Could we harness energy from black holes?

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A remarkable prediction of Einstein's theory of general relativity--the theory that connects space, time, and gravity--is that rotating black holes have enormou
Newswise — s amounts of energy available to be tapped.

For the last 50 years, scientists have tried to come up with methods to unleash this power. Nobel physicist Roger Penrose theorized that a particle disintegration could draw energy from a black hole; Stephen Hawking proposed that black holes could release energy through quantum mechanical emission; while Roger Blandford and Roman Znajek suggested electromagnetic torque as a main agent of energy extraction.

Now, in a study published in the journal Physical Review D, physicists Luca Comisso from Columbia University and Felipe Asenjo from Universidad Adolfo Ibanez in Chile, found a new way to extract energy from black holes by breaking and rejoining magnetic field lines near the event horizon, the point from which nothing, not even light, can escape the black hole's gravitational pull.

"Black holes are commonly surrounded by a hot 'soup' of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field," said Luca Comisso, research scientist at Columbia University and first author on the study.

"Our theory shows that when magnetic field lines disconnect and reconnect, in just the right way, they can accelerate plasma particles to negative energies and large amounts of black hole energy can be extracted."

This finding could allow astronomers to better estimate the spin of black holes, drive black hole energy emissions, and might even provide a source of energy for the needs of an advanced civilization, Comisso said.

Comisso and Asenjo built their theory on the premise that reconnecting magnetic fields accelerates plasma particles in two different directions. One plasma flow is pushed against the black hole's…
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