JAN 17, 2021 7:30 AM PST

New Way to Extract Energy from Black Holes

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

In his theory of general relativity, Einstein predicted that black holes harbor an enormous amount of energy. And now, researchers from Columbia University have found a new way to extract it.

In their new theory, the scientists propose that energy could be extracted by breaking and rejoining the magnetic field lines near the central point of a black hole’s gravitational pull, known as the event horizon. 

Done the right way, they found that the disconnecting and reconnecting of these magnetic field lines could accelerate magnetically-charged plasma particles surrounding the black hole in two directions. While the negatively-charged plasma flow would fall into the black hole, the other would accelerate outwards, taking with it large amounts of energy that could then be harnessed. 

“It is like a person could lose weight by eating candy with negative calories,” says Luca Comisso, first author of the study. “This might sound weird, but it can happen in a region called the ergosphere, where the spacetime continuum rotates so fast that every object spins in the same direction as the black hole.”

“We calculated that the process of plasma energization can reach an efficiency of 150 percent, much higher than any power plant operating on Earth,” says Felipe Asenho, one of the study’s authors. 

“Achieving an efficiency greater than 100 percent is possible because black holes leak energy, which is given away for free to the plasma escaping from the black hole.”

The researchers say that this process may be responsible for black hole flares- powerful bursts of radiation that can be detected from Earth. Their findings may thus prove crucial for interpreting telescope observations of black holes. The researchers added that their findings may also provide the groundwork for humans to extract energy from black holes in thousands or millions of years from now, and thus no longer be dependent on energy from stars. 

 

Sources: SciTechDailyAmerican Physical Society

About the Author
  • Science writer with keen interests in technology and behavioral biology. Her current focus is on the interplay between these fields to create meaningful interactions, applications and environments.
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