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The Question

(Submitted September 30, 1996)

We are a research team interested in using black holes as a source of power. If you could send us any info on this subject it would be greatly appreciated.

The Answer

Black holes are like 40 ton gorillas, they sit wherever they want to. And that will be a major problem with using them as a source of power. How do you get one to where you can use it, and how would you keep it there once you have it. Black holes are sources of extreme amounts of energy and are responsible for some of the most luminous objects in our Universe (AGN, etc.) as well as some pretty hefty beasts in our own Galaxy. If you haven't already, you can read about them in Imagine the Universe! The article on black holes also suggests several books to read on the subject.

While most of what has been written about deriving useful energy from black holes is in science fiction, here are a few good references. One way of extracting energy from a black hole is known as the Penrose process. The energy comes from reducing the angular momentum of a black hole (or any massive body). A popular-level description is given in Nigel Calder's "Einstein's Universe" in the "Ultimate Waterfall" chapter and a graduate-level description is given in Bernard Schutz' "A First Course in General Relativity", pg 304-305. The Hawking process also results in a "free" energy source since the black hole is "evaporating" quantum mechanically, with photons carrying away energy (also discussed in Schutz' book).

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