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Space Science

Black Holes Grow By Eating Quantum Foam 164

Posted by Soulskill
from the om-nom-nom dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The discovery that even the most distant galaxies have supermassive black holes at their cores is a puzzle for astrophysicists. These objects must have formed relatively soon after the Big Bang. But if a galaxy is only a billion years old and contains a black hole that is a billion times more massive than the Sun, how did it get so big, so quickly? Now one cosmologist says he has the answer: black holes feed off the quantum foam that makes up the fabric of spacetime. This foam is 'nourishing' because it contains quantum black holes that can contribute to the black hole's growth. This idea leads to a prediction: that the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way must also be growing in this way and at a rate that we should be able to measure. Just watch out for the burps."
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Black Holes Grow By Eating Quantum Foam

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  • Re:Mass vs Size (Score:5, Informative)

    by boristhespider (1678416) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @04:35PM (#44823829)

    In the case of a black hole? Because the radius of the event horizon - which is one of the easiest definitions of the "size" of a black hole - grows monotonically with the mass. You can see it from Newtonian physics; if you look at the distance at which a "particle" travelling at the speed of light can't escape from a body with mass M you find it grows linearly with M. It turns out, rather coincidentally, that this coincides with the event horizon of a Schwarzschild hole, which is a black hole which is perfectly spherical (ie non-rotating), uncharged black hole.

    (I went looking for a reference but I gave up quickly. Basically take Newton's gravitational law, F=GMm/r^2 for a large body of mass M and an orbiting (test) body of mass m. A particle of velocity c moving in a circular orbit is experiencing a radial force of F=mv^2/r=mc^2/r. (This is the centrifugal force, and to head of pedants, in the frame of the particle it is very much experienced even if in an inertial frame it is evidently fictional.) Equating these two you quickly find GM/r=c^2, or r=GM/c^2. This is the Schwarzschild radius.)

  • Re:Mass vs Size (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @04:46PM (#44823967)

    Fail, off by a factor of two for the classical answer.

    And first link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_velocity

  • Re:Mass vs Size (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @04:51PM (#44824041)

    With one difference though: Once you apply GTR equations, the r is twice the value you get from Newtonian calculations.

  • by boristhespider (1678416) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @04:52PM (#44824067)

    Doesn't work - the big bang is not an expansion into pre-existing spacetime. Further, it's very hard to find a way of forcing a black hole solution of GR (Schwarzschild would be the most plausible in this context) to suddenly turn into a cosmological ("Friedmann-Lemaitre-Robertson-Walker") solution of GR. What you *can* do is embed an FLRW solution inside a Schwarzschild and get a model indistinguishable from observation, but extraordinarily contrived, and indeed pointless. (Come to that I'm not fully convinced those models genuinely work because the Schwarzschild solution is static, but if you linked that with Wetterich's recent model where the "expansion" is actually a manifestation of the increasing mass of particles you could avoid that issue, too and, indeed, avoid having to embed an FLRW inside a Schwarzschild at all.)

    But if you refine what you say a bit it's not very far from an idea Penrose proposed a while back but has, unfortunately, never published in detail, although he's put out some (admittedly extremely ill-advised -- Penrose is basically a genius, but knows little of either statistics or observation) papers claiming signatures on the microwave sky. Basically Penrose points out that eventually everything will evaporate to radiation one way or another: if we follow any extension to the standard model we at least open the possibility that fundamental particles can decay, and otherwise ultimately every path every particle will take will inevitably, over an infinite period of time, take it into a black hole. If there are eventually two electrons in the universe and nothing more but radiation, they will themselves inevitably collide, after an unimaginable period, with enough energy to form a black hole (remember in this scenario the electrons are constantly buffeted by radiation of ridiculously high power... even if most of the radiation is at wavelengths of, say 10m, there will be *some* photons at a vast energy and these will interact with the electrons... eventually... and accelerate them to speeds far in excess of those reached on Earth or, indeed, in the Sun). And black holes radiate. So everything becomes radiation. But for reasons that are rather technical, it is impossible within the framework of GR to distinguish between an infinite future bathed in radiation and an infinite *past* bathed in radiation, because time and length scales become rather arbitrary. Which means that through some process Penrose has never explicated - if that's a word - the ultimate future can wrap onto the ultimate past and suddenly there's a new Big Bang.

    There are also other ways of getting cyclic models, which involve a bit more new physics (new scalar fields, or branes hanging near ours, etc.) but a bit less hand-waving. Indeed, there are many ways of getting cyclic universes. But Penrose's struck me as being nearest to your suggestion.

  • Re:Mass vs Size (Score:4, Informative)

    by boristhespider (1678416) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @04:56PM (#44824119)

    Yes, true. But like I said to the other AC who made the same (totally valid - people with mod points might want to mod these people informative, btw, so those who ignore ACs might see it) point, it's close enough for government work and it's good intuition.

    But yes, both of you are right, the Newtonian calculation isn't entirely right. I should have thought a bit more carefully about what I was saying.

  • Re:Mass vs Size (Score:5, Informative)

    by boristhespider (1678416) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @05:38PM (#44824559)

    The background temperature of space is 2.7K, measured to exquisite accuracy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_Background_Explorer). You might be referring to the dark energy problem, which is pretty much ill-defined, meaning we don't actually have an explanation or, indeed, even an agreement on the size of the discrepancy (which is commonly quoted as 10^120 but is actually much nearer 10^60... not that that's good.) Although you're likely referring to the string landscape, where you can get something like 10^10^100 unique vacua, or more, or maybe a few more than that, or a few more again. Which while the dark energy problem is ill-defined at least it's related - via a few assumptions, to be fair - to observation. The string landscape is entirely theoretical and relies on you accepting both string theory and the arguments that lead to the landscape - and those are much more controversial than the simple statement that the standard cosmological model does not work without a surprisingly large quantity that acts more or less like a dark energy.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @06:51PM (#44824967) Homepage
    The paper in question has specific predictions about what we should expect to see when we examine pulsars that are near black holes and moreover those predictions look like they should be testable with only slightly more advanced technology than we have now if we take the time to make the long-term observations necessary. That's the primary difference: testable, predictable results. In contrast, religion generally either fails at making novel predictions at all, or makes novel predictions generally about eschatological issues (that is end of the world) that always turn out to be wrong.
  • Re:Mass vs Size (Score:4, Informative)

    by marcosdumay (620877) <marcosdumay&gmail,com> on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @09:27PM (#44826045) Homepage Journal

    That number is called "googol", not "google".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 12, 2013 @02:53AM (#44827535)

    No, the reasoning is: "If P, then Q, and if not P, then most likely not Q. Therefore if Q, then most likely P."

    It's the same way how you conclude that if there are footprints in the sand, that there was someone walking through the sand. If someone walked through the sand, then he would have left such footprints, and we don't know any other reasonable process which would have caused the same footprints.

    Of course the footprints don't prove in the mathematical sense that someone was walking there. After all, we cannot completely rule out that for example there was someone who built a drone with foot decoy, which flew over that area and went down to make footprints as if someone was walking there. However that assumption is unlikely enough that we would usually rule it out in favour of the hypothesis that someone walked there. Of course if we later get convincing evidence that nobody walked there, or we indeed find someone building foot-decoy drones and let them fly in that area, we will probably rethink our conclusion.

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