I’m Jane, and it has been 5 months since my last drunk Amazon purchase. I remember waking up one April morning to the sound of my buzzer and stumbling, still half-asleep, to the intercom to let the USPS guy into my building. 5 flights later (for him) I had a heavy package in my hands, and I hadn’t the faintest idea what was inside. I tore open the package and found this enormous book:
I’d really done it this time. The thing is, my sober self likes to put great books on my Amazon wish list and my drunk self likes to execute the one click that will buy them all. Half of me hates this habit; the other half loves it.
This preamble is, to be honest, completely beside the point of this post. Today I came across this Q&A with Space.com from last week in which Kip Thorne (author of the above book, in case you didn’t notice) talks about a few of my favorite things: black holes.
To give some background, Kip Thorne is one of the country’s leading theoretical physicists, and he has made major contributors to the fields of astrophysics and gravitation. He’s also among the handful of people who understand Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
These are my favorite questions and answers from the Q&A:
SPACE.com: What happens to space-time when two black holes collide?
Thorne: Each black hole spins on its axis like the Earth spins. That spin creates two vortexes of twisting space, somewhat like vortexes in a bathtub or a whirlpool. There’s one vortex of twisting space that sticks out of the north pole of the black hole, and one vortex that sticks out of the south pole. That’s one aspect of a black hole’s warped space-time. There are others, but let’s just talk about that one.
When two black holes orbit around each other and collide and merge, those vortexes then start sweeping around and around the merged black holes. They get deposited onto the surface, what we call the horizon, of the merged black holes, so you now have four of these vortexes on the horizon. And as the black hole turns, these vortexes sweep back like the spiral arms of a galaxy, or like water from a whirling sprinkler; they reach outward and backwards and they become these gravitational waves.
SPACE.com: When people talk about black holes, they talk about singularities at their centers. Is a singularity really a spot of infinite density and zero volume?
Thorne: That’s one way to describe it, but the singularity, like the black hole itself, we believe is quite rich in its structure.
As you near the singularity, we expect that it stretches and squeezes you in a chaotic way that ultimately kills you and destroys the matter of which you’re made. And when you get right to the singularity itself, the laws of physics as we know them break down and the laws of quantum gravity take hold. Since we don’t understand those laws very well yet, we can’t say what the nature of the very core of the singularity is.
You can read the entire Q&A here. Great questions and great answers!