Could a Black Hole Fit in Your Computer or In Your Pocket?

by Nancy Atkinson on October 20, 2009

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Artist's illustration of a supermassive black hole. Image credit: NASA

Artist's illustration of a supermassive black hole. Image credit: NASA


Some of the most frequently asked questions we get here at Universe Today and Astronomy Cast deal with black holes. Everyone wants to know what conditions would be like at the event horizon, or even inside a black hole. Answering those questions is difficult because so much about black holes is unknown. Black holes can’t be observed directly because their immense gravity won’t let light escape. But in just the past week, three different research teams have released their findings in their attempts to create black holes – or at least conditions analogous to them to advance our understanding.

Make Your Own Accretion Disk

A team of researchers from Osaka University in Japan wanted to sharpen their insights into the behavior of matter and energy in extreme conditions. What could be more extreme than the conditions of the swirling cloud of matter surrounding a black hole, known as the accretion disk? Their unique approach was to blast a plastic pellet with high-energy laser beams.

Accretion disks get crunched and heated by a black hole’s gravitational energy. Because of this, the disks glow in x-ray light. Analyzing the spectra of these x-rays gives researchers clues about the physics of the black hole.

However, scientists don’t know precisely how much energy is required to produce such x-rays. Part of the difficulty is a process called photoionization, in which the high-energy photons conveying the x-rays strip away electrons from atoms within the accretion disk. That lost energy alters the characteristics of the x-ray spectra, making it more difficult to measure precisely the total amount of energy being emitted.
After being hit with laser beams, a small plastic pellet (sunlike object) emits x-rays, some of which bombard a pellet of silicon (blue and purple).  Credit: Adapted from S. Fujioka et al., Nature Physics, Advance Online Publication
To get a better handle on how much energy those photoionized atoms consume, researchers zapped a tiny plastic pellet with 12 laser beams fired simultaneously and allowed some of the resulting radiation to blast a pellet of silicon, a common element in accretion disks.

The synchronized laser strikes caused the plastic pellet to implode, creating an extremely hot and dense core of gas, or plasma. That turned the pellet into “a source of [immensely powerful] x-rays similar to those from an accretion disk around a black hole,” says physicist and lead author Shinsuke Fujioka. The team said the x-rays photoionized the silicon, and that interaction mimicked the emissions observed in accretion disks. By measuring the energy lost from the photoionization, the researchers could measure total energy emitted from the implosion and use it to improve their understanding of the behavior of x-rays emitted by accretion disks.

The Portable Black Hole

Another group of physicists created a tiny device that can create a black hole by sucking up microwave light and converting it into heat. At just 22 centimeters across, the device can fit in your pocket.

The device uses ‘metamaterials’, specially engineered materials that can bend light in unusual ways. Previously, scientists have used such metamaterials to build ‘invisibility carpets’ and super-clear lenses. This latest black hole was made by Qiang Chen and Tie Jun Cui of Southeast University in Nanjing, China.

Real black holes use their huge mass to warp space around it. Light that travels too close to it can become trapped forever.

Metamaterial device that can create a black hole. Credit: Qiang Chen and Tie Jun Cui

Metamaterial device that can create a black hole. Credit: Qiang Chen and Tie Jun Cui


The new meta-black hole also bends light, but in a very different way. Rather than relying on gravity, the black hole uses a series of metallic ‘resonators’ arranged in 60 concentric circles. The resonators affect the electric and magnetic fields of a passing light wave, causing it to bend towards the centre of the hole. It spirals closer and closer to the black hole’s ‘core’ until it reaches the 20 innermost layers. Those layers are made of another set of resonators that convert light into heat. The result: what goes in cannot come out. “The light into the core is totally absorbed,” Cui said.

Not only is the device useful in studying black holes, but the research team hopes to create a version of the device that will suck up light of optical frequencies. If it works, it could be used in applications such as solar cells.

Read their paper here.

Black holes in your computer?

A supercomputer.

A supercomputer.


Could you create a black hole in your computer? Maybe if you had a really big one. Scientists at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) hope to make use of two of the fastest supercomputers in the world in their quest to “shine light” on black holes. The team was approved for grants and computing time to study the evolution of black holes and other objects with the “NewHorizons,” a cluster consisting of 85 nodes with four processors each, connected via an Infiniband network that passes data at 10-gigabyte-per-second speeds.

The team has created computer algorithms to simulate with mathematics and computer graphics what cannot be seen directly.

“It is a thrilling time to study black holes,” said Manuela Campanelli, center director. “We’re nearing the point where our calculations will be used to test one of the last unexplored aspects of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, possibly confirming that it properly describes the strongest gravitational fields in the universe.”

Sources: Science, Astronomy Magazine Technology Review Blog

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Nereid October 29, 2009 at 11:33 AM

@A: actually, why don’t you contact them – or anyone in any Physics department (or even physics teacher in a high school) – and tell them that you have concluded, based on what you read in their documents, that the emf is a force?

Nereid take up your complaints with Dr. Eugene Parker and Van Valkenburgh.

For the record, I have no complaints with either of these two … after all, it’s not their fault, nor mine, if you don’t even try to understand what they wrote …

Anaconda October 29, 2009 at 11:33 AM

A “force” is something that causes “something” to move. Plain English.

Anaconda October 29, 2009 at 11:37 AM

That’s why it’s call “electromotive force” or as Van Valtkenburgh stated it:

“The unit of potential difference is the volt. A volt is defined as the potential difference necessary to obtain 1 joule of work (EMF) — electron moving force — or potential difference of volt when this happens.”

Nereid October 29, 2009 at 11:39 AM

@A: actually, right now, I’m far more interested in hearing from you concerning Don Scott’s astonishing statement.

I mean, if you agree with it, then you have no reason to be here at all, have you?

And if you don’t agree with it, please say so explicitly (and I’m sure someone will inform the TB crowd that you have pulled the rug from under Scott).

I’ll grant that there would certainly still be some UT stories you could discuss, ones which depend upon in situ observations by space probes for example, or analyses of meteors and meteorites …

Nereid October 29, 2009 at 11:53 AM

So, per Anaconda’s revision of physics, if the “something” doesn’t move, then there are no forces acting on it?

A “force” is something that causes “something” to move. Plain English.

Plain English, right? (plus plain logic)

Anaconda October 29, 2009 at 11:58 AM

Nereid, you took the Scott quote out of context and inserted in this thread, why?

Is that a measure of your consternation?

The Scott quote is regarding the solar neutrino puzzle. You know, the “three flavors” of neutrinos. Scott was simply saying that when the assertion is made that neutrinos “change flavor” to be one of the three flavors, it is problematic to know if and where “changing flavor” happens, if your only measurement point is at the end of the pipe where the neutrinos come out.

Nereid, do you think it is appropriate to inject a quote for the purpose generating bias that has nothing to do with the discussion, and when you do, fail to provide any context so the reader would understand what you are referring to?

ND October 29, 2009 at 12:00 PM

Anaconda says: “A “force” is something that causes “something” to move. Plain English.”

We’re not dealing with Plain English. We’re dealing with physics, astronomy and science in general, topics which are beyond your comprehension.

I’m laughing right now at the ridiculousness of this entire thread. It’s gone completely over the edge. Wow. I will remember this for the rest of my days. My goodness.

ND October 29, 2009 at 12:02 PM

I would love to have all of us in a room in real life with a blackboard and access to the web, and see what happens. Maybe we should meet up in Germany and say hello to DrFlimmer when he has a break from his classes.

Anaconda October 29, 2009 at 12:06 PM

Of course, a force can be applied to something that “won’t budge”.

Crumb provided a paper (a constructive development):

From the abstract: “Conclusions. The GBT observations confirm that the magnetic field collimates the H2O maser jet, while the OH maser observations show that a strong large scale magnetic field is present in the envelope surrounding the W43A central star. The magnetic field in the OH maser envelope is consistent with the one extrapolated from the H2O measurements, confirming that magnetic fields play an important role in the entire circumstellar environment of W43A.”

Yes, magnetic fields are important, and, yes, Crumb, I do acknowledge electric fields and electric currents are very hard to observe & measure at remote distance from the objects.

That does not mean they should be ignored when discussing astrophysics, it just means that quantifying them will be difficult.

As Science knows as stated by Dr. Eugene N. Parker and NASA:

Electric currents cause magnetic fields.

ND October 29, 2009 at 12:06 PM

Nereid,

H2O
E = mc2

Use the ‘sub’ html element for subscripts and ‘sup’ for superscripts.

Nereid October 29, 2009 at 12:27 PM

OK here’s the full context (link to Scott document in next comment):
“TB states that I start my critique of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory report by ‘parsing a sentence‘ from that report. He agrees with my conclusion that the sentence makes no logical sense, but weasles that it was for only this experiment9. But this was the experiment that has been ballyhooed as constituting the definitive ‘proof‘ that neutrinos ‘have mass and can change flavor.‘ This one was the ‘big one‘. What TB ignores is that I do start by stating a simple obvious fact, “There is no way that a measurement taken at only one end of a transmission channel can reveal changes that have occurred farther up the channel.” That is what the SNO researchers did and it is a blatant logical error in their experimental procedure.”
(bold in original)

Nereid, you took the Scott quote out of context and inserted in this thread, why?

Is that a measure of your consternation?

The Scott quote is regarding the solar neutrino puzzle. You know, the “three flavors” of neutrinos. Scott was simply saying that when the assertion is made that neutrinos “change flavor” to be one of the three flavors, it is problematic to know if and where “changing flavor” happens, if your only measurement point is at the end of the pipe where the neutrinos come out.

Read what Scott wrote, very, very, very carefully Anaconda.

There is nothing in Scott’s text which requires it be restricted solely to neutrinos!

This is very, very important.

If you like, what’s good for the neutrino goose, is just as good for the photon gander …

Hon. Salacious B. Crumb October 29, 2009 at 1:40 PM

Anaconda said;

“That does not mean they should be ignored when discussing astrophysics, it just means that quantifying them will be difficult.”

Who says they are ignored? That is why I posted this reference!!!!!!!!!! Astrophysics can only deduce theory of phenomena based on actual observation, and mathematical and theory explaining predictions of the behaviour of that phenomena.

This paper say in the conclusion;

“Our result is consistent with the predicted magnetic field extrapolated from the blue-shifted H2O maser region of W43A, and further confirms that the magnetic field plays an important role in the transition from a spherical AGB star to a non-spherical PN.” ” ..[our observations] implies a magnetic field of 100 micro G”
However, the EVIDENCE means compared to the expanding nebulosity, this magnetic field plays a minor role.

Therefore, you statement here is actually false. Astronomy does take magnetic fields into account for the merger knowledge we have, however, it is not the overriding cause of the phenomena!

DrFlimmer October 29, 2009 at 2:25 PM

@ND

I would love to have all of us in a room in real life with a blackboard and access to the web, and see what happens. Maybe we should meet up in Germany and say hello to DrFlimmer when he has a break from his classes.

Good idea, I would really love to meet you. That would be funny!

@Anaconda

I appreciate the candor — it’s something you should have learned in your plasma physics class.

(This was about my statement that I didn’t entcounter something like the emf in the German language)

No, I should not, because it is unnecessary! Everything you need for Plasma physics is contained in Maxwell’s equations plus the Lorentz force. That’s it.
Just for your information: I attend a course “introduction to theoretical plasma physics” in this semester. I guess, I will not encounter any emf, again. It is more likely to consider MHD, flux freezing, Vlasov equation, etc.

Although it has been commented already by others, I cannot remain silent on this one:

A “force” is something that causes “something” to move. Plain English.

The thing is, we don’t debate plain English, but physics here. And in physics words have a specific meaning, and this meaning should not be changed. Otherwise noone would know what the other one is talking about – confusion everywhere (well, we see where it leads right here in this “discussion”!).
A proton is a proton and should not be named an electron, for example.
And the same is true for the physical definition of a force. A force in the physical sense is something that can be written in the mathematical form of

F=m*a.

In this sense, emf is not a force. No discussions about that.
So, deal with it. Physical entities have their specific meaning, and if you want to discuss physics you MUST know them – otherwise a meaningful discussion is not possible.

Emf is not a force, and, actually, it is not necessary to talk about it. As I already said, plasma physics, just like electrodynamics, is well described with Maxwell’s equations and the Lorentz force.
If you wonder, the Coulomb law is basically the first of Maxwell’s equations (div E = rho/epsilon0).

Nereid October 29, 2009 at 3:28 PM

div E = rho/epsilon0

Ah, the divertimento in E, a rhapsody on a theme by Epsilon Oh (she’s from Singapore)! Such balance, such grace …

No, wait … “rho” is not a standard abbreviation for “rhapsody”!

Oh … sorry, I didn’t realise we weren’t discussing music …

(spoiler: this is a joke … it’s entirely OK to say that Nereid’s sense of humour is … horrible …)

DrFlimmer October 30, 2009 at 7:59 AM

Nereid, omg, wtf? :D

DrFlimmer November 2, 2009 at 11:30 AM

As Ivan3man would put it:

*crickets*

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