Physicists have simulated a black hole in a laboratory. Then it started to glow.
This allowed the team to realize that their black hole analogue may help explain what is known as “Hawking radiation”, theorized to be emitted by black holes in nature.
Their analysis of the black hole in a bottle is presented in an article published in the Physical examination research log.
Hawking radiation is a consequence of the extreme extreme of black holes. Due to the immense gravitational pull of these cosmic giants – from which not even light can escape – black holes cause disturbances in the fabric of spacetime itself, resulting in the emission of particles due to interruptions of quantum field fluctuations.
This type of radiation was first theorized by Stephen Hawking in 1974, but has never been observed because it is too faint even for our best telescopes.
But being able to produce and study Hawking radiation can help solve the seemingly irreconcilable theories of nature: the general theory of relativity, which describes gravity, and quantum mechanics, which describes the behavior of particles.
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Due to extreme gravity and the prevalence of bizarre quantum effects, black holes are considered prime candidates for figuring out how to make these two theories fit together.
The creation of a black hole analogue is not new, but this new research has allowed physicists to “tune” their black hole and observe radiative effects in this type of experiment for the first time.
Analogs of black holes were first proposed by Canadian physicist William Unruh, who conceptualized the “sonic black hole” in a 1981 paper. Unruh’s sonic black hole was based on the notion that sound vibrations , phonons, are unable to escape from a region of fluid in which the fluid is flowing faster than the speed of sound in the local region (similar to light unable to escape from a black hole in space).
Essentially, it’s too difficult to create a black hole and study it because they’re extremely unstable. So physicists simply set out to simulate the conditions at a black hole’s event horizon (the point in space at which the black hole’s gravity is too strong for light to escape).
Led by Lotte Mertens, a PhD student at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, the team produced their simulated event horizon using a single-file chain of atoms. The electrons “jump” along the chain in a way that could easily be influenced by physicists.
By adjusting the jump, physicists could make certain properties disappear. They created a sort of event horizon that interfered with the wave nature of electrons.
By meddling with the electron field, the scientists discovered that their event horizon increased in temperature. The radiative effect matched the theoretical expectations that would be observed in an equivalent black hole system, but only when part of the chain extended beyond their event horizon analogue.
The results suggest that particles that are entangled across the event horizon help generate Hawking radiation.
They found that their simulated event horizon only displayed thermal radiation under certain conditions. This suggests that Hawking radiation, too, can only be thermal in specific situations, including when there is a change in the way spacetime warps due to gravity.
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We don’t have a unified theory yet, but the model offers physicists a way to probe Hawking radiation without the extreme conditions of black holes.
Plus, the experience is surprisingly simple, providing plenty of additional avenues for study.
“This may open a venue to explore fundamental aspects of quantum mechanics alongside gravity and curved spacetimes in various condensed matter contexts,” the researchers write in their paper.
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