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Black Holes: What Do We Know?


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Black Holes: What Do We Know?
Carl Antoni
Everest University

Abstract Answering the questions we have about black holes brings us closer to understanding them and the many ways they can benefit us. They give us clear insight on Einstein's law of relativity, help create cutting-edge technology, give us extraordinary insights to the universe and most of all it gives us amazing journeys of imagination where we can contemplate their amazing properties. The mysteries of the black hole exemplify the beginning and the end of everything science has discovered out in our vast universe. Beginning with Newton's law of gravitation, Einstein's law of relativity and expanding to supermassive black holes with infinite density and infinite gravity. A supermassive black hole has the mass of 1,000,000 to 1,000,000,000 of our Suns. There are smaller black holes but the smallest has to have a mass of at least 10 of our Suns. It is this mass that creates the immense gravitational tides that compress a giant star into an incredibly small entity that has such a tremendous gravity that not even light can escape. How is this possible? How are they created? How do we know they are there if no light escapes from them? Is there more than one universe? Is there such things as wormholes that can connect vast distance of space and time? These just a few of the provocative questions black holes inspire.

What are Black Holes and what do they mean? Science has made many fascinating discoveries in their quest to understand the phenomenon known as the Black Hole. Many questions have been answered but there are many more yet to be unraveled. The first most obvious question is...what is a Black Hole? A Black Hole is created when a star at least 10 times as large as our sun runs out of the fuel. Nuclear fusion sustains the life of the Sun and creates the heat and light here on earth that makes it possible for us to live. It takes millions of years for this fuel, which is mostly comprised of hydrogen, to run its course. As a result, the star does not have the ability to continue the nuclear fusion it needs to sustain itself and the immense gravity of this massive star starts causing it to collapse. It compression is relentless because there is nothing to stop the gravity from pulling the star in upon itself (Long, 2005). The gravity becomes stronger and stronger causing the star to become so small in a world where a teaspoon of salt would weigh as much or more as the earth itself. Gravity so intense that light cannot even escape it. At this point you may be asking, “if light cannot escape, how can we see it?” Scientists cannot actually see a Black Hole visually. What they see are the effects of the Black Hole on the space around it. These gravitational forces heat everything around a Black Hole, which is observable with X-Ray and ultraviolet scopes (Bunn, 1995). Any existing surface of the Black Hole, of course, is unobservable. Scientists think that Black Holes do not actually have a surface, they think more in terms of them being in a region of space they create (Chandra Digest, 2012). Around them is a boundary called the event horizon. Whatever passes this boundary can no longer escape and is drawn into the Black Hole. This includes light, radiation and any particle, no matter what kind. The event horizon of a small Black Hole, from a star 10 times the size of the sun (solarmasses), may only have a diameter of 30 miles from one side to the other of the Black Holes realm. Black Holes come in many sizes, which are measured in solarmasses. The stellar Black Holes have solarmasses of a dozen or so Suns, mid-mass Black Holes have a solarmass in the range 100 to one million solarmasses and supermassive Black Holes have masses of many millions or billions of Suns (Chandra Digest, 2012). It is hard to imagine the mass of billions of Suns compressed into something that is probably no larger than the moon. Mass in this case means the size of the amount of material in it that has weight in a gravitational field (Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 2013). Scientists have been able to speculate through theories and math, many things that are hard to comprehend. Several scientists believe that Black Holes may be bridges called wormholes that cross the universe or are avenues to another universe. Others believe Black Holes could be the birthplaces of other universes that are all part of an infinite world of universes (Baskill, 2012). To think that such fantastic discoveries are in our grasp is wonderful to imagine. Science has turned to Black Holes to find the answers to many questions. To detect Black Holes, scientists seek and research the X-rays sources in our Milky Way galaxy and the other galaxies around us. There are other signs as well. Occasionally a scientist will discover a star that is revolving around an unseen object at great speed. Before the discovery of Black Holes this was confusing because for a star, like our sun for example, to orbit another object, the object must have much more mass than the star to keep it in its gravitational field, much less move it at great speed around it (Chandra Digest, 2012). The object the star was orbiting should have been much larger and easier to see than the star. Instead, they saw nothing. This is how the discovery and the quest for knowledge surrounding Black Holes began. The orbit of this visible star moves so fast around the concealed escort that it is very possibly a Black Hole. .
(This photo X-ray image of a Black Hole shows the doomed object emitting
X-rays in a momentary flash of great heat just before crossing the event horizon and disappearing)

Chandra image of the
Black Hole candidate
XTE J1118+480 Results of research after years of X-ray study by Chandra may signify that there is a region around one of the Black Holes in our galaxy containing hundreds of trillions of asteroids and comets. They think that the X-ray flares originating from this region of our Milky Way may be asteroids falling into a giant Black Hole (Chandra Digest, 2012).
Asteroid approaching the black hole

Asteroid torn apart by intense gravity

Asteroid is destroyed creating a X-ray flare

X-.ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/F. Baganoff et al.; Illustrations: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss February 8, 2012
This is one happy Black Hole. It is like a squirrel living in a walnut grove. It has a steady diet of asteroids and comets that are within reach of its intense gravity. To understand the roll of gravity in a Black Holes life, we need to understand escape velocity. Escape velocity is the amount of speed an object needs to escape the gravity being exerted on it. For instance, to leave the Earths’ atmosphere a Space Shuttle needs to reach the speed of about 7 miles per second. Therefore, to leave the Earth’s gravity you would need to reach the speed of at least 25,000 mph. The Sun has of course a stronger force of gravity, which is among other things, able to hold all the planets of the solar system in its orbit. To leave our Suns’ atmosphere you would need an escape velocity of 357 miles per second or 1,380,000 mph (Nemiroff, 1993). Now, let us compare these with a Black Holes escape velocity: (These numbers are rounded off.) Miles per Second (mps) Miles per Hour (mph) Earth 7 25,000 The Sun 380 1,380,000 Black Hole (over) 186,000 (over) 669,600,000 This gives you some idea of the difference in escape velocity between planets, stars and Black Holes. There is not anything bigger than a grain of salt that we even think is faster than light. Light travels at the speed of more than 186,000 miles per second; virtually nothing, that can escape the gravity of a Black Hole. Even though the speed of light seems to be the Universes’ speed limit and all the math agrees with this, it doesn’t mean it’s definite. In a universe so immense and mysterious, very little is definite. In the same sense, we are not sure what we can learn from Black Holes. The technology today is not advanced enough to do more than observe and gather data. Nevertheless, just a hundred years ago most people laughed at the thought of taking a ship to the moon. Humankind’s quest for knowledge holds promise that many more wonders are to come. Black Holes represent the beginning and end of our knowledge of Physics and the Universe. In 1905, Albert Einstein made an exquisite advance for science with his Relativity Theory, which has held its definitions over the test of time and research. Discoveries made through the study of Black Holes also verify Einstein’s work, but there are many things that are still unexplainable. That is why Black Holes are called “singularities”, or what Einstein called “weird science”. They have singular qualities, which have not been detected anywhere else. In his report for the American Journal Of Physics, Robert Nemiroff writes, “ the center of a black hole spacetime has infinite curvature and matter is crushed to infinite density under the pull of infinite gravity” (Nemiroff, 1993, pp. 61, 619). I know that it is difficult to get your mind around the meaning of this concept, as it is everyone’s. He is saying that at the center of a Black Hole, space and time are completely distorted, that the matter from the star that has become a Black Hole, has become immeasurably condensed, while at the same time that its gravity has become immeasurably strong. It is like saying something as small as an atom has the same weight as a million suns. These scientists are respected worldwide, believed to be at the head of their field, not science fiction writers! Truth in this case is actually stranger than fiction. Knowing this, how can anyone think of Black Holes as just another phenomenon of space? Unraveling these mysteries will have profound effect on the progress of science and humanity’s advance towards enlightenment of who we are and how we will reach the stars themselves.

Baskill, P. K. (2012, 08 02). Slide Show 50 years of X-ray astronomy. Retrieved from
Bunn, T. (1995, 09). Black Holes FAQ. Retrieved from
Chandra Digest. (2012, 10 11). Supermassive Black Holes. Retrieved from
Dr. Barbara Mattson, M. G. (2010, 12). Black Holes. Retrieved from
Ellis†, K. S. (2000). Schwarzschild black hole lensing. 19: 01.
Loeb, A. (2012, 06 01). The Science of Black Hole Kicks. (C. B. Peter Edmonds, Interviewer)
Long, P. (2005, Summer). Black Holes. The American Scholar.
Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. (2013). Mass. Retrieved from
Nemiroff, R. (1993). Black Holes and Neutron Stars. Retrieved from
Sedgewick, R. (2013, 06 27). floating-point. Retrieved from
Vine, M. (2008). C Programming for the Absolute Beginner. Boston: Thompson Course Technology.

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