Difference between revisions of "Black hole"

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[[Image:Iu8969hu.jpg|right|thumb|300px|Artist's conception of a binary system consisting of a black hole and a main sequence star.  The black hole is drawing matter from the main sequence star via an [[accretion disk]] around it, and some of this matter forms a gas jet.]]
 
[[Image:Iu8969hu.jpg|right|thumb|300px|Artist's conception of a binary system consisting of a black hole and a main sequence star.  The black hole is drawing matter from the main sequence star via an [[accretion disk]] around it, and some of this matter forms a gas jet.]]
A '''black hole''' is a theoretical prediction of the [[theory of relativity]]. As with the related theoretical concept of a "[[wormhole]]",<ref>The prediction of the existence of wormholes, and its naming in 1957, predates the prediction and naming (1967) of a black hole.[http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/14/science/14wheeler.html?pagewanted=print]</ref> it is impossible to prove that a black hole does not exist, and thus it fails the [[falsifiability]] requirement of science.  Nevertheless, the theoretical black hole has become an increasingly popular topic for magazines, the science page of the [[New York Times]], and science fiction.
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A '''black hole''' is a theoretical region of spacetime into which light and other matter can enter, but out of which nothing can ever emerge. Black holes were first hypothesized in 1783<ref name="r1">http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200911/physicshistory.cfm</ref>, but the concept did not receive significant scientific attention until shortly after the publication of the [[general theory of relativity]] in 1915. Black holes remain a controversial subject today.
  
Support and interest in black holes has grown over time. [[Albert Einstein]] and [[Arthur Eddington]], the two most prominent scientists associated with the [[theory of relativity]], rejected the suggestion that black holes exist.<ref>http://amazing-space.stsci.edu/resources/explorations/blackholes/lesson/whatisit/history.html</ref>  [[Karl Schwarzschild]], whose name is given to the radius of black holes, developed the theory for them but likewise rejected the possibility that they physically exist. Yet today black holes are frequently depicted on the covers of science magazines.
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==Black Holes Through The Centuries==
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The theoretical model of what we now call a black hole has evolved considerably over the centuries. The [[corpuscular theory of light]] held that light was made up of invisibly small particles, and that these particles moved along ballistic trajectories, like tiny bullets. In this framework, it was believed possible that a distant star could be so massive that light emitted from its surface would be dragged back down again. This theory was first advanced by John Michell, who wrote in 1783, "If the semi-diameter of a sphere of the same density as the Sun in the proportion of five hundred to one, and by supposing light to be attracted by the same force in proportion to its [mass] with other bodies, all light emitted from such a body would be made to return towards it, by its own proper gravity."<ref name="r1" />
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Suggesting the same possibility independently, Pierre-Simon Laplace wrote in 1796, "It is therefore possible that the greatest luminous bodies in the universe are on this account invisible."<ref name="r1" />
 +
 
 +
As the corpuscular theory gave way to the [[wave theory of light]] in the early 1800s, the idea of "dark" or "invisible" stars fell from favor. At that time, it was believed that light was a wave which had no mass and therefore was unaffected by gravity.
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Research into the [[photoelectric effect]], however, reignited interest in the light-as-particles view, ultimately resulting in the modern notion of [[wave-particle duality]]. Under this theory, light could be affected by gravity, so the question of whether light could be emitted from extraordinarily massive bodies was once again open.
 +
 
 +
As it happened, the question became unavoidable shortly after the publication in 1915 of Einstein's [[general theory of relativity]]. The Schwarzchild solution to the Einstein field equations describes the geometry of spacetime outside a spherically symmetric, uncharged, non-rotating distribution of mass. Well away from the center of this distribution of mass, the Schwarzchild solution closely matches the Newtonian model of a gravitational field; only close to the mass, where the curvature of spacetime is large, do significant differences between the two models appear. But if the diameter of the mass distribution is taken to be arbitrarily small, then the region of spacetime immediately surrounding the mass appears to take on extremely curious properties, properties so curious that many questioned whether they had any physical interpretation at all.
  
 
==Nature of a Black Hole==
 
==Nature of a Black Hole==
A '''Black Hole''' is a theoretical mass with an infinitesimal volume, and therefore an infinite density. This gives them an escape velocity greater than the speed of light, meaning that light cannot escape from them due to their steep “gravity wells.”  As this renders black holes invisible by traditional means of observation, scientists discover their locations through indirect means, such as the effect of their gravitational pull on nearby stars. Stars that are near black holes, e.g. by being part of a binary star system that contains one, show wobbles in their orbits similar to the tidal effects of the moon on Earth’s oceans. <ref>http://library.thinkquest.org/C007571/english/advance/english.htm</ref><ref>''Black Holes'' by Heather Cooper and Nigel Henbest (book)</ref> While matter and energy, even light, may not escape a black hole, Stephen Hawking has shown that they should emit Hawking radiation, which absent of an influx of mass-energy would lead to the evaporation of the black hole in a burst of gamma rays. Scientists are currently working to pick up one of these bursts, or the radiation itself, with any of several land- and space-based telescopes. However, the matter falling into black holes as well as the cosmic microwave background from the Big Bang obscures the radiation and inhibits its detection. The outer surface of a black hole is an [[event horizon]], a non-material dimensional boundary, beyond which nothing can escape. The center of a black hole, where the mass exists, is called the singularity. The distance from the singularity to the event horizon is known as the Schwarzschild radius. All matter that falls into a black hole becomes part of the singularity, and as such is effectively destroyed.
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Within a certain distance from an arbitrarily small distribution of mass — a distance now known as the [[Schwarzchild radius]] — the curvature of spacetime becomes so great that no paths leading away from the mass exist. That is to say, a test particle released inside the Schwarzchild radius will inevitably move in toward the mass, not because the force of gravity is great as in the Newtonian approximation, but because spacetime is curved to such an extent that ''no other directions exist.'' A particle within the Schwarzchild radius can no more move further from the central mass than it can go backwards in time. In fact, from the frame of reference of an infalling observer beyond the Schwarzchild radius, all directions that once pointed away from the central mass now point backwards in time. Once inside the Schwarzchild radius, further motion toward the central mass is as inevitable as further motion through time is for any other observer.
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For some time after the publication of the Schwarzchild solution, the validity of these results was hotly debated. In the solution's original coordinate frame, some terms in the equations ''diverged,'' or became infinite, at the Schwarzchild radius, leading physicists to wonder whether the results of the equations in that region had any valid physical interpretation. One proposed interpretation was that at the Schwarzchild radius, all time for the infalling observer would stop. This led to the use of the term "frozen stars;" it wasn't believed frozen stars were cold, but rather that they were literally frozen in time.
 +
 
 +
Later refinement of the Schwarzchild solution demonstrated that the apparent infinities were merely an artifact of the coordinate frame chosen, and that an infalling observer would in fact notice no effects when passing beyond the Schwarzchild radius. But any attempt on the part of that infalling observer to communicate with the outside universe, say by sending a radio message, would be doomed to failure, as the radio waves would traverse geodesics through the severely curved spacetime and end up bent toward the central mass. From this, we can say that nothing that occurs within the Schwarzchild radius can ever affect events outside the Schwarzchild radius. This gives the Schwarzchild radius of a non-rotating black hole its other name: the [[event horizon]].
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What actually exists inside the event horizon of a black hole is a question physics has thus far been unable to answer. Some postulate that within the event horizon exists a point of zero (or nearly zero) volume but infinite energy density, a point sometimes referred to as a ''gravitational singularity,'' after the notion of a mathematical singularity in a field equation. Others suspect that infinite energy density is a physical impossibility, and that all the matter contained within a black hole is compressed into a [[degenerate matter|degenerate]] form, such as quark-degenerate matter. Since the presence of the event horizon surrounding a black hole makes it impossible to directly measure anything within, it is entirely possible that we may never know what the interior structure of a black hole is like.
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==Observing the Unobservable==
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 +
Since black holes are literally invisible by traditional means of observation, scientists discover their locations through indirect means, such as the effect of their gravitational pull on nearby stars. Stars that are near black holes, e.g. by being part of a binary star system that contains one, show wobbles in their orbits similar to the tidal effects of the moon on Earth’s oceans. <ref>http://library.thinkquest.org/C007571/english/advance/english.htm</ref><ref>''Black Holes'' by Heather Cooper and Nigel Henbest (book)</ref> While matter and energy, even light, may not escape a black hole, Stephen Hawking has shown that they should emit [[Hawking radiation]], which absent of an influx of mass-energy would lead to the evaporation of the black hole in a burst of gamma rays. Scientists are currently working to pick up one of these bursts, or the radiation itself, with any of several land- and space-based telescopes. However, the matter falling into black holes as well as the [[cosmic microwave background]] from the [[Big Bang]] obscures the radiation and makes detection extremely difficult.
  
 
==Origins of Black Holes==
 
==Origins of Black Holes==
  
Black holes are said to form when supermassive stars more than ten times the mass of the Sun run out of fuel and die. The process of death occurs when supermassive stars that have fused the products of their own fusion into larger and larger elements, up to iron.  The star then tries to fuse the iron core that forms as a result, but this does not produce enough energy to hold the outer layers of the star apart against the pull of gravity. When this happens, the iron core at the center of the star implodes in a supernova, and the outer layers of the star are blasted into space in one of the most energetic events in the universe—one star going out in a supernova can give off as much light as an entire galaxy. Not all supernovae result in black holes, but if the mass of the core is large enough, about 1.5-3.0 times the mass of the Sun (this value is termed the Tolman-Oppenheimer-Volkoff limit, and its value is not yet known to great precision), the leftover gravity of the shrinking core stalls the outward rush of the initial blast, and crushes the core into a point of infinite density: a black hole.  
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Stellar-mass black holes are said to form when stars more than ten times the mass of the Sun run out of fuel and die. The process of death occurs when stars that have fused the products of their own fusion into larger and larger elements, up to iron.  The star then tries to fuse the iron core that forms as a result, but this does not produce enough energy to hold the outer layers of the star apart against the pull of gravity. When this happens, the iron core at the center of the star implodes in a supernova, and the outer layers of the star are blasted into space in one of the most energetic events in the universe—one star going out in a supernova can give off as much light as an entire galaxy. Not all supernovae result in black holes, but if the mass of the core is large enough, about 1.5-3.0 times the mass of the Sun (this value is termed the Tolman-Oppenheimer-Volkoff limit, and its value is not yet known to great precision), the leftover gravity of the shrinking core stalls the outward rush of the initial blast, and crushes the core into a point of infinite density: a black hole.  
  
==Properties of Black Holes==
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Extremely small black holes, with masses of around 10<sup>15</sup> grams, have been theorized to have formed in the early universe. Any sufficiently small primordial black hole would be expected to evaporate within the lifetime of the universe, but the rate of evaporation is not currently known with any certainty.
  
Black holes only have three properties by which one differs from another: mass, electric charge, and spin.  Mass describes the amount of matter in the singularity. It increases when matter falls into the hole, and decreases as the hole emits Hawking radiation and shrinks. Spin refers to whether the hole is stationary or spinning around an axis. While the singularity of a non-spinning hole is an infinitely small point, the singularity of a spinning hole is in the shape of an infinitely thin ring. Matter entering a spinning hole is first swirled around by the hole’s gravity, causing it to heat up and emit x-rays, which can be used to detect the hole. In the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies, some of the matter does not fall into the hole. Instead it is blasted into space in twin jets of hot gas perpendicular to the accretion disc, in a phenomenon known as an Active Galactic Nucleus.
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At the opposite end of the spectrum, objects with the characteristics of supermassive black holes, millions or billions of times more massive than the sun, have been detected at the centers of many [[galaxies]], including our own [[Milky Way]]. In our galaxy, the hypothesized supermassive black hole is in the constellation Sagittarius, and is known as Sagittarius A* (pronounced "A star"). Based on the extraordinary angular velocity of stars near the galactic center, Sagittarius A* is believed to be on the order of two to three million solar masses. It is unknown how supermassive black holes form, though several models have been proposed. One hypothesis simply begins with a black hole of stellar mass which grows over the lifetime of the galaxy that surrounds it. Another proposal describes supermassive black holes as a natural, in fact nearly unavoidable, consequence of galactic formation. To date, no one theory of supermassive black hole formation is favored over all others.
  
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==Properties of Black Holes==
 +
 +
Black holes only have three properties by which one differs from another: mass, electric charge, and angular momentum.  Mass describes the amount of matter inside the event horizon.  It increases when matter falls into the black hole, and decreases as the hole emits Hawking radiation and shrinks.  Angular momentum refers to whether the black hole is stationary or rotating around an axis. While the singularity of a non-rotating black hole may be an infinitely small point, the singularity of a rotating black hole would be in the shape of an infinitely thin ring. Matter entering a spinning black hole is first swirled around by the black hole’s gravity, causing it to heat up and emit x-rays, which can be used to detect the black hole. In the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies, some of the matter does not fall into the black hole. Instead it is blasted into space in twin jets of hot gas perpendicular to the accretion disc, in a phenomenon known as an Active Galactic Nucleus.
  
 
==Speculative Future Exploration==
 
==Speculative Future Exploration==
  
Scientists have speculated that if a spinning black hole is large enough, a person could pass through the center of the ring-shaped singularity and possibly enter a wormhole. However, it would have to be a very large hole, for if it were not, the hypothetical astronaut would never survive to reach the event horizon.
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Scientists have speculated that if a rotating black hole is large enough, a person could pass through the center of the ring-shaped singularity and possibly enter a wormhole. However, it would have to be a very large hole, for if it were not, the hypothetical astronaut would never survive to reach the event horizon due to tidal forces.
  
Matter coming close to the event horizon of a small black hole undergoes a process called spaghettification. Because the hole is so dense, its gravitational pull on the near end of an object is much greater than the hole’s pull on the object’s far end. This causes the object to be stretched out in a way resembling a piece of spaghetti, and generally torn in two.  
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Matter coming close to the event horizon of a small black hole undergoes a process called spaghettification, a term coined by Stephen Hawking in his book ''A Brief History of Time'' to describe extraordinarily strong tidal forces. Because the mass at the center of the black hole is so dense, the gravitational pull on the near end of an object is much greater than the pull on the object’s far end. This causes the object to be stretched out in a way resembling a piece of spaghetti, and generally torn in two.  
  
 
==Scientific Understanding of Black Holes==
 
==Scientific Understanding of Black Holes==
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The term "black hole" is also used as a metaphor for a place that it is hard to get out of, generally containing a high concentration of something unpleasant.  Ex: "The inner city is a black hole of crime and drug use." Note that the Black Hole of Calcutta is ''not'' a reference to the celestial object; the name of the place predates the discovery of black holes in space and the Black Hole of Calcutta was a horrible underground prison in Calcutta, India.
 
The term "black hole" is also used as a metaphor for a place that it is hard to get out of, generally containing a high concentration of something unpleasant.  Ex: "The inner city is a black hole of crime and drug use." Note that the Black Hole of Calcutta is ''not'' a reference to the celestial object; the name of the place predates the discovery of black holes in space and the Black Hole of Calcutta was a horrible underground prison in Calcutta, India.
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 +
==Controversy==
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The physical nature of these hypothetical objects makes their existence controversial. Since black holes by definition cannot be directly observed, some argue that it can never be conclusively demonstrated whether or not they exist.
  
 
==External links==
 
==External links==

Revision as of 21:46, 11 November 2009

Artist's conception of a binary system consisting of a black hole and a main sequence star. The black hole is drawing matter from the main sequence star via an accretion disk around it, and some of this matter forms a gas jet.

A black hole is a theoretical region of spacetime into which light and other matter can enter, but out of which nothing can ever emerge. Black holes were first hypothesized in 1783[1], but the concept did not receive significant scientific attention until shortly after the publication of the general theory of relativity in 1915. Black holes remain a controversial subject today.

Black Holes Through The Centuries

The theoretical model of what we now call a black hole has evolved considerably over the centuries. The corpuscular theory of light held that light was made up of invisibly small particles, and that these particles moved along ballistic trajectories, like tiny bullets. In this framework, it was believed possible that a distant star could be so massive that light emitted from its surface would be dragged back down again. This theory was first advanced by John Michell, who wrote in 1783, "If the semi-diameter of a sphere of the same density as the Sun in the proportion of five hundred to one, and by supposing light to be attracted by the same force in proportion to its [mass] with other bodies, all light emitted from such a body would be made to return towards it, by its own proper gravity."[1]

Suggesting the same possibility independently, Pierre-Simon Laplace wrote in 1796, "It is therefore possible that the greatest luminous bodies in the universe are on this account invisible."[1]

As the corpuscular theory gave way to the wave theory of light in the early 1800s, the idea of "dark" or "invisible" stars fell from favor. At that time, it was believed that light was a wave which had no mass and therefore was unaffected by gravity.

Research into the photoelectric effect, however, reignited interest in the light-as-particles view, ultimately resulting in the modern notion of wave-particle duality. Under this theory, light could be affected by gravity, so the question of whether light could be emitted from extraordinarily massive bodies was once again open.

As it happened, the question became unavoidable shortly after the publication in 1915 of Einstein's general theory of relativity. The Schwarzchild solution to the Einstein field equations describes the geometry of spacetime outside a spherically symmetric, uncharged, non-rotating distribution of mass. Well away from the center of this distribution of mass, the Schwarzchild solution closely matches the Newtonian model of a gravitational field; only close to the mass, where the curvature of spacetime is large, do significant differences between the two models appear. But if the diameter of the mass distribution is taken to be arbitrarily small, then the region of spacetime immediately surrounding the mass appears to take on extremely curious properties, properties so curious that many questioned whether they had any physical interpretation at all.

Nature of a Black Hole

Within a certain distance from an arbitrarily small distribution of mass — a distance now known as the Schwarzchild radius — the curvature of spacetime becomes so great that no paths leading away from the mass exist. That is to say, a test particle released inside the Schwarzchild radius will inevitably move in toward the mass, not because the force of gravity is great as in the Newtonian approximation, but because spacetime is curved to such an extent that no other directions exist. A particle within the Schwarzchild radius can no more move further from the central mass than it can go backwards in time. In fact, from the frame of reference of an infalling observer beyond the Schwarzchild radius, all directions that once pointed away from the central mass now point backwards in time. Once inside the Schwarzchild radius, further motion toward the central mass is as inevitable as further motion through time is for any other observer.

For some time after the publication of the Schwarzchild solution, the validity of these results was hotly debated. In the solution's original coordinate frame, some terms in the equations diverged, or became infinite, at the Schwarzchild radius, leading physicists to wonder whether the results of the equations in that region had any valid physical interpretation. One proposed interpretation was that at the Schwarzchild radius, all time for the infalling observer would stop. This led to the use of the term "frozen stars;" it wasn't believed frozen stars were cold, but rather that they were literally frozen in time.

Later refinement of the Schwarzchild solution demonstrated that the apparent infinities were merely an artifact of the coordinate frame chosen, and that an infalling observer would in fact notice no effects when passing beyond the Schwarzchild radius. But any attempt on the part of that infalling observer to communicate with the outside universe, say by sending a radio message, would be doomed to failure, as the radio waves would traverse geodesics through the severely curved spacetime and end up bent toward the central mass. From this, we can say that nothing that occurs within the Schwarzchild radius can ever affect events outside the Schwarzchild radius. This gives the Schwarzchild radius of a non-rotating black hole its other name: the event horizon.

What actually exists inside the event horizon of a black hole is a question physics has thus far been unable to answer. Some postulate that within the event horizon exists a point of zero (or nearly zero) volume but infinite energy density, a point sometimes referred to as a gravitational singularity, after the notion of a mathematical singularity in a field equation. Others suspect that infinite energy density is a physical impossibility, and that all the matter contained within a black hole is compressed into a degenerate form, such as quark-degenerate matter. Since the presence of the event horizon surrounding a black hole makes it impossible to directly measure anything within, it is entirely possible that we may never know what the interior structure of a black hole is like.

Observing the Unobservable

Since black holes are literally invisible by traditional means of observation, scientists discover their locations through indirect means, such as the effect of their gravitational pull on nearby stars. Stars that are near black holes, e.g. by being part of a binary star system that contains one, show wobbles in their orbits similar to the tidal effects of the moon on Earth’s oceans. [2][3] While matter and energy, even light, may not escape a black hole, Stephen Hawking has shown that they should emit Hawking radiation, which absent of an influx of mass-energy would lead to the evaporation of the black hole in a burst of gamma rays. Scientists are currently working to pick up one of these bursts, or the radiation itself, with any of several land- and space-based telescopes. However, the matter falling into black holes as well as the cosmic microwave background from the Big Bang obscures the radiation and makes detection extremely difficult.

Origins of Black Holes

Stellar-mass black holes are said to form when stars more than ten times the mass of the Sun run out of fuel and die. The process of death occurs when stars that have fused the products of their own fusion into larger and larger elements, up to iron. The star then tries to fuse the iron core that forms as a result, but this does not produce enough energy to hold the outer layers of the star apart against the pull of gravity. When this happens, the iron core at the center of the star implodes in a supernova, and the outer layers of the star are blasted into space in one of the most energetic events in the universe—one star going out in a supernova can give off as much light as an entire galaxy. Not all supernovae result in black holes, but if the mass of the core is large enough, about 1.5-3.0 times the mass of the Sun (this value is termed the Tolman-Oppenheimer-Volkoff limit, and its value is not yet known to great precision), the leftover gravity of the shrinking core stalls the outward rush of the initial blast, and crushes the core into a point of infinite density: a black hole.

Extremely small black holes, with masses of around 1015 grams, have been theorized to have formed in the early universe. Any sufficiently small primordial black hole would be expected to evaporate within the lifetime of the universe, but the rate of evaporation is not currently known with any certainty.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, objects with the characteristics of supermassive black holes, millions or billions of times more massive than the sun, have been detected at the centers of many galaxies, including our own Milky Way. In our galaxy, the hypothesized supermassive black hole is in the constellation Sagittarius, and is known as Sagittarius A* (pronounced "A star"). Based on the extraordinary angular velocity of stars near the galactic center, Sagittarius A* is believed to be on the order of two to three million solar masses. It is unknown how supermassive black holes form, though several models have been proposed. One hypothesis simply begins with a black hole of stellar mass which grows over the lifetime of the galaxy that surrounds it. Another proposal describes supermassive black holes as a natural, in fact nearly unavoidable, consequence of galactic formation. To date, no one theory of supermassive black hole formation is favored over all others.

Properties of Black Holes

Black holes only have three properties by which one differs from another: mass, electric charge, and angular momentum. Mass describes the amount of matter inside the event horizon. It increases when matter falls into the black hole, and decreases as the hole emits Hawking radiation and shrinks. Angular momentum refers to whether the black hole is stationary or rotating around an axis. While the singularity of a non-rotating black hole may be an infinitely small point, the singularity of a rotating black hole would be in the shape of an infinitely thin ring. Matter entering a spinning black hole is first swirled around by the black hole’s gravity, causing it to heat up and emit x-rays, which can be used to detect the black hole. In the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies, some of the matter does not fall into the black hole. Instead it is blasted into space in twin jets of hot gas perpendicular to the accretion disc, in a phenomenon known as an Active Galactic Nucleus.

Speculative Future Exploration

Scientists have speculated that if a rotating black hole is large enough, a person could pass through the center of the ring-shaped singularity and possibly enter a wormhole. However, it would have to be a very large hole, for if it were not, the hypothetical astronaut would never survive to reach the event horizon due to tidal forces.

Matter coming close to the event horizon of a small black hole undergoes a process called spaghettification, a term coined by Stephen Hawking in his book A Brief History of Time to describe extraordinarily strong tidal forces. Because the mass at the center of the black hole is so dense, the gravitational pull on the near end of an object is much greater than the pull on the object’s far end. This causes the object to be stretched out in a way resembling a piece of spaghetti, and generally torn in two.

Scientific Understanding of Black Holes

Jet-powered nebula formed from the accretion disk of the binary star Cygnus-X1

Schwarzschild discovered that black holes were possible under the theory of relativity. Albert Einstein tried to re-work the whole theory to eliminate the need for these singularities. However, Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking proved the first of many Singularity Theorems, which states that singularities must form under certain conditions. This demonstrated that, rather than mathematical oddities, singularities are a fairly generic feature of realistic solutions to relativity. According to relativity, any mass with radius less than its Schwarzschild Radius is a black hole.

Contrary to popular myth, a black hole is not a cosmic vacuum cleaner. In other words, a one-solar-mass black hole is no better than any other one-solar-mass object (such as, for example, the Sun) at "sucking in" distant objects. However, a one-solar-mass black hole has the same amount of matter as any other one-solar-mass object but compressed into a much smaller space, making it impossible to move fast enough to leave a black hole once there. If a spaceship could land on a black hole, it would never be able to take off again.

In Popular Culture

Black holes have been a device in science fiction ever since their discovery. Many sci-fi books, movies, and television shows use black holes as a method of travel (see the Potential Future Exploration section above) or as a threat to a space-going vessel. In at least one season of the show Star Trek: the Next Generation by Gene Roddenberry, artificially created miniature black holes are used as power sources for spaceships and natural ones as incubators for the young of an alien race. Neither of these uses has much of a basis in reality, of course.

The term "black hole" is also used as a metaphor for a place that it is hard to get out of, generally containing a high concentration of something unpleasant. Ex: "The inner city is a black hole of crime and drug use." Note that the Black Hole of Calcutta is not a reference to the celestial object; the name of the place predates the discovery of black holes in space and the Black Hole of Calcutta was a horrible underground prison in Calcutta, India.

Controversy

The physical nature of these hypothetical objects makes their existence controversial. Since black holes by definition cannot be directly observed, some argue that it can never be conclusively demonstrated whether or not they exist.

External links

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200911/physicshistory.cfm
  2. http://library.thinkquest.org/C007571/english/advance/english.htm
  3. Black Holes by Heather Cooper and Nigel Henbest (book)