Doctors are talking about using psychedelic drugs to treat alcoholics


Treating an addiction to a mind-altering substance with another mind-altering substance might seem counterintuitive, but more and more, researchers are finding ways that psychedelic drugs like psilocybin mushrooms and party drugs like ketamine could actually help people get over alcohol and drug addictions.

Most recently, researchers published a study in the Nature journal Neuropsychopharmacology that they say offers very preliminary evidence that ketamine might be worth exploring as a way to help people with alcohol abuse disorders get over the depression and anxiety that they frequently feel after giving up booze.

That particular study was based on mice, which means that on its own, it would hardly be worth mentioning — alcoholic mice being very different from humans with drinking problems. But that’s far from the only research showing that ketamine can help with depression or that psychedelics can help addicts.

For the study in Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers showed that alcohol dependent mice display anxiety and depressed behavior after abstaining from drinking. Then, they were able to show that ketamine was able to reverse those effects, causing the mice to behave like mice who hadn’t been consuming alcohol in the first place.

These findings fit into a growing body of research that shows ketamine can reverse depression in people in powerful ways.

We might think of ketamine as a quasi-psychedelic party drug (or an animal tranquilizer), but researchers have been investigating its therapeutic properties for the past 10 years.

For many, the disassociative anesthetic drug can function as a powerful antidepressant, able to reverse even major depression in just a few hours.

ketamineKetamine, in the days it was used as an animal tranquilizer.

“This is the next big thing in psychiatry,” San Francisco psychiatrist L. Alison McInnes recently told The Washington Post.

Right now, medical experts are trying to find ways to make that anti-depressant effect last as long as possible — for some patients it lasts longer than others, but rarely longer than a few weeks. And some experts argue that there’s there’s not enough good evidence that ketamine really relieves depression to promote using it at all so far. It’s certainly not yet widely available or affordable.

The science is far from settled. Still, other researchers are investigating ways that ketamine may actually have a protective effect that preventscertain patients from becoming depressed in the first place.

Of course, dealing with the depression that follows addiction isn’t the same thing as treating that abuse disorder in the first place.

Researchers are turning to other (still illegal) controlled substances to see whether some might work for treating addictive behavior.

magic mushrooms shrooms psychedelic psilocybin

In a recent Reddit AMA question-and-answer session, a representative of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) said that while their group is for now focusing on using MDMA to treat PTSD, they have sponsored research that’s shown that the powerful hallucinogenayahuasca has been associated with a reduction in problematic alcohol and cocaine abuse.

Other researchers have shown (in small studies, so far) that psilocybin mushrooms, also known as magic mushrooms, can have a significant effect on problem drinkers, increasing abstinence rates and decreasing cravings for alcohol.

And of course, some of the first research into LSD back in the 1950s showed it could be an effective part of treating alcoholism, something researchers have started following up on again now.

Taking psychedelic drugs in a clinical setting is far different from self-experimentation, and there’s still a lot of research that’s needed before these things find their way into common clinical use — something that’s currently illegal.

But as this growing body of research shows, it seems there may be far more to many of these substances than their reputations so far suggest.

Predictors, Trends, and Outcomes (Among Older Patients ≥65 Years of Age) Associated With Beta-Blocker Use in Patients With Stable Angina Undergoing Elective Percutaneous Coronary Intervention


Objectives  This study sought to examine predictors, trends, and outcomes associated with β-blocker prescriptions at discharge in patients with stable angina without prior history of myocardial infarction (MI) or systolic heart failure (HF) undergoing elective percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).

Background  The benefits of β-blockers in patients with MI and/or systolic HF are well established. However, whether β-blockers affect outcomes in patients with stable angina, especially after PCI, remains uncertain.

Methods  We included patients with stable angina without prior history of MI, left ventricular systolic dysfunction (left ventricular ejection fraction <40%) or systolic HF undergoing elective PCI between January 2005 and March 2013 from the hospitals enrolled in the National Cardiovascular Data Registry (NCDR) CathPCI registry. These patients were retrospectively analyzed for predictors and trends of β-blocker prescriptions at discharge. All-cause mortality (primary endpoint), revascularization, or hospitalization related to MI, HF, or stroke at 30-day and 3-year follow-up were analyzed among patients ≥65 years of age.

Results  A total of 755,215 patients from 1,443 sites were studied, and 71.4% population of our cohort was discharged on β-blockers. At 3-year follow-up among patients ≥65 years of age with CMS data linkage (16.3% of the studied population), there was no difference in adjusted mortality rate (14.0% vs. 13.3%; adjusted hazard ratio [HR]: 1.00; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.96 to 1.03; p = 0.84), MI (4.2% vs. 3.9%; adjusted HR: 1.00; 95% CI: 0.93 to 1.07; p = 0.92), stroke (2.3% vs. 2.0%; adjusted HR: 1.08; 95% CI: 0.98 to 1.18; p = 0.14) or revascularization (18.2% vs. 17.8%; adjusted HR: 0.97; 95% CI: 0.94 to 1.01; p = 0.10) with β-blocker prescription. However, discharge on β-blockers was associated with more HF readmissions at 3-year follow-up (8.0% vs. 6.1%; adjusted HR: 1.18; 95% CI: 1.12 to 1.25; p < 0.001). Results at 30-day follow-up were broadly consistent as well. During the period between 2005 and 2013, there was a gradual increase in prescription of β-blockers at the index discharge in our cohort (p < 0.001).

Conclusions  Among patients ≥65 years of age with history of stable angina without prior MI, systolic HF or left ventricular ejection fraction <40% undergoing elective PCI, β-blocker use at discharge was not associated with any reduction in cardiovascular morbidity or mortality at 30-day and at 3-year follow-up. Over time, β-blockers use at discharge in this population has continued to increase.

Perspectives

WHAT IS KNOWN? β-blockers have consistently been shown to improve outcomes in a variety of cardiovascular settings and therefore remain widely used.

WHAT IS NEW? This nonrandomized, observational study reports that β-blocker use at discharge among patients ≥65 years of age with stable angina without prior MI, LV systolic dysfunction (LVEF <40%), or systolic HF undergoing elective PCI in routine clinical practice was associated with no difference in post-discharge mortality, revascularization, or rehospitalization related to MI or stroke at 30-day and at 3-year follow-up. Their prescriptions at discharge continue to trend upward with time.

WHAT IS NEXT? The use of β-blockers in this population should be tailored based on other concomitant cardiovascular conditions and completeness of revascularization.

Antipsychotic Use in Pregnancy and the Risk for Congenital Malformations


Importance  The frequency of antipsychotic (AP) use during pregnancy has approximately doubled during the last decade. However, little is known about their safety for the developing fetus, and concerns have been raised about a potential association with congenital malformations.

Objective  To examine the risk for congenital malformations overall and cardiac malformations associated with first-trimester exposure to APs.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This nationwide sample of 1 360 101 pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid with a live-born infant constituted the pregnancy cohort nested in the Medicaid Analytic Extract database, which included data from January 1, 2000, to December 31, 2010. Participants were enrolled in Medicaid from 3 months before their last menstrual period through at least 1 month after delivery. Relative risks (RRs) were estimated using generalized linear models with fine stratification on the propensity score to control for the underlying psychiatric disorders and other potential confounders. Data were analyzed during 2015.

Exposures  Use of APs during the first trimester, the etiologically relevant period for organogenesis.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Major congenital malformations overall and cardiac malformations identified during the first 90 days after delivery.

Results  Of the 1 341 715 pregnancies that met inclusion criteria (mean [SD] age of women, 24.02 [5.77] years), 9258 (0.69%) filled at least 1 prescription for an atypical AP and 733 (0.05%) filled at least 1 prescription for a typical AP during the first trimester. Overall, 32.7 (95% CI, 32.4-33.0) per 1000 births not exposed to APs were diagnosed with congenital malformations compared with 44.5 (95% CI, 40.5-48.9) per 1000 births exposed to atypical and 38.2 (95% CI, 26.6-54.7) per 1000 births exposed to typical APs. Unadjusted analyses suggested an increased risk for malformations overall for atypical APs (RR, 1.36; 95% CI, 1.24-1.50) but not for typical APs (RR, 1.17; 95% CI, 0.81-1.68). After confounding adjustment, the RR was reduced to 1.05 (95% CI, 0.96-1.16) for atypical APs and 0.90 (95% CI, 0.62-1.31) for typical APs. The findings for cardiac malformations were similar. For the individual agents examined, a small increased risk in overall malformations (RR, 1.26; 95% CI, 1.02-1.56) and cardiac malformations (RR, 1.26; 95% CI, 0.88-1.81) was found for risperidone that was independent of measured confounders.

Conclusions and Relevance  Evidence from this large study suggests that use of APs early in pregnancy generally does not meaningfully increase the risk for congenital malformations overall or cardiac malformations in particular. The small increase in the risk for malformations observed with risperidone requires additional study.

Liraglutide, metformin combination reduces risk for diabetes in postpartum women


The addition of liraglutide to metformin led to greater weight loss and improvements in insulin secretion and action in women who were overweight, obese and had a history of gestational diabetes when compared with metformin alone, according to study results presented at the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions.

The combination therapy was also more effective in reducing triglyceride to HDL-cholesterol ratio and mean blood glucose levels compared with metformin monotherapy, according to the researchers.

Karen Elkind-Hirsch

Karen Elkind-Hirsch

“We knew that getting the weight off [in this patient population] was critical,”Karen Elkind-Hirsch, PhD, MSc, HCLD, scientific director of research at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told Endocrine Today. “That was the impetus about perhaps using a glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonist, because we know a side effect is weight loss.”

Initiating weight loss is important, Elkind-Hirsch said, because gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is associated with maternal obesity, and obesity and weight gain are associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

Elkind-Hirsch and colleagues randomized 110 overweight women (BMI > 25 kg/m2) aged 18 to 45 years who experienced GDM within 12 months of pregnancy to either 2000 mg of metformin and 1.8 mg of subcutaneous liraglutide (Victoza, Novo Nordisk) or metformin at 2000 mg and placebo for 36 weeks.

Seventy-six women completed the 32 to 36-week follow-up visit. The results demonstrated that the combination therapy was more effective in reducing BMI (P = .018), triglyceride to HDL-cholesterol ratio (P < .03) and mean blood glucose levels (P < .03).

The researchers noted that impaired glucose regulation was identified in 15 patients on combination therapy and 9 patients who received metformin monotherapy.

Twelve patients who received the combination therapy and four patients who received metformin and placebo returned to normoglycemia (P < .025). The remaining 23 patients who received dual therapy showed improved or no significant change.

Elkind-Hirsch acknowledged that there are two more intervals that need to be tested before the study is completed.

“The reason that we did that was in the New England Journal of Medicine, there was a wonderful paper many years ago that looked at women with gestational diabetes and [the researchers] said ideally mothers should put 2 years between their children for the safety of their pancreas to recover,” she said. “I chose that they’re getting into the trial 3 or 4 months out and then I’m following them for 18 months and hopefully they’re healthier by the time that they get off the medications.” – by Ryan McDonald

Acromegaly associated with late-onset diabetes


Uncontrolled, persistent acromegaly is a strong predictor of incident type 2 diabetes, whereas disease diagnosis at an older age, and not disease activity, was associated with hypertension and major adverse cardiac events, according to a recent analysis.

“These findings suggest that the lack of a tight control of acromegaly activity plays a central role in the development of metabolic complications, whereas older age at diagnosis of disease influences the development of cardiovascular complications and events,” Fausto Bogazzi, MD, PhD, associate professor of endocrinology at University of Pisa, Italy, and colleagues wrote. “In addition, being overweight or obese and [a] smoking habit increased the [CV] risk in acromegalic patients as in the general population.”

Fausto Bogazzi

Fausto Bogazzi

In a retrospective study, Sardella and colleagues analyzed medical records from 200 patients with acromegaly referred to the endocrinology section of the department of clinical and experimental medicine at University of Pisa between 1974 and 2014 (58.5% women). Using Cox regression analysis, researchers evaluated incidents of diabetes, hypertension and major adverse cardiac events. Each patient was included in the analysis of a specific outcome, unless they were affected when acromegaly was diagnosed. Patients were further classified as being in remission after pituitary adenomectomy, controlled by somatostatin analogue therapy or not controlled by somatostatin analogue therapy.

At diagnosis, 64 patients (32%) had diabetes 93 patients (46.5%) had hypertension and 17 patients (8.5%) already experienced a CV event.

After a diagnosis of acromegaly, diabetes occurred in 40.8% of patients. Researchers found that patients not controlled by somatostatin analogue therapy had a higher risk for diabetes vs. those who underwent adenomectomy (HR = 3.32; P = .006), whereas those well controlled with somatostatin analogue therapy had a 1.4-fold higher risk (P = .38) for diabetes vs. the adenomectomy group.

“It has been reported that [somatostatin analogue therapy] can worsen glucose metabolism by inhibiting insulin secretion and may be less effective than pituitary surgery in reducing the risk for death in patients affected by diabetes,” the researchers wrote. “However, it is possible that the relatively small number of patients included in the study affected the power of the analysis.”

Researchers found that age (HR = 1.06, P = .01) and BMI (HR = 1.05; P = .01) were predictors of hypertension, which occurred in 35.5% of patients after acromegaly diagnosis. Age (HR = 1.09; 95% CI, 1.02-1.17) and smoking (HR = 5.95; 95% CI, 1.52-25.26) were predictors of major adverse CV events, which occurred in 11.8% of patients after diagnosis. Therapy for acromegaly did not influence hypertension or major adverse CV events, according to researchers.

“Our study pointed out that the control of acromegaly activity is necessary but is not the only target in the whole management of patients with this rare syndrome,” Bogazzi told Endocrine Today. “The cure (and prevention) of systemic complications of acromegaly is the mainstay of the therapeutic strategy and should include prevention of hypertension, diabetes, cessation of smoking and a weight loss program. All those objectives did not differ from those advocated for non-acromegalic patients.” – by Regina Schaffer

Recurrent DKA tied to fragmented care


Among patients with diabetes, increased number of episodes of diabetic ketoacidosis is correlated with increased fragmentation of care and mortality, according to recent findings.

Amisha Wallia, MD, assistant professor in the division of endocrinology, metabolism and molecular medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and colleagues evaluated 3,615 patients with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) enrolled in the Chicago HealthLNK Data Repository (CHDR) between 2006 and 2012. The CDHR is an electronic health recordlinkage tool encompassing records from five large academic health centers within the Chicago area.

The researchers stratified patients with DKA hospitalizations into groups of one, two, three or four or more DKA inpatient encounters during the study interval. Patients with more than one hospitalization for DKA during the study period were classified as recurrent. Care fragmentation was defined as DKA hospitalization at more than one hospital during the study interval.

The researchers found that of the participants with DKA, most had only one DKA hospitalization (78.4%), followed by two to three hospitalizations (15.7%) and four or more DKA hospitalizations (5.8%).

Although participants with four or more hospitalizations accounted for only 5.8% of the participant population, these participants encompassed 26.3% of inpatients encounters. Black race, Medicare or Medicaid insurance or uninsured states were more common in participants with recurrent DKA.

Recurrent DKA was documented in 780 of all participants and fragmented care was noted in 16% of all participants. Fragmented care participants were more likely to have had four or more DKA hospitalizations (28%) compared with two to three hospitalizations (11.6%; P = .0001), and participants in the four or more hospitalizations group had greater odds of having fragmented care (OR = 2.96; 95% CI, 1.99-4.3). Thirty-five percent of fragmented encounters were determined to occur outside of the participants’ “primary site” of health care. Ninety-nine percent of participants with recurrent DKA had inpatient encounters at two hospitals, and 11 were hospitalized at more than two hospitals.

Fragmented care was associated with a 1.88-fold increase in DKA visit count after adjustment for age, sex, race and insurance status (P < .0001). Fourteen percent of participants died during the study. In the fully adjusted model, which included fragmentation, DKA visit count, age, sex, race and insurance status, the number of DKA encounters (OR = 1.28; 95% CI, 1.04-1.58) and age (OR = 1.06; 95% CI, 1.05-1.07) were associated with death.

“Patients with fragmented care may utilize health care differently from patients who limit their care to one center,” the researchers wrote. “Therefore, unique approaches requiring collaboration between institutions may also be necessary to improve the health of this particular group of patients. This study, in addition to identifying the scope and toll of recurrent DKA on patients in Chicago, identifies just such a population of patients for whom efforts at prevention and follow-up may require a more tailored approach.” – by Jennifer Byrne

NASA has successfully test-fired the engine for the most powerful rocket ever


This is how we get to Mars.

 

NASA has successfully tested the engine that will power its new, massive Space Launch System (SLS) deep-space rocket, reporting no issues across the 7.5-minute duration.

This is the third successful test of NASA’s RS-25 rocket engine, and there will be three more in the coming months – all in preparation for when it will combine four of these monsters to fire humans towards Mars.

“SLS is going to be the most powerful rocket ever built when it’s done several years from now,” space shuttle astronaut Rick Mastracchio told the press at the event, held at the Stennis Space Centre in Mississippi.

“It’s going to have to throw up all this hardware into low Earth orbit so we can then take it to the Moon and beyond, all the way to Mars.”

As you can see in the footage below, the RS-25 engine is all kinds of awesome. Not only is it stunning in terms of the amount of power it can sustain for the duration of the test, but this isn’t even new technology.

Built by US rocket and missile propulsion experts, Aerojet Rocketdyne, the RS-25 is a testament to how long rocket engineers have been killing it, because these engines were once used as space shuttle main engines, and powered 135 missions to low-Earth orbit from 1981 to 2011.

Now NASA needs them to fire at much higher performance levels to meet the needs of the SLS – set to be the most powerful rocket ever built.

When completed, the SLS will be powered by two five-segment boosters – one of which was tested earlier this month – and four RS-25 main engines.

As NASA explains, the solid five-segment boosters are designed to work together with the main engines during the first 2 minutes of flight, providing more than 75 percent of the thrust the SLS needs to break free from Earth’s considerable gravitational pull.

Just to give you a better idea of what that would look like, those twin boosters -which are 17 stories high EACH – will burn 5 tonnes of propellant per second to create 3.6 million pounds (1.6 million kg) of thrust to kick-start the mission.

The SLS itself will be taller than the Statue of Liberty, and capable of carrying more than twice the payload weight of any of NASA’S former space shuttles. It’s designed to carry four astronauts at a time on board NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which had its first test-flight back in December 2014.

The SLS and Orion will carry humans further into space than ever before, but first they must successfully complete their first unmanned test flight, scheduled for some time in September 2018.

In case you weren’t already excited about the future of spaceflight – you should be. With NASA well on its way to building the most impressive rocket humanity has ever seen, and partnering with private space companies SpaceX and Boeingto get all hands on deck, Mars truly is right within our grasp.

meet-rocket

Australian scientists just set a world record for solar thermal efficiency


97% conversion of sunlight into steam.

Scientists at the Australian National University have set a world record for efficiency for a solar thermal dish generating steam for power stations.

The team halved energy losses and achieved a 97 percent conversion of sunlight into steam through a new receiver for a solar concentrator dish. This beats commercial systems by about seven percentage points.

“When our computer model told us the efficiency that our design was going to achieve, we thought it was alarmingly high,” says John Pye, from the ANU Research School of Engineering.

“But when we built it and tested it, sure enough, the performance was amazing.”

The ANU team has already had commercial interest in the solar thermal system.

“We’re actually talking seriously with a company that’s seeking to use our new receiver in some large mine-site applications, for provision of both heat and power to the site,” Pye told Business Insider.

The design was presented at the SolarPACES conference.

Solar thermal systems use reflectors to concentrate sunlight and generate steam which can drive conventional power station turbines.

It can be combined with heat storage systems and can supply power on demand at a significantly lower cost than solar energy from photovoltaic panels which has to be stored in batteries.

“This new design could result in a 10 percent reduction in the cost of solar thermal electricity,” says Pye.

The aim is to get costs down to 12 cents a kilowatt-hour of electricity.

The ANU solar concentrator is the largest of its kind in the world at 500 square metres. It focuses the power of 2,100 Suns onto the receiver, through which water is pumped and heated to 500 degrees Celsius.

The new receiver design is a cavity that resembles a top hat with narrow opening and a wide brim. Water pipes spiral around the underside of the brim and up into the hat.

Watch the video. URL:https://youtu.be/Yy6En56Mw4k

Researchers find there are 2 months when couples are most likely to get divorced


Break-ups are seasonal.

Sometimes it feels like everyone you know is either coupling up or breaking up all at the same time – and new research suggests that when it comes to divorce, at least, there really is a seasonal pattern couples tend to follow.

After analysing all of the divorces filed in the US state of Washington between 2001 and 2015, researchers have shown that there are two months every year when divorce spikes – March and August.

The researchers from the University of Washington say this is the first quantitative evidence of biannual patterns for divorce filing, and suggest that the peaks might be a sign of divorce following a “calendar ritual”, where couples want to stay together for the Christmas and summer holidays before making their decision.

“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past,” said one of the researchers, Julie Brines.

“They represent periods in the year when there’s the anticipation or the opportunity for a new beginning, a new start, something different, a transition into a new period of life. It’s like an optimism cycle, in a sense. They’re very symbolically charged moments in time for the culture.”

But at the same time, the holidays can also be filled with stress and disappointment, leading many people to file for divorce once they’ve had time to sort out their finances and legal representation after the holidays.

The team presented their research on Sunday at the 111th American Sociological Association annual meeting in Seattle, but their findings have yet to be peer-reviewed, so the pattern needs to be independently verified before we can take it too seriously.

Another study in 2014 also showed a spike in divorce filings after the December holidays, but this time in January, not March, so more research needs to be done to show just how soon after the break families are most likely to split up.

The delay between the December holiday period and the March spike in divorce proceedings could be to do with waiting for children going back to school, or the start of spring in the northern hemisphere, Brines suggests.

The Washington researchers also only took into account divorce filings across one state, which presents a skewed and limited sample size.

They’re now looking into whether the pattern translates to other states, and have already looked at Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona – although they’re in the early stages of analysis.

“What I can tell you is that the seasonal pattern of divorce filings is more or less the same,” said Brines.

The interesting thing is that the researchers weren’t looking for divorce patterns at all – they were going through social data in the state of Washington to try to get a better understanding of how the global financial crisis had affected people’s lives.

But when looking at the divorce records, a very clear pattern emerged that they couldn’t ignore. “It was very robust from year to year, and very robust across counties,” said Brines.

There were almost 25,000 divorces filed in Washington in 2014 alone.

The pattern remained even when they took into account other seasonal factors such as unemployment and the housing market, leading them to predict that family holidays were driving the trend.

To test this, the team looked at the trends of another family legal decision: guardianship filings, where parents file for custody of children.

The hypothesis was that if the divorce filings were tied to family holidays, then other family court actions would also follow the same patterns. That was exactly what they found – guardianship filings spiked after the holidays, but non-family legal matters, such as property claims, didn’t follow this pattern.

The only time the biannual divorce spike seemed to change was during the recession, which was a time of general volatility.

It’s too soon to read too much into this research – it needs to independently verified and the sample size expanded before we get too carried away.

But it’s an interesting preliminary insight into the season ebb and flow of family relationships that could help us better understand and predict break-ups and legal proceedings in future.

Countless tiny black holes might be hurtling through space like cosmic bullets


First, the good news: you have not been killed by a black hole. The bad news is that it’s possible the Universe is teeming with microscopic black holes that formed at the dawn of time, all of them hurtling through space like cosmic bullets.

Some could weigh nearly as much as Earth’s Moon, others an asteroid, and still more somewhere in between. Whatever their weight, most would be smaller than the period in this sentence.

If this sounds like science fiction, it could be. But perhaps not.

Astrophysicists are running out of options to explain what most of the stuff in the Universe is made of. They know roughly 80 percent of it is dark matter, which exerts a gravitational pull on the other 20 percent – ‘normal’ matter – yet has remained invisible to experiments for more than 80 years.

Devices in space and underground have sought out particles of dark matter for years, but have so far turned up empty.

Which is why researchers are turning to the (somewhat frightening) notion that we’re surrounded by countless black holes that formed 13.8 billion years ago.

“On the dark matter particle side of the spectrum, the range of possibilities is narrowing down quickly,” Alexander Kashlinsky, a cosmologist at NASA, previously told Business Insider. “If nothing is found there, and nothing is found in the black hole theatre, then we may be in a crisis of science.”

The hope and havoc of mini black holes

To be clear, physicists aren’t betting a lot chips on the existence of infinitesimal black holes. As we’ve previously reported on Business Insider, the leading hunch is that dark matter particles do exist; it’s just that this search has proven more difficult than anticipated.

And those scientists who are seeking out ancient black holes, including Kashlinsky, think they’re pretty heavy – perhaps between 20 and 100 times the mass of the Sun.

That idea even got a boost after the recent and groundbreaking discovery of gravitational waves, which two black holes of unusual size (30 solar masses) triggered when they collided.

Yet an unpublished research on ‘primordial’ black holes – those formed in the hot particle soup of the Big Bang, not by collapsing stars – suggests ones that are very small in diameter could exist in droves.

If these mini-black holes are real, Kashlinsky says the heaviest of them would weigh less than the Moon, yet would be shrunken down to about 0.25 millimetres in diameter, or about the width of a human hair.

Timothy Brandt, an astrophysicist at the Institute for Advanced Study, said the very lightest, asteroid-size holes would have an apparent size of less than an atom.

The reason is because black holes are so dense. In fact, beyond a certain point, pretty much any bit of matter in the Universe squeezed tightly enough will collapse beyond a gravitational point-of-no-return.

That boundary is spherical and called an event horizon, and beyond it not even photons of light – the fastest things in the Universe – can escape if they fall in.

Any black holes smaller than an asteroid probably evaporated long ago due to Hawking radiation, a fantastical consequence of the laws of nature that Stephen Hawking deduced in 1974.

So what if tiny black holes are out there – how often would they swing by, and what might they do?

“Asteroid-mass black holes, if they were all of the dark matter, might pass through Earth once a millennium or so, but would be very, very hard to detect,” Brandt told Business Insider. “If you had somebody right there, they might be able to observe one.”

Brandt was sceptical asteroid-size black holes would be all that dangerous, though.

And if a heavier, sub-moon-size black hole came too close?

“We certainly would notice if one passed near Earth, since it would affect the orbits of all of our satellites,” he wrote in an email. “I imagine that it would mess up GPS for example.”

The good news here, says Brandt, is that mini-black holes of this size would pass between Earth and the Sun once every 100 million years or so.

“We would, on average, have to wait much longer than the age of the Universe for one to pass through Earth. Though such an event is absurdly unlikely … It would cause some havoc,” he wrote.

That could definitely kill someone, Brandt noted, since it would be “a bit like a bullet, but with the damage being done by tidal forces deforming the object and generating intense heat”.

Yet the scariest scenario – at least to scientists like Brandt and Kashlinsky – is what super-tiny, essentially impossible-to-detect black holes would mean for science.

“It’s possible there is no interaction of dark matter [with normal matter] except through gravity,” Brandt said. “If that’s the case, we’re in trouble. We’ve never come to that point where we know something is out there but is completely invisible to our experiments.”

%d bloggers like this: