“NASA’s Swift satellite recently detected a rising tide of high-energy X-rays from a source toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy. The outburst, produced by a rare X-ray nova, announced the presence of a previously unknown stellar-mass black hole.” NASA.gov
In some exciting news this week, NASA has discovered a new black hole for our science edification. Well, new to us. After all it’s sure to have been around since (almost) the beginning of time. It’s kind of like that old car your parents might have given you, or those hand-me-down clothes you might have gotten. The universe has been using that black hole this whole time, and now it’s ours check out for a while.
For more information about how NASA’s Swift X-ray satellite discovered the black hole, be sure to check out the NASA.gov link above. There’s a great video.
For those who don’t know, black holes are areas in space in which gravity’s pull is so intense that not even light can escape. Gravity is so strong near and in black holes because the matter inside the black hole is densely packed into an extremely small space.
While light can not escape black holes, we can indirectly detect their presence by studying how they affect nearby matter. In order to try to find black holes, scientists look for evidence of accretion, Hawking radiation (X-rays), and gamma- or X-ray bursts.
Most black holes are formed when large stars die in a supernova explosion. In order for a black hole to form the mass left at the core after the explosion must be more than about 3 times the mass of the Sun. (Smaller stars become dense neutron stars, which are not massive enough to trap light.) However, the star will probably need to be between 50 to 100 times the mass of the Sun most of its life in order for a black hole to form.
Even stranger than the mysterious, behemoth black holes formed from stellar tragedies, are the ranges of sizes of black holes. There are the black holes that range on the stellar scale of around 10-24X the mass of our sun. Then there are SUPERMASSIVE black holes, millions if not billions of times more massive than the Sun. Scientists believe that these supermassive black holes lie at the center of all large galaxies. These black holes can also be detected by watching their effects on nearby by stars and gas.
It is also believed that extremely small black holes exist, on the atomic scale. **You may remember the big scare/lawsuit with people not wanting to start up the LHC because of black holes could be created by the high energies of the particles.** However, theory suggests that these black holes are so small that Hawking (black body) radiation allows them to destroy themselves before they could have a chance to devour us all. Besides, what’s happening at the LHC is happening all the time, right now, because space particles are bombarding you this very moment. So, if atomic (or sub-atomic) black holes exist, they are all around you right now, zipping in and out of existence.
If any of this frightens you, there is a very deep mine in South Dakota with leaded walls, I think it’s one of the least radiated places possible….You can check into it. 🙂