When entering a black hole, fasten your seat belt

Spacetime ripples generate turbulence, new study finds

Swirling fluids

BUCKLE UP  Gravity could cause turbulence, similar to the chaotic swirl of these fluids, on the approach to a black hole.

Scott Camazine/Science Source

As if someone falling into a black hole wouldn’t face enough problems, new research reveals that the approach could get bumpy.

Interacting ripples in spacetime can create turbulence in the vicinity of a black hole, scientists report in a paper to appear in an upcoming Physical Review Letters. Their study builds on previous research suggesting that gravity could imitate the flow of fluids in the vacuum of space.

Turbulence, the random, chaotic motion best known for jarring air travelers, is ubiquitous on Earth but always occurs in fluids such as air or water. Aaron Zimmerman from the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics in Toronto and colleagues wondered whether gravitational waves, ripples in spacetime generated under some conditions by massive objects such as black holes, could also generate chaotic motion. The researchers mathematically determined that if a black hole spins quickly enough, it could emit long-duration bursts of gravitational waves that run into each other and stir up turbulence. Future gravitational wave detectors may be able to identify signatures of this phenomenon, the researchers claim.

Zimmerman says he’s unsure whether a person would feel the turbulence. But he’s confident it would represent a minor inconvenience compared with imminent death by spaghettification (SN: 5/31/14, p. 16) inside the black hole.

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