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Brandon M Johnson
11-23-2013, 02:43 AM
I've been doing some research on this (including reading the report from that guy from Kansas University), but I was wondering if there's anyone here who happens to know a lot about black holes.

Specifically, I'm writing a science fiction novel that's really more character-driven. Still, it's "hard SF" in the sense that everything sounds plausible. With that in mind, could an extremely small black hole be created to power a small starship about the size of a fighter jet?

(Incidentally, these starships need to be able to go to and from the surface of Earth to space, but I'm not looking for colony ships.)

Right now, my starships are powered by something vaguely defined as a "micro-nuclear reactor", but I like the idea of having them black-hole powered. It seems plausible to have larger space stations running on black-hole energy, but should the smaller ones (which are basically futuristic fighter jets) be powered by black hole as well?

If so:

How would these be created? (Laser or super-collider?)

What would happen if the starship was hit with a missile? (Would a black hole engulf the starship and the starfighter within, which I think would be cool, or would they just explode?)

I'll keep researching this. Thanks for the help.

ZachJPayne
11-23-2013, 03:11 AM
Funny you should mention this idea! I was just watching a serial of the Sarah Jane Adventures last night that featured a ship that uses a black hole for power (3.04, 'The Mad Woman in the Attic pt. 2').

I know almost nothing of the science behind it, or if it's even feasible, but I just wanted to point you toward that. It might be a direction to focus on. Sorry I couldn't be of more help!

RichardGarfinkle
11-23-2013, 03:13 AM
I've written an SF book with a black hole powered ship. I've also co written a science popularization covering black holes.

There is a way to harvest energy from large black holes detailed in
Robert Wald's book on Relativity. There's also a theoretical way to create a small black hole and have it give up all its energy at once.
http://www.universetoday.com/45571/black-hole-drive-could-power-future-starships/

But note that the small black hole is still around 1,000,000 metric tons of mass.

Neither of these methods sound right for what you're after.

Drachen Jager
11-23-2013, 03:19 AM
Here are a couple of good hard science articles on FTL.

The second mentions black holes, but only as a wormhole gate, not something a ship would keep on board.

IMO the biggest problem with a black hole carried aboard ship as you suggest is they're so massive. What you're proposing seems to essentially be like theorizing a man could run faster than the speed of sound if only you loaded him down with a few thousand tons of lead.

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/technology/warp/warpstat.html

http://mkaku.org/home/?page_id=250

Shadow_Ferret
11-23-2013, 03:22 AM
I'd be curious how you could contain and control a black hole so it simply wouldn't just crush the ship, imploding it into the black star's gravity.

Guess i"ll have to read Richard's link when I have time to get the answer.

King Neptune
11-23-2013, 03:43 AM
I can't give any hints as to how one might use blacj holes to power a ship, but I have had trouble suspending disbelief that few times when I have run across that. I just can't see any reasonable way that one might manipulate them, and as others have mentioned that mass is huge. The only time when it was at all plausible was in Robert Forward's Dragon's Egg and/ or Starquake, but the characters that used them weren't human and had certain innate characteristics that helped.

RichardGarfinkle
11-23-2013, 03:43 AM
I'd be curious how you could contain and control a black hole so it simply wouldn't just crush the ship, imploding it into the black star's gravity.

Guess i"ll have to read Richard's link when I have time to get the answer.

The link is to a process that doesn't maintain the black hole.

For my book, I used a dispersed structure ship that consisted of multiple components in far orbit around the black hole. Move the hole, move the ship.

robjvargas
11-23-2013, 03:57 AM
The link is to a process that doesn't maintain the black hole.

For my book, I used a dispersed structure ship that consisted of multiple components in far orbit around the black hole. Move the hole, move the ship.

Not distributed, but that's what Alan Dean Foster described in his Flinx & Pip series of novels. Humanx Commonwealth, I believed the series was called.

Brandon M Johnson
11-23-2013, 04:22 AM
One minor correction: my book is probably more "medium SF" than hard SF; it's plausible, but there are a couple of points that delve into more theoretical branches of science.

I'm actually fine with the main starships running on some other power (need to figure out what) but now I'm wondering if I can't have a space station powered by a black hole. The principle would be the same, but the station would be MUCH larger.

The thing I understand least about the process is the size of a black hole. I know one of the articles I've read (might have been Richard's link, which is very interesting read, BTW) seemed to think this would work on a generational starship, so I don't see why a large space station couldn't be powered by one. Keep in mind I don't necessarily need it to go fast. I need the space station to launch into space and... well, for plot reasons, it can pretty much be unmoving for the rest of the novel, though I'd like it to be able to control its movement around Earth.

As for my starships, I just need them to be able to fly from Earth to space and back to Earth, and I have a larger starship that transports them from Earth to Mars quickly. (I'm thinking a few minutes to an hour, but I can tweak that.)

Tomorrow I'll be looking into nuclear power some more. Thanks for the links, I'll definitely be checking them out in more details tomorrow.

wendymarlowe
11-23-2013, 08:02 AM
The problem with something like this is you'd have to come up with a plausible explanation which sounds reasonable to laypeople AND to science geeks, AND doesn't take pages and pages of explanation, AND which fits in with the plot restrictions of your story. I think it would take some wrangling to get from "black hole" (something we usually think of as huge, uncontrollable, and taking in energy) to "power source" (tightly controlled energy producer) without boring your audience.

My recommendation would be to make up something based on a harder-to-visualize field of science (string theory, quarks, antimatter, whatever) and do some blatant hand-waving. Then you can give a simplistic explanation ("the drive aligns the strings so they're all going in the same direction and you just slide through space!") and you don't have to go into tons of detail.

benbradley
11-23-2013, 10:03 AM
...
As for my starships, I just need them to be able to fly from Earth to space and back to Earth, and I have a larger starship that transports them from Earth to Mars quickly. (I'm thinking a few minutes to an hour, but I can tweak that.)

Tomorrow I'll be looking into nuclear power some more. Thanks for the links, I'll definitely be checking them out in more details tomorrow.
"A few minutes to an hour" to Mars is approaching or exceeding lightspeed, and even when it's below, the acceleration and decelleration needed to get there in such short times is much more than enough to squash people flat and dead. I think a reasonable time at 1g (where a person is comfortable in Earth gravity) is days between Earth and Mars.

The problem with something like this is you'd have to come up with a plausible explanation which sounds reasonable to laypeople AND to science geeks, AND doesn't take pages and pages of explanation, AND which fits in with the plot restrictions of your story. I think it would take some wrangling to get from "black hole" (something we usually think of as huge, uncontrollable, and taking in energy) to "power source" (tightly controlled energy producer) without boring your audience.

My recommendation would be to make up something based on a harder-to-visualize field of science (string theory, quarks, antimatter, whatever) and do some blatant hand-waving. Then you can give a simplistic explanation ("the drive aligns the strings so they're all going in the same direction and you just slide through space!") and you don't have to go into tons of detail.
I have it. The ships and space station are all powered by devices that suck power out of the zero-point energy, the quantum fluctuations in the vacuum of space. I find this more believable than controlling black holes, even though Larry Niven wrote about them in such classics as "The Hole Man."

Brandon M Johnson
11-23-2013, 07:14 PM
Thanks for the Mars tip, benbradley. I might just make the trip to Mars longer; in retrospect, they don't need to get there instantly, because they only go there twice.

wendywarlowe, that's pretty much what I'm trying to do now, but I don't think I'm doing it right. I think I'm going to try something with ion propulsion and say something like, "in the late twenty-first century, scientists made great strides in creating a more compact, powerful ion drive..." Then, there would be like three sentences about an ion drive and my MC would get bored. (Luckily, none of my characters are scientists, so I have an excuse for not going that in-depth.)

Shadow_ferret, I'm curious too. The researchers at Kansas laid everything out but how they contain it. In case you didn't get to the article, they propose using a massive solar panel in space to power a laser to create a black hole (admittedly, that part sounds kind of crazy) and then, in the words of the article (see Richard's link):

"...the black hole would be placed at the center of a parabolic electron-gas mirror that would reflect all the energy radiated from the black hole out the back of the ship, propelling the ship forward. Particle beams attached to the ship behind the black hole would be used to simultaneously feed the black hole and propel it along with the ship."

My understanding is that they are referring to hawking radiation, which was my original concept. They are also referring to a very small black hole, though it would still be a mass of a million metric tons. Unfortunately, I still don't know how they propose to move it. King Neptune's point about creatures with innate abilities actually gave me an idea. I have one starship that's far more advanced than the others and it would actually make sense for that one to have a sort of vaguely defined "psychic energy" holding the black hole in place. (Trust me, this would make sense in context.)

Dragen Jager, thanks for the links. The second one is really cool and the bit about wormholes does apply to another part of my novel.


I have it. The ships and space station are all powered by devices that suck power out of the zero-point energy, the quantum fluctuations in the vacuum of space.

I'll definitely look into that next, along with ion propulsion. (I'm thinking of a craft with both an ion drive for space and normal thrusters for Earth, but I'm still working on that concept.)

Thanks for the help everyone, I'll let you know if I find anything else interesting.

ironmikezero
11-23-2013, 08:35 PM
Black Hole power source? Not only is it feasible, but it's been done... theoretically, of course. That's how the TARDIS is powered. May I suggest, for your edification and entertainment the enlightening lecture delivered by esteemed British physicist Brian Cox (courtesy of the BBC).

http://www.bbcamerica.com/doctor-who/videos/the-science-of-doctor-who-with-brian-cox/

Enjoy...

Brandon M Johnson
11-23-2013, 09:34 PM
This is turning out to be a bit more complicated than I was hoping for, but I think I have an explanation that at least sounds plausible. For all this research, I'll ultimately gloss over all this in a paragraph or two.

My fighter starships (think of them as large fighter jets that can also go into space; they're not techincally interstellar starships and they're not FTL) will be powered by an electrostatic ion thruster that receives additional power from a micro-nuclear thermal reactor. The conceit is that in the future, scientists will make as-of-yet unheard of breakthroughs in miniaturization, allowing for the creation of a nuclear reactor small enough to provide the necessary energy to run the ion thruster.

These ion engines will utilize Xenon, but I may imply that new methods have been developed to make the Xenon more efficient. This method will also increase the life of the "Ion Drive" to roughly thirty years. In addition, the starships will have a "Surface Drive", which will be a jet engine for use on Earth. That means that the starships will need to refuel occasionally.

The starships will be based on my large space station, which is almost a giant starship in its own right. This will be powered by either an antimatter or zero-point energy core. The running joke will be that no one on the space station actually understands how it works, which will make it slightly satirical. (No one understands exactly how the station is powered and they don't care.) It makes sense in context, because the people on this space station didn't build it. I was also thinking that the space station would "recharge" the starships or power them via laser (like a lightcraft), but I might just leave that out.

My large starships, which, for reasons that make sense once revealed, is far more advanced than everything else, will be powered by a black hole. The black hole rests in the middle and provides Hawking radiation that powers everything else. The black hole is contained in a "psychic chamber", which is made up of a sort of bio-organic material that, while not sentient, is, in a way, alive. This material emits powerful psychic energy that holds the black hole in place and prevents it from enveloping everything. The black hole will be small, created by means that I have yet to work out. (I originally wanted a capsule-like bomb, but I'm thinking I could make a laser device work.)

Finally, I will have a transport starship designed to ferry the smaller starships from Earth to Mars over the course of a few days. This starship will also use Ion Drive, but it'll also utilize nuclear explosions for faster propulsion. This will not be energy efficient in the slightest, but that's okay for my novel.

I think that about covers it. Character and plot is more important to me than the exact science, and I also believe that scientific advances will take us to places we can never dream of, so I'm not too concerned with including some theoretical science in my novel.

Thanks for the help everyone, and if you see anything that seems really wrong with my theories above, please let me know.

Anaximander
11-25-2013, 01:45 PM
There was a great little paper on this a while back... and apparently I bookmarked it! Here you go! (http://arxiv.org/abs/0908.1803)

The basic principle is that you put a miniature black hole in a big reflector, like the bulb in a torch. The Hawking radiation streaming off the event horizon is redirected into a parallel beam behind the ship, giving you thrust. Now, you can't mount the black hole on anything because it'd eat the material, so instead you put a ring of particle accelerators somewhere in there, firing back up the mouth of the reflector at the black hole. This has two effects - first, you push the black hole along with you, and second, you feed the black hole so it doesn't evaporate away until you're done with it. It also means you can use pretty much any mass as fuel - just vaporise and feed into your mass accelerators. You can throttle it by controlling movable sections of reflector that alter how spread the beam is, and by splaying the beam out you can produce zero or even a little reverse thrust.

As well as being a very good engine, this also gives nice plot potential. First up, it's squarely in the realm of the Kzinti Lesson (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WeaponizedExhaust) as coined by Larry Niven - "A reaction drive's efficiency as a weapon is in direct proportion to its efficiency as a drive." Not only does this engine use a cocktail of particle radiation as propellant, there's also the matter of what happens when you want to turn it off. Simply put, you stop feeding it with mass. What happens is that a) you accelerate gently away from the black hole because you're not pushing it along, and b) the black hole eventually bleeds enough mass into radiation to drop below the threshold for remaining a black hole... and explodes. Violently. Mostly into gamma rays, although there would be a bunch of other stuff in there. This could theoretically sterilise a couple of planets, so you'd want to either deposit your black hole into some sort of receptacle that could keep it fed on solar wind and solar-powered lasers, or just plan your trip so that you have something big between you and the black hole when it goes pop. What you could do is accelerate halfway to your destination, flip over, slow down for the second half (engine pointed ahead of you, being careful not to point that radiation beam at the people you're going to visit) and then when you turn off the accelerators the black hole will end up going faster than you, so if you do it right, it'd be fast enough to escape the system and come out the other side, but you'd be slow enough to drop into a wide orbit and come back around to hide behind the sun.

As well as the big explosion at the end, there's also the potential for hiccups with those accelerators - if one goes offline, or starts producing a different amount of force on the black hole (differing quantity or velocity of particles), or is even not aimed quite right, then the black hole will drift toward the fabric of your ship. Similarly, you'd have to alter the force produced by the accelerators when you steered, or the black hole might drift to one side. It's worth noting that it'd make most sense to design your ship with the black hole at its centre of mass, so you rotate around it. Imagine a shuttlecock, perhaps with a ring around it somewhere partway down to provide more space to live in.

Brandon M Johnson
11-26-2013, 12:24 AM
I definetely need to see if I can use of the stuff Anaximander is talking about in my novel. Since my starships are mostly for interplanetary travel, it might take some maneuvering, but I think I can include something like this.

As a matter of fact, with some plot tweaks I could even use something like this for my space stations\large starships. Big thanks for this info.

blacbird
11-26-2013, 10:05 AM
Black holes suck.

caw

Once!
11-26-2013, 12:00 PM
My car works by exploding the liquified and processed remains of fossilised dinosaur fish. Apparently. All I know is that I stick my right foot down to go faster and my left foot down to stop.

Would your fighter jet pilots know or care how their spacecraft worked?

For that matter, would your spaceships be fighter jet sized and shaped? I know that Star Wars borrowed heavily from WW2 airplane imagery which in turn influences how we think, but in space would it really be so important to make a craft that was (a) streamlined and (b) small?

For that matter, how did Luke go to the toilet or avoid DVT on the journey to Degobah in an X-wing?

One odd thought. The time taken to travel between two points might not be a linear relationship to the distance involved. That trip to Mars might take longer than you expect because of the need to spend time accelerating and decelerating without crushing your occupants. By contrast, a longer journey would involve less time in the acceleration and deceleration as a proportion of the journey as a whole.

Brandon M Johnson
11-26-2013, 11:01 PM
Would your fighter jet pilots know or care how their spacecraft worked?

For that matter, would your spaceships be fighter jet sized and shaped? I know that Star Wars borrowed heavily from WW2 airplane imagery which in turn influences how we think, but in space would it really be so important to make a craft that was (a) streamlined and (b) small?

I'm definitely going to use the fact that my pilots don't know or care how their spacecraft work to gloss over some things, but even if it's three throwaway lines, I don't want them to be completely wrong.

As for the fighter jet size, some of my craft fight both in space and on the surface of planets, so they're hybrids. Technically, they're not even starships, they're more interplanetary spacecraft, but people in my novel erroneously call them starships because that's the popular term.

oakbark
11-26-2013, 11:58 PM
I suggest you don't explain it.

The narrator would probably never undertsand the science ;) Neither would the pilot, nor the antagonist.

"The singularity that drove the engines..."

Done.