StarDate: May 6, 2009

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Trillions of black holes that are smaller than atoms may wander through the universe. They may even zip through Earth from time to time without harming a soul. After billions of years, they evaporate in a blinding puff of particles and energy.

Scientists have been looking for evidence of these evaporating black holes with an experiment known as BESS. It uses a superconducting magnet carried aloft by a giant balloon to find the antimatter versions of protons. Most of them are produced when particles from exploding stars slam into particles in space. But a few may come from more exotic sources -- like evaporating black holes.

Theory predicts that the tiny black holes were created in the first moments after the Big Bang.

Thirty-five years ago, Stephen Hawking proposed that black holes lose mass by emitting a type of radiation. When its mass drops low enough, the black hole evaporates in a burst of particles and energy. There's been just enough time for the tiny black holes born in the Big Bang to begin to evaporate -- emitting antiprotons in the process.

In a series of short missions, BESS found a few antiprotons that didn't seem to fit the model of colliding particles. It flew a longer mission at the beginning of last year to look for more. Scientists are still analyzing the data, and hope to have results by the end of the year -- results that could confirm the existence of tiny black holes.

More about BESS and antimatter tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009


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