Of all the strange objects that exist in the Universe, black holes are without doubt the strangest. In 1971, Cygnus X-1, the first physical black hole ever discovered, may have moved black holes away from being thought of as purely theoretical phenomena, but nevertheless they still continue to maintain their mystery and hold an almost science fiction status.
For instance, these super dense objects are so powerful that the singularity at the center of a black hole is a one-dimensional point which can’t adequately be described by the laws of physics as we know them. Also, by keeping a safe distance from a black hole’s event horizon, a spaceship could travel centuries into the future relative to Earth, although just a few hour would seem to have passed for those people onboard the spaceship.
With that said, let’s dive right in a explore 10 interesting and fun facts about these fascinating objects.
1: How are black holes formed?
A massive star collapsing in upon itself – A black hole is formed when a large star starts running out of fuel and begins to collapse under its own gravity. Such a star may become a white dwarf or a neutron star, but if the star is sufficiently massive then it may continue shrinking eventually to the size of a tiny atom, known as a gravitational singularity. A black hole refers to the region in space in which the singularity’s gravitational force is so strong that not even light can escape its pull.
2: What’s inside a black hole?
Singularity always remains in your future – The singularity at the core of a black hole may shrink to a size smaller than an atom, and eventually become an infinitely small point in space containing infinite mass. Here the gravitational force is so strong that the spacetime surrounding the singularity is bent to infinite curvature, and scientists are left searching for a good quantum theory of gravity to explain what is truly going on inside these incredibly dense objects. As American theoretical physicist Kip Thorne states in his description of a singularity, it is a “point where all laws of physics break down”.
3: How do black holes affect space-time?
Black holes distort space-time and slow time – The mass of a black hole is so dense and the gravity of its singularity so strong that, in accordance with Einstein’s theory of general relativity, it actually distorts the space-time around it and not even light can escape. The boundary beyond which light cannot escape the black hole’s gravity well is known as the event horizon, while its radius is called the Schwarzschild radius (see picture for details). Once particles and light-rays go past the event horizon their light cones “tip over” and point to the singularity, which now represents all future-directed paths with no escape possible.
4: Why do objects appear to “freeze” near a black hole?
Objects appear to slow down near a black hole – To an outside observer with a telescope, an object passing the event horizon will appear to slow down then “freeze” in time without ever seeming to pass through the event horizon. This is because the light takes longer to escape the black hole’s gravitational pull and light signals won’t reach the viewer for an infinitely long time. As time elapses, the light subsequently becomes red shifted and dimmer as its wavelength becomes longer, eventually disappearing from the sight of the observer as it becomes infrared radiation, then radio waves.
5: Can you survive inside a black hole?
A person falling into a black hole would be spagettified – If a person was able to survive long enough to describe falling into a black hole, he would at first experience weightless as he goes into free fall, but then feel intense “tidal” gravitational forces as he got closer to the center of the black hole. In other words, if his feet were closer to the center than his head, then they would feel a stronger pull until he eventually is stretched and then ripped apart. As he falls in he may observe distorted images as the light bends around him and he will also still be able to see beyond the black hole as light continues to reach him from the outside.
6: What is the gravitational pull of a black hole?
Gravitational pull same as other objects of same mass – It is important to realize that a black hole’s gravitational field is the same as that of any other object in space of the same mass. In other words, it won’t “suck” objects in any more than any other normal star, with things being more likely to just fall into them if they got too close to the event horizon. If our Sun was replaced with a black hole of equal mass, for example, the Earth would continue experiencing the same gravitational force as before. Only when objects get too close to the black hole would the stronger gravitational force become apparent.
7: Is a wormhole and a black hole the same?
Wormholes appear similar to black holes – A traversable wormhole, known alternatively as a Lorentzian wormhole, Schwarzschild wormhole or Einstein-Rosen bridge, is a theoretical opening in space-time allowing a “shortcut” through intervening space to another location in the Universe. However, from the outside wormholes may exhibit many of the characteristics usually associated with a black hole and be virtually impossible to tell apart.
8: Who discovered black holes?
John Mitchell developed theory of black holes in 1783 – John Michell (1783) and Pierre-Simon Laplace (1796) were the first people to propose the concept of “dark stars” or object which, if compressed into a small enough radius, would have an escape velocity which exceeded even the speed of light. Later, the term “frozen star” was used to describe the last phase of a star’s gravitational collapse, when light unable to escape from its surface would make the star appear frozen in time to an observer. In the 20th century, John Wheeler eventually coined the phrase “black hole” as the object would absorbs all the light that hits it while reflecting nothing back.
9: Can a black hole die?
Black holes eventually evaporate over time – Physicists now believe that black holes actually radiate small numbers of mainly photon particles and so can lose mass, shrink then ultimately vanish over time. This unverified evaporation process is known as “Hawking Radiation”, after Professor Stephen Hawking who theorized its existence in 1974. However, it is a staggeringly slow process and only the smallest black holes would have had time to evaporate significantly during the 14 billion years the Universe has existed.
10: What is the nearest black hole to Earth?
Closest black hole star just 1,011 light-years away – It is now thought that most galaxies are held together by supermassive black holes at their centers, which cluster hundreds of solar systems around them. In fact, 25,640 light years away at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy is a black hole called Sagittarius A or Sgr A that has 30 million times the mass of our own sun. This is not the nearest black hole to Earth, though. That honor belongs to a recently discovered black hole located in the star system HR 6819.