In The Field

APS: Black holes in the lab

kink.jpgIt’s not really the sort of thing that you’d expect to find at a meeting which is mainly about materials, but I heard an interesting talk about recreating black hole jets in the laboratory today. For those unfamiliar with what I‘m talking about, swirling material around the top of a black hole often gets ejected in a long narrow stream. The process is complex and guided largely by the behavior of the hot, ionized gas in the jet, known as plasma.

Paul Bellan of Caltech in Pasadena, California wanted to get a better idea of how it all worked, so he built his own (right). Bellan’s black hole isn’t a hole at all: it’s two circular metal plates, one inside the other. By putting an enormous voltage difference across the plates, he can ionize gas above their surface and, albeit briefly, recreate the giant jets of black holes. He’s used his experiments to model how magnetic fields create giant jets. His conclusion? “It’s kind of like squeezing a toothpaste tube.”

Credit: P. Bellan

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