≡ Menu

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

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


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anaconda October 28, 2009, 5:09 PM

    Gee, I didn’t know it was such a hard question.

    Crumb, your link distinguishes between gravity attraction and “electrostatic” attraction.

    That is fine.

    What I’m asking is the “term” for the attraction between a free electron and a positive ion?

    Crumb, your link calls this attraction “electrostatic attraction”.

    This is also known as the electromotive force.

  • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb October 28, 2009, 7:53 PM

    Anaconda said;

    “Crumb, your link calls this attraction “electrostatic attraction”.
    This is also known as the electromotive force.”

    Errr. that three of us now…. again NO it isn’t!

    That silly link, sorry, is an absolute joke!

    The answer are the bosons, more precisely, gauge bosons. Gauge theory produces force through virtual particles (bosons) interacting between elementary particles (fermions).

    The ‘force’ between fermions is technically called “interaction”

    To quote roughly what it is all about, I quote this accurate and useful wikipedia;

    “The modern quantum mechanical view of the fundamental forces other than gravity is that particles of matter (fermions) do not directly interact with each other, but rather carry a charge, and exchange virtual particles (gauge bosons), which are the interaction carriers or force mediators. For example, photons mediate the interaction of electric charges, and gluons mediate the interaction of color charges…. The exchange of bosons always carries energy and momentum between the fermions, thereby changing their speed and direction”

    Suggest you do read a bit on so-called “Fundamental interactions” (even the wiki page of this is not too bad) and some of the basics of quantum mechanics, before again going off half-cocked again on your distorted views of EU.

    Sorry. None of us here should be required to duties to babysit when you should be finding this all out for yourself. If possible, keep an open mind (your biggest deterrent to learning)

  • ND October 28, 2009, 10:30 PM


    Nereid answered your question on October 28th, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    Why are you ignoring the answer? Is this deliberate? Here’s a choice quote from her answer:

    “This is Coulomb’s Law, and the force is called the electrostatic force (between the two point charges)”

    You’re conflating all sorts of EM concepts here.

  • DrFlimmer October 29, 2009, 7:08 AM

    Is there no “term” or word for the attraction between a free electron and a positive ion?

    Is it so difficult to read? Coulomb Force is one possible answer.

    @ DrFlimmer, the answer for what is the “term” for attraction between a free electron and a positive ion is electromotive force.

    No. Get used to it.

  • Nereid October 29, 2009, 7:38 AM

    There’s a very nice post by BAUT Forum mod HenrickOlsen that I’d like to quote (holler if you’d like a link to it)

    That last one is an explicit admission of using the concept occasionally known as lies-to-children, where a simpler(wrong) explanation is taught first, because that gives enough to base the less simplified(but still wrong) explanations you get in school on which gives enough basis to learn the even less simplified(but still wrong) explanations you get in high school, which are also simplified and wrong, but enables you to go to college and learn the somewhat simplified and wrong explanations that are what’s needed to learn the least simplified explanation you get as a post doc, before you try to find a not so simplified explanation as a researcher.

    (It’s in response to BAUT Forum member Tensor’s asking if anyone would care to explain this line in his sig: “The author feels that this technique of deliberately lying will actually make it easier for you to learn the ideas. – Donald Knuth“)

    This is not new to readers of UT story comments; IVAN3MAN introduced it at least once before (and others too perhaps).

    We can see something of this happening here … Anaconda’s question about the term for a particular ‘thing’ is ambiguous, if only because he hasn’t given any context.

    Accordingly, my answer – referencing electrostatics and Coulomb’s Law – and HSBC’s – referencing QED – are both completely accurate, yet obviously very different.

    Leave aside – if one can – the venom, vitriol, bombast, etc in Anaconda’s comments, and ask yourself this question: is it possible to have a meaningful conversation, without at least acknowledging the existence of ‘lies to children’?

  • Anaconda October 29, 2009, 10:30 AM

    Well, it turns out that Nereid provides decent answer:

    “I suspect you’ll find it has one meaning when applied to electrical circuits (with batteries and such), and a somewhat different meaning in thermodynamics, …”

    Yes, there are two terms, but both are used in the study of electricity, not thermodynamics per se.

    And I’ll stand corrected, Nereid did provide one term that is used for the attraction between free electrons and ions.

    Wikipedia entry for electrostatics:

    “Electrostatic phenomena arise from the forces that electric charges exert on each other. Such forces are described by Coulomb’s law. Even though electrostatically induced forces seem to be rather weak, the electrostatic force between e.g. an electron and a proton, that together make up a hydrogen atom, is about 40 orders of magnitude stronger than the gravitational force acting between them.”


    This attraction between a free electron and ion gives rise to an electric field.

    Again from the Wikipedia entrry:

    “The electric field

    The electric field (in units of volts per meter) at a point is defined as the force (in newtons) per unit charge (in coulombs) on a charge at that point: [mathematical equations that don’t transfer]

    From this definition and Coulomb’s law, it follows that the magnitude of the electric field E created by a single point charge Q is: [mathematical equations that don’t transfer]”

    But electromotive force is also used to describe the attraction between a free electron and an ion.


  • Anaconda October 29, 2009, 10:31 AM

    See Basic Electricity, by Van Valtkenburgh:

    Under the heading: “What EMF (Electromotive force) is

    […] “it is this potential difference that makes electrons move and thus work or be used to generate other forms of energy. ”

    “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.”

    “We measure potential difference or emf in volts and we call the measured difference voltage. (And because emf is measured in volts, emf is often called , or equated with voltage.) The symbol that we use for voltage is “E” or “V”.”


    Clearly, electromotive force is a term that refers to the energy of attraction between free electrons and ions, but it wil be conceded that coulomb tends to be the term used in physics and electromotive force is used more often in electrical engineering.

    And, yes, “force” is an appropriate term because, “…whenever a force of any kind causes motion, work is done.”


  • Anaconda October 29, 2009, 10:31 AM

    Lest not readers think electromotive force is a term never used by astrophysicists, think again.

    Eugene N. Parker who coined the term, “Solar wind”, and the Parker spiral of the helio current sheet is named in his honor, stated this:

    “…magnetic fields appear only in association with electric currents and in association with time varying electric fields…In the laboratory we create static magnetic fields by driving an electric current through a coil of wire. The emf [electromotive force] driving the current is the sourse of the energy that creates the magnetic field, so emf [electromotive force] and current are clearly the CAUSE (emphasis original) of the magnetic field.”

    Conversations on electric and magnetic fields in the cosmos (page 25)


    As Dr. Parker makes clear emf (electromotive force) is a term that is used by astrophyicists.

    What does this dicussion about terms boil down to?

    That there is an attraction bweeen free electrons and ions and as Shakespeare wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”

  • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb October 29, 2009, 10:46 AM


    …and your point??

    What has this to do with black holes fitting into suitcases?

    Absolutely nothing.

    No wonder no one here is interested in what you say. It always has a motive. Are you so desperate to be accepted, when you most of the time act like a jackass? Show some improved respect, please.

  • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb October 29, 2009, 10:53 AM

    Electromotive force is NOT the means that creates actually force, does it? Again QED explains the “interaction” of the bosons and the fermions.

    Really. How does the positive ion know the electron is actually there?

  • Nereid October 29, 2009, 10:56 AM

    @A: do you know the difference between a force and “potential difference”?

    More basically, do you know what dimensional analysis is?

    A quick primer …

    Time has units of time, let’s call it T.

    Length has units of length, let’s call it L.

    Area – being a length by a length – has units of LxL, or L^2.

    Velocity (or speed) – as in km/hour, or m/sec – has units of length per time, or LT^-1.

    Mass has units of mass, let’s call it M.

    Now you may remember Newton, and you may also remember F = ma
    … if so, then the units of force are MLT^-2.

    In an earlier comment I said that the units of emf are energy per charge; we need a new unit, charge … let’s call it Q (I’ll leave it to you to derive the units of energy; HINT you need only M, L, and T).

    Can you work out what the units of emf are?

    Do the units of emf look anything at all like the units of force?

    Now take another – closer – look at your sources (good for you that you took the time to go search for them) … is there any ambiguity? Does any source confuse voltage (potential difference, emf) with force?

  • Anaconda October 29, 2009, 10:58 AM

    DrFlimmer states: “So, the emf is just something that gives rise to a flow of charges, or rise to an electostatic field.”

    Just “something”???

    No, it is the attractive force, yes, force, that causes motion between electrons and ions.

    DrFlimmer wrote: “Btw: I am not sure that there is a term for the emf in the German language, since I don’t know that I ever encountered something like this….”

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

    Nereid states: “Whatever the answer to this question is, it is NOT “electromotive force” (a.k.a. emf)! ”

    Dr. Eugene N. Parker would disagree with you since he used the term “emf” in his book.

    Of course, the attraction between a free electron and an ion, and the aggregate, thereof (an electric field), will be present wherever free electrons and ions are present including space plasma.

    Oh, and as to lying to children, interesting that Nereid would bring that up out of the blue.

    Perhaps, Nereid feels comfortable with the idea of “lies to children” in her statements to laymen because afterall aren’t they really children as for as understanding?

  • Nereid October 29, 2009, 10:58 AM

    Using superscripts:

    L^2 -> L2

    LT^-1 -> LT-1

    MLT^-2 -> MLT-2

  • Nereid October 29, 2009, 11:01 AM

    well, THAT didn’t work! :-(

    H2O H2O

    Does that work?

  • Nereid October 29, 2009, 11:02 AM

    Nope; how about H2O

    Or H[sub]2[/sub]O

  • Nereid October 29, 2009, 11:03 AM

    OK, I give up … does anyone know how to generate sub- and super-scripts?

  • Nereid October 29, 2009, 11:08 AM

    Indeed he does, Anaconda, indeed he does (use the term emf in his book) …

    Nereid states: “Whatever the answer to this question is, it is NOT “electromotive force” (a.k.a. emf)! ”
    Dr. Eugene N. Parker would disagree with you since he used the term “emf” in his book.

    However, as even the extract you quoted makes clear, emf is not a force (do you know so little about even electricity that you do not appreciate the narrow meaning of the word “driving”?)

  • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb October 29, 2009, 11:09 AM

    I do suggest you read some recent arvix articles on EU phenomena, which are inder Physics>Astrophysics>astro-ph new, being articles dated Thu(sday), 29 Oct 2009. (http: // arvix.org )There is a nice variety of articles here, and these might focus some of your ideas, and might correct a number of them.
    Read especially, The magnetic field of the evolved star W43A, which explains the difficulties and problems with general field measurements.

  • Anaconda October 29, 2009, 11:09 AM

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

    I got better things to do than listen to your unfounded complaints. Better yet, why don’t you READ Valkenburgh and see what he says. Get back to me with quotes not your general comments.

    The NASA website on Sun and Earth Background is highly informative.


    And, as I said before NASA’s website is a must read for you and the other interlocutors interested in actual discussion.

    Nereid, I strongly advise you review it and familiarize yourself with the principles discussed…unless you think NASA is wrong.

    Nereid, why don’t you tell all the readers exactly where NASA is wrong.

    And let us not forget the statement from NASA:

    “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.”

    Sometimes I wonder if these guys don’t carry on ad nauseam just to bury the information that they can’t challenge like the NASA website.

  • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb October 29, 2009, 11:25 AM

    Oh dear,
    Behaving as predicted again, and again back to the usual claptrap by shoving misquoted nonsense.

    Again, as Homme du Sud said previously, ;


    GET IT!!