Weird Science: A true story of black holes

An artist’s concept illustrates a quasar, or feeding black hole.

Black holes are real. New discoveries show some influence entire galaxies. In 1990 the Hubble space telescope observed stars orbiting something invisible. Images revealed evidence of a black hole 400 million times the mass of the sun dwelling in the Milky Way’s core. When a large star runs out of fuel it collapses under its own gravity and explodes. Outer shells of rich stardust shoot into space, some destined to form new planets and living things like you. An iron core remains and collapses until gravity becomes so strong a black hole is born from the stars’ ashes.

These mysterious objects are veiled by an event horizon, a point of no return where gravity becomes so strong nothing can escape — not even light. No one knows what lies behind the one-way curtain.
Some physicists believe supermassive black holes create passages, or wormholes to parallel universes. Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen published a paper to describe the tunnels through space. Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson studied similar concepts in the 1800s. He was also a writer who used the pen name Lewis Carroll. It’s no coincidence he described Alice falling down a rabbit hole on her way to a strange wonderland.

Black holes also demonstrate how atoms are mostly empty space. If the sun were compressed into a black hole, it would be around the size of Manhattan. A black hole with the mass of Earth could fit inside a cantaloupe. You could be squeezed into a space smaller than an atom, and still contain an enormous amount of energy. If all the potential stored in your body was unleashed, the resulting explosion would dwarf the largest nuclear bomb ever built.

A recent discovery found supermassive black holes lurk in the core of nearly every galaxy and contribute to star formation. How they affect roughly a hundred billion-star neighborhood remains unknown.

If black holes directly affect star formation, a process necessary to forge elements vital for life, then the supermassive monster that’s floating right now 25,000 light years away, contributed to your existence today. That is true story of black holes.

Metro does not endorse the opinions of the author, or any opinions expressed on its pages. Opposing viewpoints are welcome. Send 100-word submissions to letters@metro.us.


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