It seems like scientists are learning more new things about black holes every month — if not faster. That’s included recent insights on what these all-devouring celestial bodies sound like — something that’s likely to inspire the more cosmically-minded among the doom metal set, among many others. The latest breakthrough in understanding black holes comes from something not generally associated with ambitious scientific research — the humble bathtub.
Or, in this case, a not-so-humble bathtub. If you’re familiar with a (possibly apocryphal) declaration made by Archimedes — the ancient thinker referenced most recently in the film Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny — you’ll know that bathtubs and science have a closer connection than one might initially suspect. And yes, this includes learning new things about black holes.
At The Guardian, Hannah Devlin spoke with Silke Weinfurtner, the professor heading a research effort into black holes at the University of Nottingham. Weinfurtner and her colleagues work with what Devlin describes as “a large, hi-tech bathtub,” which has the effect of both revealing new properties of black holes and demystifying them for a wider audience.
“[I]t helps to remind yourself, ‘Wait a second, it happens in my bathtub. Maybe it’s not so strange after all,’” Professor Weinfurtner told The Guardian.
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As Devlin explains, the scientists are looking for parallels between the way fluid goes down a drain and the way space and time bend near a black hole. In this case, the fluid in question is highly cooled helium — but parts of the experiment will be familiar to anyone who’s stared at water circling a drain. It’s a striking combination of the mundane and the high-tech — and it might just improve humanity’s knowledge of the cosmos.
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