BLACK HOLES: THE MYSTERY OF SPACE

Black holes are volumes of space where gravity is extreme enough to prevent the escape of even the fastest moving particles. Not even light can break free, hence the name 'black' hole.

For decades, black holes were exotic peculiarities of general relativity. Physicists have become increasingly confident in their existence as other extreme astronomical objects, such as neutron stars, were discovered. Today it's believed most galaxies have monstrous black holes at their core.



How do black holes form?

It's generally accepted that stars with a mass at least three times greater than that of our Sun's can undergo extreme gravitational collapse once their fuel depletes.

With so much mass in a confined volume, the collective force of gravity overcomes the rule that usually keeps the building blocks of atoms from occupying the same space. All this density creates a black hole.

A second type of miniature black hole has been hypothesised, though never observed. They're thought to have formed when the rippling vacuum of the early Universe rapidly expanded in an event known as inflation, causing highly dense regions to collapse.

Called primordial black holes, they'd have a smaller mass – some even close to that of Earth – but would be a little bigger than a jelly bean.



How Big Are Black Holes?

lack holes can come in a range of sizes, but there are three main types of black holes. The black hole's mass and size determine what kind it is.

The smallest ones are known as primordial black holes. Scientists believe this type of black hole is as small as a single atom but with the mass of a large mountain.

The most common type of medium-sized black hole is called "stellar." The mass of a stellar black hole can be up to 20 times greater than the mass of the sun and can fit inside a ball with a diameter of about 10 miles. Dozens of stellar-mass black holes may exist within the Milky Way galaxy.

The largest black holes are called "supermassive." These black holes have masses greater than 1 million suns combined and would fit inside a ball with a diameter about the size of the solar system. Scientific evidence suggests that every large galaxy contains a supermassive black hole at its centre. The supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy is called Sagittarius A. It has a mass equal to about 4 million suns and would fit inside a ball with a diameter about the size of the sun.




WHAT IS INSIDE A BLACK HOLE ?


So there you are, about to leap into a black hole. What could possibly await should — against all odds — you somehow survive? Where would you end up and what tantalising tales would you be able to regale if you managed to clamber your way back?


"Falling through an event horizon is literally passing beyond the veil — once someone falls past it, nobody could ever send a message back," he said. "They'd be ripped to pieces by the enormous gravity, so I doubt anyone falling through would get anywhere."


If that sounds like a disappointing — and painful — answer, then it is to be expected. Ever since Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity was considered to have predicted black holes by linking space-time with the action of gravity, it has been known that black holes result from the death of a massive star leaving behind a small, dense remnant core. Assuming this core has more than roughly three times the mass of the sun, gravity would overwhelm to such a degree that it would fall in on itself into a single point, or singularity understood to be the black hole's infinitely dense core. The resulting uninhabitable black hole would have such a powerful gravitational pull that not even light could avoid it. So, should you then find yourself at the event horizon — the point at which light and matter can only pass inward.



Over the years scientists have looked into the possibility that black holes could be wormholes to other galaxies. They may even be, as some have suggested, a path to another universe. Such an idea has been floating around for some time: Einstein teamed up with Nathan Rosen to theorise bridges that connect two different points in space-time in 1935.


But, the problem is that we can't get up close to see for ourselves. Why we can't even take photographs of anything that takes place inside a black hole — if light cannot escape their immense gravity, then nothing can be snapped by a camera. As it stands, theory suggests that anything which goes beyond the event horizon is simply added to the black hole and, what's more, because time distorts close to this boundary, this will appear to take place incredibly slowly, so answers won't be quickly forthcoming.




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