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Black Holes Encyclopedia

Popular Books Featuring a Black Hole

 

'Imperial Earth' by Arthur C. Clarke (1975)

'Imperial Earth' by Arthur C. ClarkeTo traverse the 500 million mile distance between Saturn's moon Titan and Earth for a diplomatic visit in the 23rd century, Arthur C. Clarke's protagonist, Duncan MacKenzie, embarks on the S.S. Sirius, a powerful interplanetary craft capable of making the journey in 20 days. (NASA's Cassini probe took seven years to cover the same distance.) In his acknowledgements, Clarke's noted the source of his fictional craft's great speed: "I am indebted to Dr. Robert Forward of the Hughes Research Laboratory, Malibu, for introducing me to the fascinating concept of mini-black-holes, and for making such encouraging noises about the somewhat outrageous propulsion system of S.S. Sirius that I am almost inclined to patent it..."

The Krone Experiment (1986)

The Krone ExperimentThe Cold War totters toward a hot war after something punches a hole in a Soviet aircraft carrier and the Soviets blame the Americans. After similar incidents around the world, though, a more chilling explanation emerges. A black hole created in a scientific laboratory has plunged through Earth. It bores all the way through the planet, then reverses course and bores through again, time after time, growing larger on each pass. Eventually, it will reach a critical mass and gobble all of Earth in one big gulp unless scientists can find a way to stop it.

The Science

The novel was written by a University of Texas astrophysicist, who conceived the idea in the early 1970s and developed it over the following decade, so the science was plausible.

It is indeed possible to created microscopic black holes in the laboratory. In fact, the new Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland will probably do just that. The black holes are so tiny, though, that they will instantly wink out of existence through an effect first described by Steven Hawking something that happened to the countless micro-black holes that were created in the Big Bang. (Fearful skeptics filed lawsuits to try to prevent LHC from operating in part because of fears of a "Krone"-like result, but failed to convince the judges.)

If one of the black holes were massive enough to not instantly radiate itself away, as Hawking predicted, well.... It might be best to pack your bags and look for the next interstellar shuttle.

Notes

Wheeler's son, J. Robinson Wheeler, directed a low-budget movie version of the book, which was released in 2005.

More information

The World is Round (1978)

The World is RoundAn interstellar expedition visits the planet Patra-Bannk, an artificial world that is 50 times larger than Earth's diameter. The planet is hollow and surrounds a small black hole that is automatically "mined" for the energy to sustain the entire world.

The Science

The idea of a black hole as a power source was based on a concept proposed by British physicist Roger Penrose in 1969.

If a black hole is spinning, its powerful gravity actually pulls the surrounding spacetime with it, in a region known as the ergosphere.

Penrose suggested that it would be possible to extract energy from the ergosphere by sending a rocket into this swirl of spacetime, where the rocket would split apart. Half of the ship would fall into the black hole, while

the other half would be thrown back into space but with much more energy than the whole ship carried in. Essentially, the exiting half would "steal" a little rotational energy from the spinning black hole. (Today's spacecraft use a similar technique to gain a free boost from a planet.) The surviving half would be captured by a sort of interstellar power station, which would convert the energy of the craft's motion to usable electricity.

Although the process isn't as efficient as Penrose's original calculations suggested, Rothman's fictional idea was based on solid scientific ground.

'For Love and Glory' by Poul Anderson (2003)

'For Love and Glory' by Poul AndersonWhile interstellar archaeologists race to learn the meaning of an artifact of an ancient civilization, scientists in a starship watch from afar as two stellar-mass black holes merge in a mind-warping Technicolor display.

Excerpt

Shrouded in fire, the black holes sped to their destiny. Minute by minute, second by second, they swelled in sight, blazed more wildly brilliant, roared the louder throughout every spectrum of radiance. The discs were swirling storms, riven, aflare with eerie lightnings. Vast tatters broke off, exploded into flame, torrented back down or threw red spindrift across heaven before vanishing into vacuum. It was as if the stars, their light rays bent, scattered terrified from around those masses...

The black holes met.

Nobody in real time saw that. It was too swift. At one heartheat they were well apart, at the next they blurred into streaks, and then light erupted. White it was at the cente, raw sun-stuff; thence it became night-violet, dusk-violet, day-blue, steel-blue, gold-yellow, brass-yellow, blood-red, sunset-red. Outward and outward it bloomed. The fringes were streams, fountains, lace in a wind. They arced over and began to return in a million different, pure mathematical curves....

The Science

No one has ever seen two black holes merge, but Anderson's description is reasonable. The accretion disks around merging black holes certainly would stage some pyrotechnics. What you wouldn't see, but would feel from close range (as Anderson describes in the book) would be powerful "ripples" in spacetime caused by the merger. Known as gravitational waves, they might be powerful enough for Earth-based instruments (or future space-based ones) to detect, particularly for mergers inside the Milky Way or nearby galaxies.