Black Hole Analogue: Extreme Blue Shift Disturbance. Thought of the Day 141.0

One major contribution of the theoretical study of black hole analogues has been to help clarify the derivation of the Hawking effect, which leads to a study of Hawking radiation in a more general context, one that involves, among other features, two horizons. There is an apparent contradiction in Hawking’s semiclassical derivation of black hole evaporation, in that the radiated fields undergo arbitrarily large blue-shifting in the calculation, thus acquiring arbitrarily large masses, which contravenes the underlying assumption that the gravitational effects of the quantum fields may be ignored. This is known as the trans-Planckian problem. A similar issue arises in condensed matter analogues such as the sonic black hole.


Sonic horizons in a moving fluid, in which the speed of sound is 1. The velocity profile of the fluid, v(z), attains the value −1 at two values of z; these are horizons for sound waves that are right-moving with respect to the fluid. At the right-hand horizon right-moving waves are trapped, with waves just to the left of the horizon being swept into the supersonic flow region v < −1; no sound can emerge from this region through the horizon, so it is reminiscent of a black hole. At the left-hand horizon right-moving waves become frozen and cannot enter the supersonic flow region; this is reminiscent of a white hole.

Considering the sonic horizons in one-dimensional fluid flow, the velocity profile of the fluid as depicted in the figure above, the two horizons are formed for sound waves that propagate to the right with respect to the fluid. The horizon on the right of the supersonic flow region v < −1 behaves like a black hole horizon for right-moving waves, while the horizon on the left of the supersonic flow region behaves like a white hole horizon for these waves. In such a system, the equation for a small perturbation φ of the velocity potential is

(∂t + ∂zv)(∂t + v∂z)φ − ∂z2φ = 0 —– (1)

In terms of a new coordinate τ defined by

dτ := dt + v/(1 – v2) dz

(1) is the equation φ = 0 of a scalar field in the black-hole-type metric

ds2 = (1 – v2)dτ2 – dz2/(1 – v2)

Each horizon will produce a thermal spectrum of phonons with a temperature determined by the quantity that corresponds to the surface gravity at the horizon, namely the absolute value of the slope of the velocity profile:

kBT = ħα/2π, α := |dv/dz|v=-1 —– (2)


Hawking phonons in the fluid flow: Real phonons have positive frequency in the fluid-element frame and for right-moving phonons this frequency (ω − vk) is ω/(1 + v) = k. Thus in the subsonic-flow regions ω (conserved 1 + v for each ray) is positive, whereas in the supersonic-flow region it is negative; k is positive for all real phonons. The frequency in the fluid-element frame diverges at the horizons – the trans-Planckian problem.

The trajectories of the created phonons are formally deduced from the dispersion relation of the sound equation (1). Geometrical acoustics applied to (1) gives the dispersion relation

ω − vk = ±k —– (3)

and the Hamiltonians

dz/dt = ∂ω/∂k = v ± 1 —– (4)

dk/dt = -∂ω/∂z = − v′k —– (5)

The left-hand side of (3) is the frequency in the frame co-moving with a fluid element, whereas ω is the frequency in the laboratory frame; the latter is constant for a time-independent fluid flow (“time-independent Hamiltonian” dω/dt = ∂ω/∂t = 0). Since the Hawking radiation is right-moving with respect to the fluid, we clearly must choose the positive sign in (3) and hence in (4) also. By approximating v(z) as a linear function near the horizons we obtain from (4) and (5) the ray trajectories. The disturbing feature of the rays is the behavior of the wave vector k: at the horizons the radiation is exponentially blue-shifted, leading to a diverging frequency in the fluid-element frame. These runaway frequencies are unphysical since (1) asserts that sound in a fluid element obeys the ordinary wave equation at all wavelengths, in contradiction with the atomic nature of fluids. Moreover the conclusion that this Hawking radiation is actually present in the fluid also assumes that (1) holds at all wavelengths, as exponential blue-shifting of wave packets at the horizon is a feature of the derivation. Similarly, in the black-hole case the equation does not hold at arbitrarily high frequencies because it ignores the gravity of the fields. For the black hole, a complete resolution of this difficulty will require inputs from the gravitational physics of quantum fields, i.e. quantum gravity, but for the dumb hole the physics is available for a more realistic treatment.



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