If a race were advanced enough to colonise space and travel between galaxies, would it be possible for them to harness a black hole in some way to generate power for the massive ships needed to colonise far away galaxies?

If so, how would it be done and would it be worth the effort to construct whatever device was required?

  • $\begingroup$ See also [this question](Would the Hawking radiation from a small black hole make a feasible propulsion source?) which gets into these details too. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Nov 27 '16 at 23:41

Harnessing energy from black holes usually known as the Penrose process, because Roger Penrose devised how it might work in theory.

The Penrose process (also called Penrose mechanism) is a process theorised by Roger Penrose wherein energy can be extracted from a rotating black hole.1 That extraction is made possible because the rotational energy of the black hole is located not inside the event horizon of the black hole, but on the outside of it in a region of the Kerr spacetime called the ergosphere, a region in which a particle is necessarily propelled in locomotive concurrence with the rotating spacetime. All objects in the ergosphere become dragged by a rotating spacetime. In the process, a lump of matter enters into the ergosphere of the black hole, and once it enters the ergosphere, it is split into two. The momentum of the two pieces of matter can be arranged so that one piece escapes to infinity, whilst the other falls past the outer event horizon into the hole. The escaping piece of matter can possibly have greater mass-energy than the original infalling piece of matter, whereas the infalling piece has negative mass-energy. In summary, the process results in a decrease in the angular momentum of the black hole, and that reduction corresponds to a transference of energy whereby the momentum lost is converted to energy extracted.

The maximum amount of energy gain possible for a single particle via this process is 20.7%.[3] The process obeys the laws of black hole mechanics. A consequence of these laws is that if the process is performed repeatedly, the black hole can eventually lose all of its angular momentum, becoming non-rotating, i.e. a Schwarzschild black hole. In this case the theoretical maximum energy that can be extracted from a black hole is 29% its original mass.[4] Larger efficiencies are possible for charged rotating black holes.[5]

A similar question was asked on the Physics Stack Exchange How would a black hole power plant work. It has two answers dealing with extracting rotational energy and using a black hole as a spaceship thruster (an idea whose time hasn't exactly come).

The simple answer is yes, puny humans have devised theoretical mechanisms to extract energy from black holes. The rest is mere engineering.


The Time Lords from Doctor Who do exactly that to have enough power to do time travel. Here is a reading start: http://tardis.wikia.com/wiki/Eye_of_Harmony To be more accurate, they harness the energy of a star about to become a black hole.

On the site of more science and less fiction, "all" you have to do is harnessing the Hawking radiation of the black hole.

Here are some theoretical thoughts of powering a starship with a black hole.


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