Black holes in fiction

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Simulated view of a black hole (center) in front of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Note the gravitational lensing effect, which produces two enlarged but highly distorted views of the Cloud. Across the top, the Milky Way disk appears distorted into an arc.

The study of black holes, gravitational sources so massive that even light cannot escape from them, goes back to the late 18th century. Major advances in understanding were made throughout the first half of the 20th century, with contributions from many prominent mathematical physicists, though the term black hole was only coined in 1964. With the development of general relativity other properties related to these entities came to be understood, and their features have been included in many notable works of fiction.[1]


Early works[edit]

Golden Age[edit]

In 1958, David Finkelstein identified the Schwarzschild surface of a black hole as an event horizon, extending the commonplace notion that objects beyond the Earth's horizon cannot be seen, calling it "a perfect unidirectional membrane: causal influences can cross it in only one direction."[13] This result helped usher in the golden age of general relativity, which was marked by general relativity and black holes becoming mainstream subjects of research. Science fiction stories written before this date (see Early works above) often portray one or two features of black holes accurately, but display a naive view of them overall. Later tales (below) tend to portray black holes in a fashion more thoroughly in accord with modern understanding, with the term black hole itself being introduced by John Wheeler in 1969 and adopted immediately and enthusiastically by science fiction writers.[14] In science fiction stories written up to this date (Early works), black holes are called by a variety of more or less suggestive names, including "black" and "hole" used in isolation; after 1969, almost all works use Wheeler's combined term "black hole."

In the stories that follow, a common plot device is that of the escaped black hole that oscillates back and forth through the core of an astronomical body and, most often, eventually consumes it: Mars in "The Hole Man" by Larry Niven (1973), an asteroid in "The Borderland of Sol" by Niven (1975), the Earth in Hyperion by Dan Simmons (1989), Earth by David Brin (1990) and The Krone Experiment by J. Craig Wheeler (1986), the Moon in "How We Lost the Moon, a True Story by Frank W. Allen" by Paul J. McAuley (1999), and the Earth once more in Olympos by Simmons (2005). Surprisingly, given the widely publicized 1975 publication by Stephen Hawking of the theory of quantum evaporation, few of the works incorporate this idea (notably Earth by David Brin (1990) and Olympos by Dan Simmons (2005)). While the rapid evaporation of the smallest quantum black holes does not rule out such a catastrophe, other physical aspects of the collapse scenario remain problematic.[note 3]

On the other hand, the allied notion of deploying quantum black holes that are so small as to be maneuverable for use as offensive weapons in crime or warfare (see "The Borderland of Sol" by Larry Niven (1975) and Chaos and Order: The Gap Into Madness (1994) by Stephen R. Donaldson) is dealt a real blow by their presumably brief lifetimes.


Prepared by NASA for a hypothetical neutron binary, this representation resembles (over an extended period and in two dimensions) a brief burst of gravity waves from a black hole as a massive space liner plunges into it.
Dr. Julian Forward feeds his black hole with the exhaust beam from an ion thruster in order to provide it with a positive electrostatic charge.[note 6]
The ergosphere of a rotating black hole accelerates objects within its envelope, extracting energy from the hole.
The Moon, in the last throes of its collapse into an interior black hole.


Film and television[edit]




See also[edit]

Black holes may be referred to as locations in space, in fiction. For a list containing many stars and their planetary systems that appear in fiction, see Stars and planetary systems in fiction.

External links[edit]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ The idea of a Black Sun has been variously exploited in the science fiction literature. In "To B or Not to C or to D" (1950), Jack Vance describes Noir, the dark companion star, as consisting of "dovetailed protons," a fair description of the outer core, or neutron-proton fermi liquid layer of a neutron star. In "Legends of Smith's Burst" (1959), Brian Aldiss' black sun is an antimatter star that radiates an all-enveloping darkness rather than simply enclosing it. In the present instance, Gregory Benford and possibly Arthur C. Clarke use the term to refer to a black hole. Finally, in Black Sun Rising (1991), C. S. Friedman uses her eponymous star as a parapsychic nexus that ensnares men's souls.
  2. ^ The Kyrie is a prayer of the Christian liturgy that includes in part Anderson's quoted lines Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Kyrie eleision ... "Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them. Lord have mercy ... ," an ironic prayer indeed in light of the story's denouement.
  3. ^ a b
    With an equatorial release, the singularity describes a free-falling hypotrochoid inside Mars, sweeping out a CD shaped great-circular slice.
    Niven makes his black hole massive enough to avoid near-term quantum evaporation—but he makes significant errors of classical physics in his description of the fate of the red planet. First, in stating that the singularity would "fall back and forth, through the center of the planet" the author neglects the initial horizontal velocity component lent the object by Mars' rotation. On its release from confinement the hole, meeting no resistance, would execute a two-dimensional simple harmonic oscillation (describing an ellipse, as correctly described by Charles Sheffield in his story "Killing Vector"[19]) inside the planet as Mars rotated freely around it. Treating the planet as a fixed frame of reference, the path of the black hole inside it would be a three-dimensional hypotrochoid analog that would in time densely trace a biconic spool-shaped solid (see hyperboloid of one sheet) bounded on the north and south by the release latitude L0 (the graphic shows the flat example with L0 = 0°).

    But would the singularity in fact meet no resistance to its buried trajectory? Remember that it leaves a path of tidal disruption in its train (We looked for, and found, a hole in the floor beneath the communicator. It was the size of a pencil lead, and packed with dust ... [the quantum black hole] pulverized the material of the floor.) It takes physical work to produce disintegration like that. Through steady energy loss to the destruction in its wake, the hole would follow a rapidly decaying underground orbit, and soon come to rest more or less harmlessly at the center of the planet.

  4. ^ Later in the story (pp 47; 70) Pournelle refers twice to the star as 81 Eridani, an apparent editorial error. In spite of majority rule, it is probable that he really meant the once-mentioned 82 Eridani, a well-known star 20 ly from the Earth, with an apparent magnitude of 4+ (and the subject of several other science fiction stories), rather than its Gould catalog predecessor 81 Eridani, a nondescript star about which little is known. In 2011, long after this story was written, three Super-Earths were confirmed in orbit around 82 Eridani (HD20794).[16]
  5. ^ For another quantum black hole discovered in an ancient precinct on the Red Planet, with quite a different outcome, see The Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett, above.
  6. ^ In actual ion thrusters, electrons are either injected or allowed to escape from the body of the engine into the positively charged ion thrust beam in order to neutralize it. This blocks the buildup of a negative charge on the spacecraft that would retard the flight of the positive ions in the exhaust, preventing the development of thrust. However, since Forward needed a beam of positive ions, he may have disabled the neutralizing feature and grounded his thruster to drain off its negative charge.
  7. ^ The Killing vector field, named after German mathematician Wilhelm Killing, is a vector function employed in the relativistic theory of black holes—and not normally an instrument of death, although Sheffield does make pivotal use in the story of the pun on the gerund "killing" with regard to Section Seven. Another possible pun on the title is the killing vector represented by Yifter's genocidal global dispersal of persistent hallucinogens into Earth's water supplies.
  8. ^ Benford here neglects the fact that, near the event horizon of a supermassive black hole, tidal forces are in fact rather weak.
  9. ^ a b For comparison, according to the Hawking radiation theory, a 1-second-lived black hole has a mass of 2.28×105 kg, equivalent to an energy of 2.05×1022 J that could be released by 5×106 megatons of TNT, and all its mass is converted to energy.


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  2. ^ Brackett, Leigh (2009). The Sword of Rhiannon. Redmond, WA: Paizo Publishing. ISBN 1-601-25152-1. 
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  27. ^ Thomas, Thomas (1986). The Doomsday Effect. New York: Baen Books. ISBN 0-671-65579-5. 
  28. ^ Simmons, Dan (1990). Hyperion. New York: Spectra. pp. 182–183. ISBN 0-553-28368-5. 
  29. ^ Benford, Gregory (1991). Beyond the Fall of Night. New York: Berkley Books. pp. 271; 305. ISBN 0-441-05612-1. 
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  32. ^ Donaldson, Stephen R (1995). Chaos and Order: The Gap Into Madness. New York: Spectra. p. 556. ISBN 0-553-57253-9. 
  33. ^ "How We Lost the Moon, a True Story by Frank W. Allen". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2013-01-10. 
  34. ^ Benford, Gregory (2001). Eater. New York: Harper Voyager. p. 160. ISBN 0-380-79056-4. 
  35. ^ Simmons, Dan (2006). Olympos. New York: Harper Voyager. p. 271. ISBN 0-380-81793-4. 
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