We're a little crazy, about science!

The Surprisingly Magnetic Black Hole


Black holes suck. Nothing can escape a black hole, not even light, which is why they are “black”. They are also an interesting bit of physics. Normally “classical” physics applies to things that are large enough to see [and even things that you can’t in some cases]. Conversely quantum mechanics deals with the “unseen”, atoms and their interactions. That is normally the end of the story, never shall the two meet.

In fact, because there is no clearly defined line between the quantum and the classical, there has been trouble blending the two theories. Which is unfortunate in that there are a few specific examples where the quantum world and the classical world collide, one of them just happens to be black holes.

Black holes are supermassive objects that are governed by rules we have not been able to figure out. The problem is that because they are so massive, in such a small area, both the quantum and classical equations apply. This makes understanding how a black hole works outrageously complex. So complex that Stephen Hawking came out and said that they don’t exist… at least not in the way we think.

[Loony Hint: Fun little fact, when Stephen Hawking came out with his paper Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes he was misquoted saying “Black holes don’t exist” instead of they don’t exist as we think of them.

For those who didn’t click any of the links– the central issue with our understanding is the firewall paradox– which said that if you crossed the event horizon of a black hole you would be swallowed in a wall of fire because of how energetic the particles would be due to quantum mechanics.

This was alarming because General relativity says that the laws of physics should be the same no matter where you are in time or space, so as far as Einstein goes the event horizon shouldn’t look or act any different than any other part of space, this paradox illustrated a problem with our understanding of physics.]

Black holes are serious business, so when we can learn something new about them physicists [and weirdos people like me] are excited. Maybe that is why it was so surprising when it turns out that black holes are magnetic.

The new study on supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies has shown that not only do black holes have a magnetic field [comparable to MRI machines or roughly 10,000 times earth’s magnetic field], the field’s strength rivals the black hole’s gravitational pull.

“This paper for the first time systematically measures the strength of magnetic fields near black holes,” says Alexander Tchekhovskoy, the Berkeley Lab researcher who helped interpret the observational data within the context of existing computational models. “This is important because we had no idea, and now we have evidence from not just one, not just two, but from 76 black holes.”

The new results mean theorists must re-evaluate their understanding of black-hole behavior. “The magnetic fields are strong enough to dramatically alter how gas falls into black holes and how gas produces outflows that we do observe, much stronger than what has usually been assumed,” he says. “We need to go back and look at our models once again.”

Maybe it’s just me, but when there are things out there that science can’t quite explain, I always get a little excited when new information is revealed. Yeah maybe I’m a little giddy, but you have to admit, this is pretty cool!

Are you a big weirdo fascinated by physics like me? Then you probably want the full study, which you can find —here!

Zamaninasab, M., Clausen-Brown, E., Savolainen, T., & Tchekhovskoy, A. (2014). Dynamically important magnetic fields near accreting supermassive black holes Nature, 510 (7503), 126-128 DOI: 10.1038/nature13399

S. W. Hawking (2014). Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes Cornell University Library arXiv: 1401.5761v1

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