Black hole: Brian Cox says we ‘know nothing’ about the centre

Black holes produce an enormous amount of energy and researchers are looking into ways in which this energy could be beneficial to mankind. Surrounding a black hole is an accretion disc, made up of materials and objects orbiting the mysterious entities.

The friction generated by these discs as they are pushed and shoved by the extreme gravitational force is so large that it can produce a tremendous amount of energy, depending on the size of the black hole.

While the Sun gives Earth energy through light and heat, the radiation and energy from the accretion discs might prove just as valuable.

New research has found that if scientists could find a way to break and rejoin the magnetic field lines of the accretion disc, which is found at the event horizon or the black hole’s point of no return, it could provide unlimited power.

Luca Comisso, a research scientist at Columbia University and first author on the study, said: “Black holes are commonly surrounded by a hot ‘soup’ of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field.

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“Our theory shows that when magnetic field lines disconnect and reconnect, in just the right way, they can accelerate plasma particles to negative energies and large amounts of black hole energy can be extracted.”

The findings, published in the journal Physical Review D, could allow astronomers to estimate the spin of black holes and the drive of black hole energy emissions.

The scientists built their theory on the knowledge that reconnecting magnetic fields accelerate plasma particles in different directions.

One direction would be away from the black hole’s spin, while the other goes the direction of the spin.

The particles headed in the direction of the black hole’s spin could theoretically break away from the grasp of the black hole, “which releases power if the plasma swallowed by the black hole has negative energy,” Columbia University said.

Dr Comisso explained: “It is like a person could lose weight by eating candy with negative calories.

“This might sound weird, but it can happen in a region called the ergosphere, where the spacetime continuum rotates so fast that every object spins in the same direction as the black hole.”

Inside the ergosphere, magnetic reconnection is so extreme plasma particles are accelerated to near light-speed.

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Felipe Asenjo, professor of physics at the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez and coauthor on the study, said it is the high velocity of captured and escaping plasma streams which could lead to the process to extract massive amounts of energy.

He said: “We calculated that the process of plasma energization can reach an efficiency of 150 percent, much higher than any power plant operating on Earth.

“Achieving an efficiency greater than 100 percent is possible because black holes leak energy, which is given away for free to the plasma escaping from the black hole.”

Dr Comisso added: “Thousands or millions of years from now, humanity might be able to survive around a black hole without harnessing energy from stars.

“It is essentially a technological problem. If we look at the physics, there is nothing that prevents it.”

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