Wednesday, 13 March 2019

The Science of Obscure Superheroes Part Two: Chunk

Recently I gave a talk for the Reading branch of the British Science Association on the subject of the science of superheroes. It's a subject that's been covered a great deal elsewhere and so I wanted to approach it from a different angle. I decided to focus on the science behind some lesser known superheroes. I chose to discuss The Whizzer, Chunk, Matter Eater Lad, and the Red Bee. I looked at their powers and origin stories and tried to find parallels in real world science. I've adapted my talk into a four part article. This part is about Chunk. 
First appearing in Flash #9 (1988), Chester Runk was a scientist who created a matter transmitting machine. The first time Runk activated the machine it imploded and he became merged with it. Runk was now Chunk, the human black hole! Chunk has the ability to teleport objects and people into another universe – a dead universe! He needs to continue feeding himself 47 times his own mass in dense materials to avoid permanently imploding into that dead universe.

When the Flash first encountered him, Chunk was a villain, stealing diamonds to prevent himself from imploding, and trapping anyone who offended him in the dead universe. These included his therapist, a woman who turned him down for a date, a man who had cut him off in his car, and even a man whose shirt Chunk had taken a dislike to.

Mike Collins & Larry Mahlstedt
Eventually Chunk released his captives and became good friends with the Flash. Chunk started a waste disposal business and became a millionaire. He was a regular member of the Flash’s supporting cast for a while until the writers lost interest in him and just stopped mentioning him.

But what would a human black hole actually be like?

A black hole is a great amount of matter packed into a very small area. The result is a gravitational field so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape. Scientists can’t see black holes but they can see how the strong gravity affects the stars and gas around the black hole. Also, when a black hole and a star are close together, high-energy light is made. This kind of light cannot be seen with human eyes. Scientists use satellites and space telescopes to see this light.

Black holes can be big or small. Scientists think the smallest black holes are as small as just one atom but have the mass of a large mountain. So theoretically Chunk could carry a black hole around inside him, but he’d have to be pretty damn strong to move about.

Another kind of black hole is called "stellar." Its mass can be up to 20 times more than the mass of the sun. Stellar black holes are made when the centre of a very big star collapses. When this happens, it causes a supernova - an exploding star that blasts part of the star into space.

Brian Bolland
Chunk is depicted as a kind of big, walking Hoover, sucking people and objects into himself, but in actual fact objects have to get fairly close to a black hole to get sucked in. For example, if our sun was suddenly replaced by a black hole of similar mass, the planets would still continue to orbit as normal, they’d just be really cold and dark.

In order to get sucked into a black hole you would have to pass the event horizon – the point at which escape becomes impossible, even for light! So if Chunk was a particularly powerful human black hole he would look more like a huge sphere of darkness, waddling around the place. This sphere would be surrounded by a flattened band of spinning matter called an accretion disc. An accretion disc is material, such as gas, dust and other stellar debris that has come close to a black hole but not quite fallen into it.

Due to the extreme gravity around a black hole, an object in its gravitational field experiences a slowing down of time, relative to observers outside the field. This is known as gravitational time dilation. A distant observer would see an object falling into a black hole appear to slow down and fade, approaching but never quite reaching the event horizon. Finally, at a point just before it reaches the event horizon, it becomes so dim that it can no longer be seen. Perhaps Chunk would be surrounded by fading statues?

Once you were past the event horizon it’s really brown trousers time. The Flash could probably escape the event horizon as he can move faster than light, but you wouldn’t be so fortunate. You’d get torn apart as you were sucked towards the singularity, your body getting stretched and squeezed at the same time. This process is known as spaghettification. A singularity is the centre of a black hole, where the gravitational field becomes infinite! Chunk has been described as a living singularity. When you reached the singularity, you’d be crushed to infinite density and your mass would be added to the total of the black hole.

But that’s only true of certain kinds of black holes. There are other kinds of black holes, charged, or rotating black holes, where it would be theoretically possible to avoid the singularity and pass through a wormhole into a different part of spacetime! We’re now talking about Einstein-Rosen bridges, and these might seem familiar if you’ve seen Thor Ragnarok!

Yes, Chunk could be a walking Devil’s Anus!

According to Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity a massive object like a star, creates a distortion in the surface of spacetime that we experience as gravity. Imagine putting a bowling ball in the centre of a trampoline. The ball would press down into the fabric, causing a dip. A marble rolled around the edge would spiral inward toward the bowling ball, pulled in much the same way that the gravity of a planet pulls at rocks in space. According to Einstein and Nathan Rosen, if an object has an even greater mass, like a black hole for example, it could great a "dip" so great that it creates a pathway to another part of space time! A shortcut or wormhole across time and space!

If Chunk’s mass created an Einstein Rosen bridge, maybe it would be possible for him to transport people and objects somewhere else, although it would be to another time and place in our universe rather than to a dead universe. Of course, anything that entered his event horizon would still be spaghettified, so Flash would be left with the gruesome task of retrieving the noodle shaped remains of Chunk's victims from another part of spacetime!

Click here to read part four!

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