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In popular culture, a black hole is always a destroyer. It pulls apart stars and planets and gobbles up the pieces. And that certainly does happen. In fact, astronomers watched a black hole destroy a star as big as the Sun early last year.
Yet it might be possible to put black holes to work for less-destructive purposes. They might be used as massive power generators. They could produce enough energy to power an entire civilization.
A spinning black hole drags the space around it like water spinning around a drain. This creates a powerful magnetic field. And that’s where an advanced civilization might extract energy.
In one scenario, a large ring would be built around the black hole, aligned with its poles. Superconducting coils around the black hole’s equator would convert the magnetic energy to electrical current that would flow to the polar ring.
In another scenario, a spaceship would fly into the swirl of spacetime around the black hole and split apart. Half of the ship would fall into the black hole. But the other half would be thrown back into space. The escaping half would carry out much more energy than the whole spacecraft carried in.
“Stealing” this rotational energy would cause the black hole to slow down just a bit. Present-day spacecraft use a similar technique. They steal energy from a planet, getting a “kick” toward more-distant targets.
So black holes could be put to work — powering an entire civilization.
Script by Damond Benningfield