A New Idea to Harness Energy From Black Holes - Universe Today

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A new study by an international team shows how the physics of a black hole's event horizon could allow us to harness limitless energy from them someday.
Fifty years ago, English mathematical physicist and Nobel-prize winner Roger Penrose proposed that energy could be extracted from the space around a rotating black hole. Known as the ergosphere, this region lies just outside an event horizon, the boundary within which nothing can escape a black hole's gravitational pull (even light). It is also here where infalling matter is accelerated to incredible speeds and emits all kinds of energy.

This became known as the Penrose Process, which many theorists have since expanded on. The latest comes from a study conducted by researchers from Columbia University and the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in Chile. With support from organizations like NASA, they demonstrated how a better understanding of the physics at work around spinning black holes could allow us to harness their energy someday.

The study, titled "Magnetic reconnection as a mechanism for energy extraction from rotating black holes," was conducted by Luca Comisso and Felipe A. Asenjo. In it, they propose a new method whereby energy could be harnessed from a black hole by breaking and rejoining magnetic field lines near its event horizon, the boundary within which nothing can escape a black hole's gravitational pull (even light).

Artist's impression depicts a rapidly spinning supermassive black hole surrounded by an accretion disc. Credit:

As Comisso, a research scientist at Columbia University and the first author on the study explained in a Columbia News press release:

"Black holes are commonly surrounded by a hot 'soup' of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field. 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."

Whereas Penrose theorized in 1971 that this process of particle disintegration could draw energy from a black hole, Stephen Hawking would propose in 1974 that black holes could release…
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