Friday, June 9, 2023
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Humans are making the best impression of black holes

In the universe, there is no greater catastrophe than a black hole, whose gravitational pull is so strong that not even light can escape. Sure, supernovae are incredibly violent, but the devastation caused by black holes is complete. These monsters roam through space like Pac-Man, devouring stars, planets and asteroids, tearing them apart.

No man-made disaster – climate change, starvation, nuclear war – can rival such utter devastation, but you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re doing our best. “I’m thinking about things at the edge of the universe, things that happened shortly after the Big Bang,” said physicist Daniel Holz of the University of Chicago. “We’ve made these extraordinary instruments, these space telescopes, that go back to the very beginning. This is incredible. Yet we are on the verge of completely destroying our only home.”

Holz is a member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a collaboration between Hiroshima and Nagasaki Birth of the non-profit organization during the atomic bombing of World War II. Its goal is to assess existential threats to our species, be it nuclear weapons or climate change, for which it sets the time for the doomsday clock, which turns 75 this year. The clock is a visual representation of how far Bulletin scientists believe humanity is from being forgotten—the closer to midnight, the closer to planetary destruction. Clocks are now 100 seconds to midnight, up from two minutes in 2018. Tick tock, tick tock .

There is, however, a unique beauty in gazing at the universe and contemplating our own insignificance. So Wired sat down with Holz to discuss cosmic and Earth catastrophe, how to deal with doom, and why this is a uniquely dangerous time in human history — and why all is not lost. Dialogue has been condensed and edited for clarity.

WIRED: For those unfamiliar, what is the Atomic Bulletin to the scientists, and what is the Doomsday Clock?

Daniel Holtz: It was established in 1947. They realized that even then there would be an arms race, there would be hydrogen bombs, there would be thousands of them. The entire planet will be threatened. There is no way to win these wars, and there is no way to defend against these weapons. We need a new way of thinking. Scientists understand the technology, understand the threat, and feel that something must be done.

Doomsday Clock is our way of symbolizing how we do on a global scale. Based on our understanding, how do we address existing threats? I would claim that the biggest threat is obviously nuclear, and climate, you can argue disinformation.

Announcement members are not hysterical people. These are mostly scientists. These people are very calm, rational, sober people. None of us were involved because we happily moved the clock to midnight. The whole goal is to move away . Our biggest dream, and the reason we all do it, is to get to a point where we’re so far from midnight that no one cares. It would be better if I could spend all my time on black holes without worrying about the future of civilization, no doubt about it.



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