The Reasons Why Black Holes Are Such Powerful Energy Sources

Sunday, 31 December 2017 - 5:19PM
Black Holes
Sunday, 31 December 2017 - 5:19PM
The Reasons Why Black Holes Are Such Powerful Energy Sources
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NASA/JPL-Caltech

Not that it's possible yet anyway, but there's lots of reasons why visiting a black hole is a very bad idea, and your chances of survival hit about zero long before you'd reach the event horizon. Which is a shame, as the lethal qualities of a black hole actually make it an extremely good source of energy.

A new video from YouTube channel MinutePhysics tries to break it down as simply as possible, explaining how — regardless of whether we can make use of it (we can't) — a black hole does a better job of converting mass into energy than anything on Earth. And if the day comes where we could ever harness one, we'd never need another energy source to turn on our lights.

Check out the video below:



Essentially, anything with mass also contains energy, which is what Albert Einstein meant in his famous equation "E=mc2," (energy is equal to mass times the speed light squared). And there are a few ways to convert mass into energy, like chemical reactions, nuclear reactions, gravitational reactions, etc.

But most of these aren't efficient ways of harnessing energy, and most of that energy is lost in the conversion. For example, nuclear fission and fusion only gather around 0.08 percent and 0.7 percent of the potential energy in mass, while the vast majority of it gets lost. We use these methods because we don't have anything better yet, not because they work well.

In theory, there are much more efficient ways of gathering that energy. Which is where black holes come in: when a comet gets stuck in the gravitational field of something bigger, it picks up speed and burns up, giving off heat and energy — but again, it's a small amount of energy. Only a black hole, as powerful as it is, can push an object (like the comet) to such a speed that its energy becomes truly useful.

If we could do this, we could convert up to 42 percent of that comet's mass into energy, and we'd soon start building up enough energy to cleanly power the world for some time to come. We'd just need to make sure we harness that energy before the comet goes past the event horizon of the black hole. After that, we'd have absolutely no way of ever getting it back.



Antimatter would be an even better method: if you took an object and its evil, antimatter clone, and collided the two objects into each other, you'd get 100 percent of the energy from the mass of both objects. But creating/finding an antimatter cat is something we haven't been able to fully imagine yet, much less colliding it into a normal cat to gather their energy.

Somehow, that makes "harnessing energy by sending objects into black holes" sound slightly less crazy.

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Space
Black Holes