Black hole models contradicted by hands-on tests

August 28, 2017
Sandia National Laboratories' Guillaume Loisel poses with Sandia's Z machine, where hands-on experiments contradicted a long-standing assumption about the X-ray spectra from the vicinity of black holes in space. Loisel is the lead author of a paper on the experimental results, published in Physical Review Letters. Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image. Credit: Randy Montoya, Sandia National Laboratories

A long-standing but unproven assumption about the X-ray spectra of black holes in space has been contradicted by hands-on experiments performed at Sandia National Laboratories' Z machine.

Z, the most energetic laboratory X-ray source on Earth, can duplicate the X-rays surrounding black holes that otherwise can be watched only from a great distance and then theorized about.

"Of course, emission directly from black holes cannot be observed," said Sandia researcher and lead author Guillaume Loisel, lead author for a paper on the experimental results, published in August in Physical Review Letters. "We see emission from surrounding matter just before it is consumed by the black hole. This surrounding matter is forced into the shape of a disk, called an accretion disk."

The results suggest revisions are needed to models previously used to interpret emissions from matter just before it is consumed by black holes, and also the related rate of growth of mass within the black holes. A black hole is a region of outer space from which no material and no radiation (that is, X-rays, visible light, and so on) can escape because the gravitational field of the black hole is so intense.

"Our research suggests it will be necessary to rework many scientific papers published over the last 20 years," Loisel said. "Our results challenge models used to infer how fast black holes swallow matter from their companion star. We are optimistic that astrophysicists will implement whatever changes are found to be needed."

Most researchers agree a great way to learn about black holes is to use satellite-based instruments to collect X-ray spectra, said Sandia co-author Jim Bailey. "The catch is that the plasmas that emit the X-rays are exotic, and models used to interpret their spectra have never been tested in the laboratory till now," he said.

NASA astrophysicist Tim Kallman, one of the co-authors, said, "The Sandia experiment is exciting because it's the closest anyone has ever come to creating an environment that's a re-creation of what's going on near a black hole."

Theory leaves reality behind

The divergence between theory and reality began 20 years ago, when physicists declared that certain ionization stages of iron (or ions) were present in a black hole's accretion disk—the matter surrounding a black hole—even when no spectral lines indicated their existence.The complicated theoretical explanation was that under a black hole's immense gravity and intense radiation, highly energized iron electrons did not drop back to lower energy states by emitting photons—the common quantum explanation of why energized materials emit light. Instead, the electrons were liberated from their atoms and slunk off as lone wolves in relative darkness. The general process is known as Auger decay, after the French physicist who discovered it in the early 20th century. The absence of photons in the black-hole case is termed Auger destruction, or more formally, the Resonant Auger Destruction assumption.

However, Z researchers, by duplicating X-ray energies surrounding black holes and applying them to a dime-size film of silicon at the proper densities, showed that if no photons appear, then the generating element simply isn't there. Silicon is an abundant element in the universe and experiences the Auger effect more frequently than iron. Therefore, if Resonant Auger Destruction happens in iron then it should happen in silicon too.

"If Resonant Auger Destruction is a factor, it should have happened in our experiment because we had the same conditions, the same column density, the same temperature," said Loisel. "Our results show that if the photons aren't there, the ions must be not there either."That deceptively simple finding, after five years of experiments, calls into question the many astrophysical papers based on the Resonant Auger Destruction assumption.

The Z experiment mimicked the conditions found in accretion disks surrounding black holes, which have densities many orders of magnitude lower than Earth's atmosphere.

"Even though black holes are extremely compact objects, their accretion disks—the large plasmas in space that surround them—are relatively diffuse," said Loisel. "On Z, we expanded silicon 50,000 times. It's very low density, five orders of magnitude lower than solid silicon."

This is an artist's depiction of the black hole named Cygnus X-1, formed when the large blue star beside it collapsed into the smaller, extremely dense matter. (Image courtesy of NASA) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

The spectra's tale

The reason accurate theories of a black hole's size and properties are difficult to come by is the lack of first-hand observations. Black holes were mentioned in Albert Einstein's general relativity theory a century ago but at first were considered a purely mathematical concept. Later, astronomers observed the altered movements of stars on gravitational tethers as they circled their black hole, or most recently, gravity-wave signals, also predicted by Einstein, from the collisions of those black holes. But most of these remarkable entities are relatively small—about 1/10 the distance from the Earth to the Sun—and many thousands of light years away. Their relatively tiny sizes at immense distances make it impossible to image them with the best of NASA's billion-dollar telescopes.

What's observable are the spectra released by elements in the black hole's accretion disk, which then feeds material into the black hole. "There's lots of information in spectra. They can have many shapes," said NASA's Kallman. "Incandescent light bulb spectra are boring, they have peaks in the yellow part of their spectra. The black holes are more interesting, with bumps and wiggles in different parts of the spectra. If you can interpret those bumps and wiggles, you know how much gas, how hot, how ionized and to what extent, and how many different elements are present in the accretion disk."

Said Loisel: "If we could go to the black hole and take a scoop of the accretion disk and analyze it in the lab, that would be the most useful way to know what the is made of. But since we cannot do that, we try to provide tested data for astrophysical models."

While Loisel is ready to say R.I.P. to the Resonant Auger Destruction assumption, he still is aware the implications of higher black hole mass consumption, in this case of the absent iron, is only one of several possibilities.

"Another implication could be that lines from the highly charged iron ions are present, but the lines have been misidentified so far. This is because shift spectral lines tremendously due to the fact that photons have a hard time escaping the intense gravitation field," he said.

There are now models being constructed elsewhere for accretion-powered objects that don't employ the Resonant Auger Destruction approximation. "These models are necessarily complicated, and therefore it is even more important to test their assumptions with laboratory experiments," Loisel said.

Explore further: Hubble gazes into a black hole of puzzling lightness

More information: G. P. Loisel et al. Benchmark Experiment for Photoionized Plasma Emission from Accretion-Powered X-Ray Sources, Physical Review Letters (2017). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.119.075001

Related Stories

Hubble gazes into a black hole of puzzling lightness

January 13, 2017

The beautiful spiral galaxy visible in the center of the image is known as RX J1140.1+0307, a galaxy in the Virgo constellation imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and it presents an interesting puzzle. At first ...

Powerful jets from non-spinning black holes

November 18, 2015

A black hole is so simple (at least in traditional theories) that it can be completely described by just three parameters: its mass, its spin, and its electric charge. Even though it may have formed out of a complex mix of ...

How cold are black holes?

September 5, 2016

The very idea that a black hole could have a temperature strains the imagination. I mean, how can something that absorbs all the matter and energy that falls into it have a temperature? When you feel the warmth of a toasty ...

Recommended for you

Solar minimum surprisingly constant

November 17, 2017

Using more than a half-century of observations, Japanese astronomers have discovered that the microwaves coming from the sun at the minimums of the past five solar cycles have been the same each time, despite large differences ...

21 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Benni
1.4 / 5 (9) Aug 28, 2017
Note to Guillaume Loisel : Kindly tell us where in General Relativity are we to look for ANYTHING Einstein mentioned ANYTHING about Black Holes in accordance to your statement as I quoted it from the article & reproduced it immediately below.........Thanks, :-)

"Black holes were mentioned in Albert Einstein's general relativity theory a century ago but at first were considered a purely mathematical concept. Later, astronomers observed the altered movements of stars on gravitational tethers as they circled their black hole, or most recently, gravity-wave signals, also predicted by Einstein, from the collisions of those black holes." Guillaume Loisel

Benni
1.4 / 5 (9) Aug 28, 2017
@ SlartiBartfast...........why do you keep doing this? Just stop:

August 28, 2017, 8:23 pm 1 SlartiBartfast
Whydening Gyre
4.4 / 5 (7) Aug 28, 2017
Note to Guillaume Loisel : Kindly tell us where in General Relativity are we to look for ANYTHING Einstein mentioned ANYTHING about Black Holes in accordance to your statement as I quoted it from the article & reproduced it immediately below.........Thanks, :-)

"Black holes were mentioned in Albert Einstein's general relativity theory a century ago but at first were considered a purely mathematical concept. Later, astronomers observed the altered movements of stars on gravitational tethers as they circled their black hole, or most recently, gravity-wave signals, also predicted by Einstein, from the collisions of those black holes." Guillaume Loisel

This one is gettin pretty old and lame, too...
You need to get out more...
Benni
1.5 / 5 (8) Aug 28, 2017
Note to Guillaume Loisel : Kindly tell us where in General Relativity are we to look for ANYTHING Einstein mentioned ANYTHING about Black Holes in accordance to your statement as I quoted it from the article & reproduced it immediately below.........Thanks, :-)

"Black holes were mentioned in Albert Einstein's general relativity theory a century ago but at first were considered a purely mathematical concept. Later, astronomers observed the altered movements of stars on gravitational tethers as they circled their black hole, or most recently, gravity-wave signals, also predicted by Einstein, from the collisions of those black holes." Guillaume Loisel

This one is gettin pretty old and lame, too...
he needs to get out more...


Dead on the money right he needs to get out more.......he needs to get hold of a copy of GR & actually read it.......what do you think WhyGuy? Oh, I get it, you're the one who knows where in GR to find this? OK, put it up.
FM79
4.1 / 5 (9) Aug 29, 2017
Note to Guillaume Loisel : Kindly tell us where in General Relativity are we to look for ANYTHING Einstein mentioned ANYTHING about Black Holes in accordance to your statement as I quoted it from the article & reproduced it immediately below.........Thanks, :-)



Well then we should stop talking about "Newtonian Mechanics" except for the theories and ideas developed only by Newton...

Nowadays "Einstein's Relativity" is a term that encompasses further developments as well.
omatwankr
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 29, 2017
"If you can interpret those bumps and wiggles"

Cosmic Phrenology, cool
Ojorf
4.3 / 5 (12) Aug 29, 2017
Gee Benni, people have attempted, with great patience, to explain these things to you, more than once.
Their efforts have been wasted.

Really, it is getting old.
bschott
2.5 / 5 (8) Aug 29, 2017
So everyone wants to attack Benni because nobody can find anywhere black holes were mentioned by Einstein as part of his theory. Whyd got close when he showed where the article mentioned it I guess....
Are you guys really sad about the requirement for a "rework" of the theory or that this research basically shows the mainstream hasn't got a clue as to what actually happens in space?
"Black holes are where God divided by zero" - Einstein
How does Einstein represent God as a variable in GR?
"It is well known that the approximate method of integration of the gravitational equations of the general relativity theory leads to the existence of gravitational waves[2]."
Einsteins only direct quote about gravitational waves. He didn't even say he believed they existed, just that they are a product of the math....like most of what you guys believe.

Gee forum, reality has attempted, with great patience to demonstrate your fallacies, more than once. Really, it's getting old.

Benni
1.6 / 5 (7) Aug 29, 2017
Gee Benni, people have attempted, with great patience, to explain these things to you, more than once.
Their efforts have been wasted.

Really, it is getting old.


OK, your turn, quote the section of GR from which you claim Einstein made these statements?

Of course neophytes TRY to EXPLAIN these things to me, then when challenged to produce the relevant quotes from GR you come on here & start & embark on your your name calling rants.

Oh, and by the way, I should remind you that nothing Schwarzschild ever wrote about appears in GR, Einstein trashed that pile of silliness about those METRICS with this paper in 1939: "On Stationary Systems with Spherical Symmetry consisting of many Gravitating Masses" http://www.jstor..../1968902 .
bschott
2.7 / 5 (7) Aug 29, 2017
Geez Benni, that link shows Einstein politely trashing Schwarzchilds math based assumptions....weird. Gotta laugh when people claim someone said something they never did to back up their own flawed understanding. I guess when one of the variables of the equation describing your reality allows for 4/5 of the mass to be invisible gravity generators so that the rest of your equations of motion can be tweaked instead of tossed, you have to resort to claiming false support for it from dead people who definitely would have tossed the theory if this is what it said.
But then again, the same people believe we can view light that was generated 400,000 years after the beginning of the universe...given the epic fail nature of that assumption when it has very few variables to consider, it's easy to see why cloud confusion surrounds the more complex math...
cantdrive85
2.6 / 5 (10) Aug 29, 2017
"Our research suggests it will be necessary to rework many scientific papers published over the last 20 years,"

How can that be? They are PEER-REVIEWED scientific papers, they are full of facts and confirmed by a series of other plasma ignoramuses. How can twenty years of papers need to be "reworked"? Don't they know that once a peer-reviewed paper is produced it is now the absolute truth? Scientists are perfect and incapable of producing such errors.
Benni
1.5 / 5 (8) Aug 29, 2017
Nowadays "Einstein's Relativity" is a term that encompasses further developments as well.
.....you mean to include by inference things about which Einstein never wrote in GR, yet you make antithetical claims in light of his 1939 paper on "On Stationary Systems with Spherical Symmetry consisting of many Gravitating Masses" http://www.jstor..../1968902..

Get a "science life", it is a physical impossibility for a FINITE STELLAR MASS, to have INFINITE qualities of gravity & density. Einstein trashed that dumbass Scwarzschild Metric in his 1939 paper and in the process trashed your never ending Trekkie fantasies of time travel through wormholes, get used to it while you still have time, Schwarzschild didn't have time.

Benni
1.7 / 5 (6) Aug 29, 2017
"On Stationary Systems with Spherical Symmetry consisting of many Gravitating Masses"

The essential result of this investigation is a clear understanding as to why the "Schwarzschild singularities" do not exist in physical reality. Although the theory given here treats only clusters whose particles move along circular paths it does not seem to be subject to reasonable doubt that most general cases will have analogous results. The "Schwarzschild singularity" does not appear for the reason that matter cannot be concentrated arbitrarily. And this is due to the fact that otherwise the constituting particles would reach the velocity of light.

Answering the mathematical and physical significance of the Schwarzschild singularity. The problem quite naturally leads to the question, answered by this paper in the negative, as to whether physical models are capable of exhibiting such a singularity.

Hey, Guillaume Loisel, got your Einstein attention yet?

cantdrive85
2.5 / 5 (8) Aug 29, 2017
A long-standing but unproven assumption

This is the foundational tenet of theoretical astrophysics, the entire ediface of astrophysics is based on this single statement. Yet, the protectors of all things dark and hypothetical call all those who question this as being cranks. It is the apex of hypocracy.
Spaced out Engineer
1 / 5 (1) Aug 29, 2017
I would not throw singularities out so quickly. Compactified spaces product with other spaces leaving then compactified. In such and instance why would the universe not have already filled in all of Poincare recurrence? Possible answers could be there are singularities, the universe does not product and thus is not interesting, or there are compactified spaces in which this has already occurred dimensiality conditional. There is some truth in all approaches, even myth.
More to the article, neat how cosmological function and low dimensiality mirror. Of course a mathematic universe without priors could still unfold from one of these bad boys.
Spaced out Engineer
not rated yet Aug 29, 2017
*on mobile.
*them instead of then
*an instead of and
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Aug 29, 2017
I would not throw singularities out so quickly. Compactified spaces product with other spaces leaving then compactified. In such and instance why would the universe not have already filled in all of Poincare recurrence? Possible answers could be there are singularities, the universe does not product and thus is not interesting, or there are compactified spaces in which this has already occurred dimensiality conditional. There is some truth in all approaches, even myth.
More to the article, neat how cosmological function and low dimensiality mirror. Of course a mathematic universe without priors could still unfold from one of these bad boys.

Math is derived from reality, not the other way 'round...
Spaced out Engineer
1 / 5 (1) Aug 29, 2017
Surreal pilot wave interpretations(notice waveform) holographic interpretations, and ekpyrotic cosmology may disagree. A universe derived from nothing can happen in several ways. Positive pressure and negative pressure near missing. Some kind of apt 5d-bulk cooling of higher dimensional entities into our 3 space. Symmetry fracturing of a highly improbable configuration space of tangent bundles.
I agree that the data should inform the model, but theory will have its way, especially if it makes falsifiable predictions, but it seems the closed form of general relativity leaves us with a timeless interpretation riddled with blind spots thus far. I prefer the pinhole and applying the metaphor further.
Future instrumentalism may be conditional on the imposed assumed dimensiality on the substrates at hand. We are left to trust both and neither side of those who claim "the only game in town," if we are to throw out the completeness of the Hamiltonian. Consistency is not statistical.
Spaced out Engineer
not rated yet Aug 29, 2017
Where else do you go? An open distribution of indeterminacy admitting all models wrong? We know round pretty well. Now if the electron had to exhibit E8 or Anti-deSitter five is a whole other animal, of round(from what we can measure, but maybe not interpret from isolates :))
Do we just scrap it to mirroring the territory, or do we go completely psychotic and leave the map as more? Yet the informational content of those maps must fit somewhere, or we just broke the information density. Density is practically dogma, if there is to be a mechanics.
Da Schneib
4 / 5 (4) Aug 29, 2017
This is pretty definitive; I've never been comfortable with the hypothesis that conditions in the accretion disk would prevent iron from showing spectra. There's going to be some scrambling going on, I think.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Aug 29, 2017
Surreal pilot wave interpretations(notice waveform) holographic interpretations, and ekpyrotic cosmology may disagree. A universe derived from ... highly improbable configuration space of tangent bundles.
I agree that the data should inform the model, but theory will have its way, especially if it makes falsifiable predictions, but it seems the closed form of general relativity leaves us with a timeless interpretation riddled with blind spots thus far. I prefer the pinhole and applying the metaphor further.
Future instrumentalism may be conditional on the imposed assumed dimensiality on the substrates at hand. We are left to trust both and neither side of those who claim "the only game in town," if we are to throw out the completeness of the Hamiltonian. Consistency is not statistical.

You must live in a legal recreational marijuana state...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.