Satellites glimpse ultra-powerful “black hole” whirlpools in Atlantic

beb152ec-9861-47c6-ab42-32332b58d068_whirlpool2By Chris Hal

Satellites have shown two mysterious ‘black hole’ whirlpools in the South Atlantic ocean – ultra powerful “vortexes” which suck water down into the depths.

The whirpools – never witnessed before – would suck down ships, debris and even living creatures, moving 1.3 million cubic metres of water per second.

Two of the black holes – or “maelstroms” – have been sighted in three months by physicists from Zurich and Miami.

The powerful vortices of current have been described as ‘maelstroms’ and are ‘mathematical analogues’ for black holes – which is to say they do exactly the same with water that black holes do with light.

The discovery could give new insights into how oceanic currents transport debris and may even have implications for climate change studies.

Astronomical black holes bend space and time into a perpetually collapsing vortex. Light itself bends around them, which enables astronomers to recognise their existence.

Similarly, these oceanic maelstroms funnel current into an almost permanent spiral, trapping debris, oil and potentially living creatures in a body of water. Hardly anything leaks out.

The scientists used Edgar Allen Poe’s 1841 story ‘A descent into a Maelstrom’ to describe their discovery:

“The 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…”

The ability to apply the same mathematical principles to water currents on earth as black holes in space is an unexpected side-effect of the theory of general relativity.

This phenomenon has been observed in the South Atlantic and South-western Indian Ocean, using satellite imagery designed to spot the aquatic equivalent of black hole currents. According to scientists, the maelstroms are prevalent in this area thanks to the southbound Agulhas current in the Indian Ocean.

In a three-month period, two perfect matches were found to mimic black hole behaviour, “We have found exceptionally coherent material belts in the South Atlantic, filled with analogues of photon spheres around black holes,” said George Haller, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich and Francisco Beron-Vera at the University of Miami in Florida, who worked on the study.

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