Are Black Hole Starships Possible?
Are starships powered by black holes possible? Lois Crane and Shawn Westmoreland of Kansas State University have written a paper that explores this topic. As it happens, so have a number of science fiction authors.
(Large Hadron Collider:
Note: Crane/Westmoreland concur with Clarke that
the mini black hole should be created in space)
Crane and Westmoreland provide the following criteria for a black hole useful for a spacecraft:
- has a long enough lifespan to be useful,
- is powerful enough to accelerate itself up to a reasonable fraction of the speed of light in a reasonable amount of time,
- is smal l enough that we can access the energy to make it,
- is large enough that we can focus the energy to make it,
- has mass comparable to a starship.
We find that a black hole with
a radius of a few attometers at least roughly meets the list of criteria... Such BHs would have mass of the order of 1,000,000 tonnes, and
lifetimes ranging from decades to centuries.
Black hole starships have been mentioned in science fiction novels for many years. In his 1978 Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel The Forever War, Joe Haldeman mentions the idea of a drive that uses black holes without detailing it.
A BH with a life span on the order of a century would emit enough energy
to accelerate itself to relativistic velocity in a period of decades. If we could let it get smaller and hotter before feeding matter into it, we could get a better performance.
A SBH with a radius of 0.9 attometers has a mass of about 606,000 tonnes
and a power output of about 160 petawatts. Over a period of only 20 days a
160 petawatt power source emits enough energy to accelerate 606,000 tonnes up to about 10% the speed of light.
The upshot is that SBHs with effective radii between roughly 1 and 6 at-
tometers could be adequate power sources for starship propulsion systems - if their power can be harnessed efficiently. The smaller the BH, the more powerful it is. However, one must either be able to arrive at one’s destination before the BH evaporates completely or one must be able to feed the BH in such a way as to prolong its life. In the most optimistic scenario, where one can feed the SBH very efficiently, one could have very capable manned starships driven by extremely powerful SBHs with radii smaller than our suggested range of 1 to 6 attometers.
In his 1983 novel Lifeprobe, Michael McCollum uses the idea of a nuclear fusion drive that makes use of an antimatter mini-black hole.
In a series of novels starting with the 1989 work The Founder, Christopher Rowley mentions a FTL propulsion method called the Fuhl drive. It uses miniature black holes trapped in a magnetic container, which are then spun together in patterns that drop the starship into and out of hyperspace.
The earliest use that I know of for this idea in sf is in Arthur C. Clarke's 1976 novel Imperial Earth:
"D'you see that pipe? said the engineer. "The small red one?... That's the main hydrogen feed.. All of a hundred grams a second. Say eight tons a day, under full thrust.":
They were now hovering beside a massive - yet still surprisingly small - cylinder that might have been the barrel of a twentieth-century naval gun. So this was the reaction chamber of the Drive...
Near the middle of the five-meter-long tube a small section of the casing had been removed, like the door of some miniature bank vault, and replaced by a crystal window... a microscope... was aimed into the interior of the drive unit.
Duncan floated to the eyepiece and fastened himself rather clumsily in place.
"Look at the crossover at the exact center," said his guide.
Duncan obeyed... then he realized that a tiny bulge was creeping along the hairline as he tracked the microscope. It was as if he was looking at the reticule through a sheet of glass with one minute bubble or imperfection in it.
[It's] like a pinhead-sized lens. Without the grid, you'd never see it."
"Pinhead-sized! That's an exaggeration if ever I heard one. The node's smaller than an atomic nucleus. You're not actually seeing it, of course - only the distortion it produces."
(Read more about Clarke's Asymptotic drive
I think science fiction fans with some math background would get a serious kick out of reading through Imperial Earth and then reading the Crane/Westmoreland paper. So, read Are Black Hole Starships Possible? via Universe Today.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/4/2009)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 8 )
Related News Stories -
Space-Based Solar Power Roundup
Who first thought about this concept?
'Aerogel' Sheets For Martian Gardens
'Sealed to the ground along all the sides, Honey, he growled...' - Raymond Z. Gallun, 1951.
Michelin Self-Sealing Tires On Ford's Explorer
'...a seal of compressed plastifoam to save the air.' - Jack Williamson, 1941.
Mining Of Golden Asteroid Foretold In 1898 Science Fiction
'This must be a golden planet—this little asteroid.' - Garrett P. Serviss, 1898.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
China Deploys Robot Traffic Police
'The robot came up smooth and fast as a rocket...'
Better Than Dune Chromoplastic? This Guy Might Have Done It
'But when Old Father Sun departs, the chromoplastic reverts to transparency in the dark.'
Gather, An AI Warehouse Inventory Drone Startup
'It extended three of its tiny arms sideways to lock onto the registration pins...'
China's Artificial Intelligence-Enhanced Education
'The grey gas not only cut off his vision, but also his other senses...'
Orbital Manufacturer 'Made in Space' Gets $73 Million NASA Contract
'Mass-produced in the orbiting factories...'
Soli Gesture Tech Will Be In Google Pixel 4
'I enjoy watching this way, but - He waved his hand and the circuit switched abruptly.'
Uber Eats Pairs Cars With Drones
Fresh grub? Let's hope they aren't delivering grubs.
Space-Based Solar Power Roundup
SF writers popularized and elaborated on this idea a generation before the first patents were filed.
Lost Language Meanings Found By Machine Learning
'The autopilot would need data before it could begin a translation...'
'Aerogel' Sheets For Martian Gardens
'Sealed to the ground along all the sides, Honey, he growled...'
France's 'Red Team' Of Science Fiction Authors
'They're the only experts we have.'
Dim The Sun With Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment
'Those twin volcanoes; d'ye see them, Mr. Renner?'
Mashambas Skyscraper Farm Design Wins
'...a towering eighty-story structure like the office In-and Out baskets stacked up to the sky.'
Self-Driving Tractors From China Plan Ahead
'Machines that seemingly with full consciousness walked out into the fields to do their daily work.'
Jet-Powered Hoverboard Works!
L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace!
Nobe 3-Wheel Electric Vehicle Parking Like I, Robot
Spidercar, Spidercar, does whatever a spidercar does.
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories