being physicists, they said, ‘Suppose you were to throw an object into a black hole.  What would change?’

“Its mass, for one.”

“For sure, Jeremy.  Anything else?”

“It might not change the spin, if you throw right.”

“Spoken like a trained baseball pitcher.  Turns out its mass governs pretty much everything about a black hole, including its temperature but not spin or charge.  Once you know the mass you can calculate its entropy, diameter, surface area, surface gravity, maximum spin, all of that.  Weird, though, you can’t easily calculate its volume or density — spatial distortion gets in the way.”

“So what happens to all those things when the mass increases?”

“As you might expect, they change.  What’s interesting is how each of them change and how they’re linked together.  Temperature, for instance, is inversely proportional to the mass and vice-versa.  Suppose, Jeremy, that you threw two big rocks, both the same size, into a black hole.  The first rock is at room temperature and the other’s a really hot one, say at a million degrees.   What would each do?”

“The first one adds mass so from what you said it’d drop the temperature.  The second one has the same mass, so I don’t see, wait, temperature’s average kinetic energy so the hot rock has more energy than the other one and Einstein says that energy and mass are the same thing so the black hole gets more mass from the hot rock than from the cold one so its temperature goes down … more?  Really?”

“Yup.  Weird, huh?”

“How’s that work?”

“That’s what they asked.”

~~ Rich Olcott

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