As far as apace goes, black holes are quite possibly the most fascinating thing about it. They are these mysterious dark tunnels that have a gravitational pull so strong that nothing can escape them – not even light. Basically, what goes into the black hole, rarely comes out.
Since black holes devour even light itself, they are not visible by the human eye. However, scientists know that they exist because their gravitational pull affects the orbits of nearby stars. Another way of telling that black holes are out there is the radiation they emit while the gas they consume becomes superheated.
This is what led to the discovery of Cygnus X-1 in 1964, the first black hole located in the Cygnus constellation. And if you thought this was interesting, wait until you hear about the weird stuff.
Black holes distort time and space
The extreme gravitation pull of black holes can slow down time and even warp space. If you happened to fly near one, you would be pulled towards it and eventually join the accretion disk of orbiting space material, spiraling inward toward the point of no return.
Once you go beyond the point of no return, gravity would prevent you from leaving the black hole and you would become ‘spaghettified’, or super-stretched as you make your way to the center of the black hole. This center is small but has a mass so great that gravity and density approach infinity and space-time curves infinitely. That’s the theory of it, at least.
Black holes come in various sizes
Black holes exist in three different sizes: miniature, middling, and mammoth-sized. The most common black holes are middling-sized. These black holes form when massive dying stars, or supernovas, explode and their core collapses under the weight of its gravity. At that point, black holes aren’t actual holes, but cores with highly compacted matter. Their approximate weight is 10 times greater than that of our own Sun – and they are not the biggest ones.
The biggest black holes in our universe are supermassive black holes, some of which have masses billions of times of our Sun. However, scientists are not really sure how they form, other than the fact they probably appeared sometime after the Big Bang. Also, scientists believe one of them exists in every galaxy, including our own. Our Milky Way is home to Sagittarius A* (or Sgr A*) and it has the mass of approximately 4 million suns.
Researchers also believe that tiny black holes smaller than an atom exist in space, but have yet to be observed. They have the mass of an asteroid and space is full of them.
There are way too many black holes to count
Astronomers believe that, besides the supermassive Sagittarius A*, our Milky Way is home to at least 100 million middling-sized black holes. To put that into perspective a little better – there are 100 billion galaxies out there, each with about 100 million middling-sized black holes (not counting the tiny ones or other ones that have yet to be discovered) – so trying to count them would be impossible.
Black holes devour AND spit out things
Rest assured, our little planet is not on a collision course with any known black holes. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry. Supermassive black holes, such as Sagittarius A* tend to swallow and literally spit out planet-sized projectiles that could potentially find their way to Earth.
But how are these black hole projectiles formed? Well, when matter slips off the accretion disk right before the point of no return, it turns into chunks that are sling-shot outwards of the black hole. For example, Sagittarius A* sends projectiles into the Milky Way galaxy at up to 20 million miles per hour (32.1 million km/h). Let just hope one of those never comes close to our planet.
Black holes give birth to stars
Not only do supermassive black holes give birth to stars, but they also determine how many stars a galaxy may have. Researchers recently discovered that every once in a while mammoth black holes can shoot out enough material to form new stars. Additionally, some of those starts end up in deep space, far beyond their own galaxies.
Also, a study released early this year showed that black holes can control how many stars they create by the speed at which the process stops. For example, the smaller the black hole at the center of a galaxy, the quicker it stops forming stars and vice versa.
Synchronized black holes
South African astronomers recently found a region of space where several supermassive black holes scattered across different galaxies are all aligned in the same direction. By direction, it means that their gas is emitted as if they are all in sync.
At the moment, there is no explanation as to how black holes that are up to 300 million light-years apart are in sync. The only potential explanation is that they were formed at the same moment during the early universe formation.
Astonishing, we know! The movie Interstellar did a good job of representing a black hole, as the scientist who worked on the movie was able to create a pretty accurate simulation. Plus, Matthew McConaughey did a good job of making it believable.