An unusual prediction of Einstein’s general relativity – the theory that connects space, time and gravity – is that rotating black holes have enormous amounts of energy that can be cultivated.
For the past 50 years, scientists have been trying to invent methods to unleash this power. Noble physicist Roger Penrose hypothesized that particle decay could draw energy from a black hole; Stephen Hawking suggested that black holes could release energy through quantum mechanical exhaust; While Roger Landford and Roman Zenjak proposed electromagnetic torque as a major agent for energy production.
Now, in a study published in the journal Physical Review D, physicists Luca Comiso of Columbia University and Felipe Asenjo of the University of Adolfo Ivenz in Chile have found a new way to generate energy from black holes by breaking and re-joining magnetic field lines near the event horizon. The point from which nothing, not even light, can escape the gravitational pull of the black hole.
“Black holes are usually surrounded by a hot ‘soup’ of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field,” said Luca Comiso, a research scientist at Columbia University and the first author of the study.
“Our theory shows that when magnetic field lines disconnect and reconnect, just the right way, they can accelerate plasma particles into negative energies and large amounts of black hole energy can be extracted.”
This finding could allow astronomers to better estimate the rotation of black holes, drive black hole energy emissions, and may even provide an energy source for the needs of an advanced culture, Commisso said.
Comiso and Asanjo built their theory on the assumption that reconnection of magnetic fields accelerates plasma particles in two different directions. One plasma flow is pushed against the rotation of the black hole, while the other is driven in the direction of rotation and can escape the claws of the black hole, which releases force if the plasma swallowed by the black hole has negative energy.
“It’s like a person can lose weight by eating sweets with negative calories,” said Komiso, who explained that in fact a black hole loses energy by eating negative energy particles. “It may sound strange,” he said, “but it can happen in an area called the Argosphere, where the sequence of space-time rotates so fast that each object rotates in the same direction as the black hole.”
Within the ergosphere, a magnetic connection is so extreme that plasma particles are accelerated to speeds approaching the speed of light.
Asanjo, a professor of physics at the University of Adolfo Ebenz and co-author of the study, explained that the relatively high velocity between captured and escaped plasma currents is what allows the proposed process to extract enormous amounts of energy from the black hole.
“We calculated that the plasma energy process could reach 150 percent efficiency, much higher than any power plant operating on Earth,” Asanjo said. “Achieving efficiency greater than one hundred percent is possible because blacks are leaking energy, which is given for free to the plasma escaping from the black hole.”
The energy production process predicted by Komisu and Asanjo may already operate in a large number of black holes. This may be what drives the eruptions of the black holes – strong radiation bursts that can be detected from the Earth.
“Our increased knowledge of how magnetic reconnection occurs in the vicinity of the black hole may be critical to guiding our interpretation of current and future telescope observations of black holes, such as those of the” event horizon “telescope,” Asanjo said.
While this may sound like science fiction stuff, black hole energy mining could be the answer to our future power needs.
“In thousands and millions of years, humanity will be able to survive around a black hole without harnessing energy from stars,” Comiso said. “It’s basically a technological problem. If we look at physics, there’s nothing that prevents it.”
The study, a magnetic reconnection as a mechanism for generating energy from rotating black holes, was funded by the Windows National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Science and Technology Development Fund of Chile.
“We expect the potential translation of seemingly esoteric studies of black hole astrophysics into the practical realm,” Lukin said.
“The ideas and concepts discussed in this work are really fascinating,” said Vyacheslav (Slava) Lukin, program director at the National Science Foundation. According to him, NSF aims to accelerate new theoretical efforts based on boundary observations, and to bring together theoretical physics and observational astronomy under one roof.
“We look forward to the potential translation of seemingly esoteric studies of astrophysics of black holes into the practical realm,” he added.
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Huntsville AL (SPX) December 22, 2020
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