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New research shows that gravitational fields around black holes might eddy and swirl

Posted June 6, 2014
black hole
This artist’s concept depicts a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. The blue color here represents radiation pouring out from material very close to the black hole. The grayish structure surrounding the black hole, called a torus, is made up of gas and dust. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Fasten your seatbelts – gravity is about to get bumpy. Of course, if you’re flying in the vicinity of a black hole, a bit of extra bumpiness is the least of your worries. But it’s still surprising. The accepted wisdom among gravitational researchers has been that spacetime cannot become turbulent. New research from Perimeter, though, shows that the accepted wisdom might be wrong.


The researchers followed this line of thought: Gravity, it’s thought, can behave as a fluid. One of the characteristic behaviours of fluids is turbulence – that is, under certain conditions, they don’t move smoothly, but eddy and swirl. Can gravity do that too?

Perimeter Faculty member Luis Lehner explains why it might make sense to treat gravity as a fluid. “There’s a conjecture in physics – the holographic conjecture – which says gravity can be described as a field theory,” he says. “And we also know that at high energies, field theories can be described with the mathematical tools we use to describe fluids. So it’s a two-step dance: gravity equals field theory, and field theory equals fluids, so gravity equals fields equals fluids. That’s called the gravity/fluids duality.”

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