Black holes are a tear in the fabric of space-time from which nothing escapes, not even light. They take on a mythic significance in popular culture as portals to alternate dimensions or grave threats to space travel. Astronomers are certain they exist out there in the universe, formed by the collapse of dead stars.
Now, physicists have found mathematical analogs to black holes here on Earth, specifically in the southern Atlantic Ocean where eddies whirl about. The work was posted to arXiv and reported first by the The Physics arXiv Blog.
The scientists describe the eddies using Edgar Allan Poeâ€™s â€œA Descent into the MaelstrÃ¶mâ€:
â€œThe edge of the whirl was represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray; but no particle of this slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel. . .â€
Thatâ€™s exactly how eddies look, the study says. A belt of spray encircles the whirlpool but the liquid does not fall in.
Similarly, black holes in space are encircled by photon (light) spheres, a region where the gravity is so strong (because of the density of the black hole) that it causes light to travel in an orbit. And there the photons remain, in precarious balance, neither falling into the hole or escaping. Thatâ€™s similar to Poeâ€™s description of the belt of spray around the MaelstrÃ¶m.