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5 Things: Black Holes


A black hole is a single point in space that has a lot of mass. One of the ways that we look for black holes is to develop new instruments and new technologies that can try to search for them. As we’ve observed black holes including the the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy, because it has such a strong gravity because it has lots of mass, stars will orbit black holes and as stars get closer and closer to the center of a black hole as it crosses over the Event Horizon, what will happen is that the material of these stars will get shredded apart, because the gravitational pull of a black hole is so strong that the material of the stars gets pulled apart. But there is an event horizon, which is the point at which the black hole’s gravity starts to pull you so much that you can’t escape. So as you approach the black hole, you’ll feel its pull. But then as you get closer and closer and closer towards the event horizon, that’s the point of no return so you couldn’t escape past that. The easiest way to think of a black hole is just like anything that has mass so the Earth has mass And one of the reasons that the Moon orbits around the Earth is because the gravitational attraction of these two massive bodies. And so, Earth is distorting the space around the Moon and so that’s what keeps the Moon in orbit. And so now take that to an extreme. So take something that’s as massive as the Sun, or as massive as a million Suns and put it at a single point, and that distortion that you get is coming from that amount of mass in a single point. Black holes vary in size a lot. We know that black holes can be formed by massive stars exploding and then collapsing into the singular point. And those give us black holes that are about the mass of the Sun. So, those are solar mass black holes. However, we also know at the center of galaxies, like the Milky Way, there are supermassive black holes and these are millions or even billions of times the mass of the Sun. And how these form is actually a mystery. Studying black holes really gives us a fundamental insight into how gravity works because it’s such a small physical scale, but it’s a super massive object. And so understanding how black holes work and the interactions of black holes in other parts of the universe really give us a fundamental insight that we could then use to think about how our own solar system works. And so if we can understand how black holes work, they’ll give us a key to really understanding our universe.

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