Fluid systems can sometimes serve as analogs for other physical phenomena. For example, bouncing droplets can recreate quantum effects and a hydraulic jump can act like a white hole. In this work, a bathtub vortex serves as an analog for a rotating black hole, a system that’s extremely difficult to study under normal circumstances. In theory, the property of superradiance makes it possible for gravitational waves to extract energy from a rotating black hole, but this has not yet been observed. A recent study has, however, observed superradiance for the first time in this fluid analog.
To do this, the researchers set up a vortex draining in the center of a tank. (Water was added back at the edges to keep the depth constant.) This served as their rotating black hole. Then they generated waves from one side of the tank and observed how those waves scattered off the vortex. The pattern you see on the water surface in the top image is part of a technique used to measure the 3D surface of the water in detail, which allowed the researchers to measure incoming and scattered waves around the vortex. For superradiance to occur, scattered waves had to be more energetic after interacting with the vortex than they were before, which is exactly what the researchers found. Now that they’ve observed superradiance in the laboratory, scientists hope to probe the process in greater detail, which will hopefully help them observe it in nature as well. For more on the experimental set-up, see Sixty Symbols, Tech Insider UK, and the original paper. (Image credit: Sixty Symbols, source; research credit: T. Torres et al., pdf; via Tech Insider UK)