How do you find out more about one of the most persistently mysterious phenomena in the universe? Try H2O.
Using water and a generator in the University of Nottingham’s Quantum Gravity Laboratory in the School of Physics and Astronomy, scientists were successfully able to simulate the conditions of a black hole in a lab for the first time ever—and reveal more about the physics of these points of no return in space.
"Some of the bizarre black hole phenomena are hard, if not impossible, to study directly,” said team lead Silke Weinfurter of the School of Mathematical Sciences, whose study was recently published in the journal Nature Physics. "This means there are very limited experimental possibilities. So this research is quite an achievement."
Superradiance is the strange science Weinfurter is referring to. In physics, it refers to effects of radiation enhancement in several fields, including astrophysics. In black holes, superradiance is specifically the process by which energy is extracted from a rotating black hole. The dead star’s rotation theoretically drags around any wave that approaches the edge of a black hole’s event horizon and should deflect waves that do not venture any further. These amplified waves are then scattered into space with more energy than they entered with.
What started as Weinfurter’s brainchild for a water-based experiment using a bucket and a bidet (which you often find in European bathrooms) evolved into an epic simulation of this phenomenon. Water, which is pumped in a close circuit until a rotating draining flow is established, gushes into a “flume” nearly 10 feet long, 5 feet wide and around 20 inches deep, with a hole in the center. Waves of various frequencies are generated when the desired water level is reached. Wave generation continues until these waves are scattered by the draining vortex to create the superradiant effect.
The team designed a special 3D air fluid interface sensor to create and record this effect. The flow field, or the speed fluid flows around the artificial black hole, is measured by a sewing machine they adapted to punch out tiny paper dots.
Weinfurter is optimistic. "This research has been particularly exciting to work on as it has bought together the expertise of physicists, engineers and technicians to achieve our common aim of simulating the conditions of a black hole and proving that superadiance exists,” she said. “We believe our results will motivate further research on the observation of superradiance in astrophysics."
Now watch this thing in action.