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

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

20 Oct , 2009 by

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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



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Manu
Member
Manu
October 20, 2009 3:37 PM

“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”: something eludes me here.
I guess this simulation uses known theories (GR) to fuel its algorithms: I fully expect the results will not run against premises. Or did I miss something?

simcop2387
Member
October 20, 2009 5:06 PM

That’s kind of the whole idea, they’ll be simulating everything that they can using the known theories. Everything the find from that will agree with the theories. This will however make predictions and observations that can be compared with observations in our real universe to see if the results agree with each other. If they do then it will lend credibility towards current theories and ideas. If however they show things that aren’t observed in the real counterparts (or vice versa), then you have either a bad simulation (checked by doing things repeatedly by different groups) or it means that there are problems with the current theories.

Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
October 20, 2009 5:56 PM
Yup. The equations of GR for black holes are impossible to solve analytically in anything but highly idealised/uncomplicated situations or for metrics with unusually simple symmetries. These simplified situations are fine for many calculations and to illustrate the basic predictions of the theory, but the only way to attack problems involving more complex situations is numerically, in which case the the calculations become incredibly computationally intensive. So yes – GR has been well studied and verified, and many of it’s predictions borne out. What physicists want to do now is use the laws of GR to simulate more complex situations such as the behaviour of bulk material in realistic black hole accretion disks, or coalescing neutron stars to… Read more »
SteveZodiac
Member
SteveZodiac
October 21, 2009 4:32 AM

The metamaterial object is not a black hole it simply traps photons

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
October 21, 2009 4:52 AM
The differential equations of the Einstein field equation are nonlinear. They are nonlinear in a way that Yang-Mills gauge equations for quantum chromodynamics of quarks and gluons are nonlinear. Further, the solution space (moduli space) is non-Hausdorff, which makes things complicated. This means analytic or exact solutions are somewhat idealized, and these solutions are then perturbed in various ways to look at realistic problems. The other approach to finding physics from the Einstein field equations is of course to numerically integrate them. There are a number of ways this can be done. One approach is the Regge calculus, which struts up spacetime with finite element polytopes. The other approach is with grid adaptive algorithms, similar to what is… Read more »
jameylynne
Member
jameylynne
October 21, 2009 8:13 AM
Black holes are neither. Space-time and matter are mutually antagonistic. Gravity is not a force, just a consequence of this interaction of space-time and matter. When enough matter is concentrated in one place, space-time is twisted to the point that a balance is reached between space-time and matter. This balance results in a “bubble” of matter of nearly infinite density becoming virtually a two-dimensional sphere with nothing on the inside. When a star collapses, space-time is stressed to the point that it rebounds forcing the mass outward resulting in a nova. If there is enough matter, space-time pressure (gravity) will balance the outward pressure of collapsed space-time resulting in a black hole. Incidentially, gravity is not a force.… Read more »
Anaconda
Member
Anaconda
October 21, 2009 9:59 AM

The “black hole” theory (really a hypothesis since “black holes” are by definition unobservable) relies on gravity and you have to have enough mass present for its gravity to trap light. The idea that physical analogies in the real world would mimic “black hole” conditions is unrealistic.

Unreaslistic because even the proponents of “black hole” theory admit they don’t understand the physics in a “black hole” and because such physics, if they exist (and they don’t) are unreproducable because such physics rely on unquantifiable infinities.

It’s just a black hole sucking scare resources into idle speculation.

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
October 21, 2009 1:17 PM

Anaconda: It has been done. There are light trapping materials. There are also laboratory analogues with fiber optics of black holes.

LC

William928
Member
William928
October 21, 2009 4:31 PM

@snake

Why must you continue to bait people? Have you learned nothing here? I’m tiring of your inane “theories” and constant attacks on established and reputable scientific theories. Enough!

Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
October 21, 2009 6:28 PM

Anaconda: boring everyone to death since ’07.

ND
Member
ND
October 21, 2009 9:32 PM

Isn’t all of EU/PC one big hypothesis?

kootstar
Member
kootstar
October 21, 2009 11:03 PM
The Wright brothers were laughed at for dreaming human flight could become possible. Now we have even “flown” men to the moon. Many small steps, from one to the other, were learned here on Earth in the laboratory. Do not laugh at the possibilities of the human mind and research. It may take the time registered by not us, but our future generations, to prove just what is inside that event horizon. However, you might remember here some of the sketches done generations ago. They closely resemble some of the first helicopters built and flown.Thank you, Sr. Leonardo daVinci ! You believed in “the impossible” and even left us a paper to begin with for our later studies… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
October 22, 2009 5:26 AM

The analogues with daVinci or the Wright brothers are off the mark. Anaconda’s EU stuff is more Rube Goldberg. It is just pure rubbish.

LC

Anaconda
Member
Anaconda
October 22, 2009 11:08 PM
Since you guys seem so defensive when folks point out problems with your ideas. Are there any ideas proposed by mainstream physicists that are too much for you to stomach? Like the guys at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Holger Bech Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya, top theoretical physicists, who are each offering “serious” theories, complete with “rigorous” math, to show that the Higgs Boson may be protecting itself from discovery, and doing so from the future via backward causality. Nielsen is one of the fathers of string theory and is one of the top dogs at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, so his theory is thought to merit a worldwide press release. His status has also… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
October 23, 2009 4:57 AM

Nielsen and Ninomiya paper on retrocausality is causing more gufaws and chuckles in the physics world than anything serious. Dennis Overbye wrote a semi-humorous editorial in the NY Times over this. So you can cast a complete net of negative commentary on physics over the oddball ideas of two theorists. None of this somehow magically raises the credbility of EU nonsesnse. Your EU stuff still remains what it is; pure unadulterated dogmeat.

LC

Anaconda
Member
Anaconda
October 23, 2009 10:07 AM
@ Crowell: Good to hear that. As far as the rest goes. NASA has this to say: “Electric charges, electric fields and electric current are critical to the study of the structure of the Sun, solar wind and the magnetosphere of the Earth. Moreover, electric current causes magnetic fields (see Electromagnetism) that are important to understanding dynamic characteristics of the Sun and how the Sun interacts with the Earth.” http://stargazers.gsfc.nasa.gov/resources/electricity.htm “Electric charges, electric fields and electric current are critical to the study of the structure of the Sun, solar wind and the magnetosphere of the Earth.” Gee, sounds like something straight out of the ‘Electric Universe’ playbook. Beyond the fact that NASA is teaching electromagnetism in space, space… Read more »
DrFlimmer
Member
DrFlimmer
October 23, 2009 10:47 AM
I susect the overt hostility directed my way and the ‘Electric Universe’ way, here, reflects the fear that the train of scientific evidence that supports EU will only keep gaining speed. No. Just because there are currents in space is no “proof” of EU claims. And just to claim that any current in space must be a proof of EU, is just nonsense. In fact, noone disputes that currents must have a role in the universe (even I admit that, now, as you might know). However, the role it plays is on details – not large scales. You have no large scale electic fields and that is also shown by in-situ experiments in near-earth space. The sun is… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
October 23, 2009 11:54 AM

Dr Flimmer, indeed so. It is the character of mendacities that they take something which might indeed be true, but then extrapolate from that to claim things which are not true. The rubbish Anaconda promotes does just this. He even seems to think that NASA have found that magnetic field are associated with currents, as if M, Faraday didn’t figure that out over 150 years ago.

LC

Vanamonde
Guest
Vanamonde
October 23, 2009 12:18 PM

Thank you, SteveZodiac! Using the term, black hole for this device is bad journalism.

I am oppose to any research that would create a real black hole anywhere near the Earth’s orbit, unless, like at the RHIC, it has a half-life of less then a femtosecond.

Jon Hanford
Member
Jon Hanford
October 23, 2009 1:20 PM
I find it interesting that Anaconda conveniently ignores that NASA also tacitly believes in (and funds numerous studies of) black holes, dark matter, dark energy and the Big Bang theory, among many theories Anaconda vehemently opposes. If NASA is the end all/ be all when it comes to ‘endorsing’ astronomical theories, his silence on these glaring contradictions is all the more amazing. Also, has Anaconda read and analyzed the original paper by these two CERN researchers? I’m not defending or disputing the paper he has brought up. I just wonder how he attained the expertise to critically comment on this paper, or has he relied on others accounts as to the contents of this paper. I haven’t read… Read more »
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