February 9, 2016
By Joseph Sullivan
Black holes have captured much attention not just in science but also in popular media. The 2014 movie Interstellar portrays a fast-rotating supermassive black hole, into which the protagonist falls in order to probe its center. New research suggests that may not just be the stuff of Hollywood magic.
At the center of a black hole density and gravity are infinite and the rules of physics and space-time cease to exist. This gravitational phenomenon has driven scientists to push the boundaries of what we know about black holes, gradually shrinking the unknowns. This research is aided by the use of computer simulations powered by supercomputing. Thanks to researchers from UMass Dartmouth, Georgia Gwinnett College, and University of Maryland, a first-of-its-kind simulation offers a peek into the inside of a rotating black hole.
UMass Dartmouth Physics Associate Professor Gaurav Khanna and University of Maryland Postdoctoral Researcher Anil Zenginoglu, led by Georgia Gwinnett College Physics Associate Professor Lior Burko, have published a Rapid Communication in Physical Review D, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Physical Society, on a computer simulation of the interior of a rotating black hole, which accounts for the complicated rotational properties.
“This has never been done before, although there has been lots of speculation for decades on what actually happens inside a black hole,” Dr. Khanna said. “The problem is very challenging — requiring development of many new mathematical and computational techniques. I expect this to be a new additional area of focus for my research program over the next several years.”
“Non-rotating black holes have been studied in computer simulations for decades,” Dr. Burko said. “We developed a first-of-its-kind computer simulation of how physical fields evolve on the approach to the center of a rotating black hole. It has often been assumed that objects approaching a black hole are crushed by the increasing gravity. However, we found that while gravitational forces increase and become infinite, they do so fast enough that their interaction allows physical objects to stay intact as they move toward the center of the black hole.”
The simulation, therefore according to the research team, is consistent with a popular sci-fi scenario in which black holes are used as portals for hyperspace travel.
Drs. Khanna, Burko, and Zenginoglu made it possible for the first time to see how physical fields react on the approach to the center of the black hole. The complexity of the simulation led the scientists to adopt a model that that will allow future researchers to make progress on the definitive features of black holes.
This research was supported by the National Science Foundation.
The novel supercomputing resources of UMass Dartmouth’s Center for Scientific Computing & Visualization Research (CSCVR) were key to the success of this research project. The CSCVR promotes the mission of UMass Dartmouth by providing undergraduate and graduate students with high quality discovery-based educational experiences that transcend the traditional boundaries of academic field or department, and foster collaborative research in the computational sciences within the university and with researchers at other universities, national labs, and industry. Dr. Khanna serves as the associate director of the CSCVR.
Georgia Gwinnett College is a four-year, accredited liberal arts college that provides access to targeted baccalaureate level degrees that meet the economic development needs of the growing and diverse population of Gwinnett County and the northeast Atlanta metropolitan region. GGC opened its doors in August 2006 as the nation’s first four-year public college founded in the 21st century, and the first four-year public college founded in Georgia in more than 100 years. Georgia Gwinnett produces contributing citizens and future leaders for Georgia and the nation. Its graduates are inspired to contribute to their local, state, national and international communities and are prepared to anticipate and respond effectively to an uncertain and changing world. Visit Georgia Gwinnett College’s Web site at www.ggc.edu.
UMass Dartmouth distinguishes itself as a vibrant public university actively engaged in personalized teaching and innovative research, and acting as an intellectual catalyst for regional economic, social, and cultural development. UMass Dartmouth's mandate to serve its community is realized through countless partnerships, programs, and other outreach efforts to engage the community, and apply its knowledge to help address local issues and empower others to facilitate change for all. UMass Dartmouth’s research enterprise has grown from $21.2 million to $28.2 million since 2005, with most of the sponsored research activity in marine science and engineering. The university now offers 12 doctoral programs, and the number of annual PhDs awarded has grown from 3 to 26 since 2010.