First-of-its-kind ‘quantum tornado’ achieves unprecedented black hole mimicry: ScienceAlert

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A controlled superfluid vortex in a laboratory is helping physicists learn more about the behavior of black holes.

A swirl generated with helium cooled to just a fraction above absolute zero mimics the gravitational environment of these objects. with such high precision that it offers an unprecedented view of how they drag and warp the space-time around them.

“The use of superfluid helium has allowed us to study small surface waves in greater detail and precision than with our previous experiments in water.” explains physicist Patrik Švančara from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, who led the research.

“As the viscosity of superfluid helium is extremely small, we were able to meticulously investigate its interaction with the superfluid tornado and compare the findings with our own theoretical projections.”

black holes They are probably the strangest and most extreme objects in a whole Universe of very strange things. They are also notoriously difficult to study. They It does not emit any radiation that we can detect; can They only see the light of the space immediately surrounding them.. But we have some very good theoretical studies that can describe the observed behavior quite accurately.

One way to learn more about them is by creating black hole analogues. These are experiments that can recreate the black hole theory elucidate other aspects of your behavior. One type of black hole analogue is a vortex or whirlpool.

Any material that gets close enough to a black hole begins to spin around it and then falls onto it, like water swirling and gurgling down a drain.

This comparison is so apt that scientists have even They built water vortices to study the behavior of black holes.. However, Švančara and his colleagues wanted to go one step further, with superfluid helium.

This is an isotope of helium (helium-4) that has cooled to -271 degrees Celsius (-456 Fahrenheit), just slightly above. Absolute zero. At this extremely cold temperature, the bosons in helium-4 they slow down enough to overlap and behave like a superatom: a fluid with zero viscosity or superfluid.

The team’s experiment, with a vortex spinning around the superfluid helium. (Leonardo Solidoro)

The team took advantage of the unusual quantum properties of superfluid helium-4 to generate a kind of “quantum tornado.”

“Superfluid helium contains tiny objects called quantum vortices, which tend to separate from each other,” Švančara says. “In our setup, we have managed to confine tens of thousands of these quanta in a compact object that resembles a small tornado, achieving a vortex flow with record strength in the realm of quantum fluids.”

By studying this tornado, researchers were able to identify similarities between the vortex’s flow and the influence of a rotating black hole on the curved spacetime around it. In particular, the researchers observed standing waves analogous to those of a black hole. linked statesand excitations analogous to those Ringdown of a newly formed black hole.

And this is just the beginning. Now that the researchers have shown that their experiment works as intended, the vortex is poised to unlock a new area of ​​black hole science.

“When we first observed clear signatures of black hole physics in our initial research analog experiment back in 2017“It was a defining moment in understanding some of the strange phenomena that are often difficult, if not impossible, to study any other way,” says physicist Silke Weinfurtner from the University of Nottingham.

“Now, with our most sophisticated experiment, we have taken this research to the next level, which could eventually lead us to predict how quantum fields behave in curved spacetime around astrophysical black holes.”

The research has been published in Nature.

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