There’s something mysterious lurking in the depths of space. It’s massive, yet formless and it threatens to destroy everything in its path. Close encounters with it don’t end well, as this powerful entity has the capacity to rip apart all that it comes in contact with.
While we know so much more than we once did about what lies beyond our solar system, outer space continues to contain extraordinary mysteries of the unknown. It’s endlessly fascinating and sometimes even terrifying. When we peer through the looking glass and investigate what’s out there, the potential for destruction is almost unimaginable, and astronomers are still seeking to understand what’s behind these destructive forces and what possible impact they could have on us. Throughout the cosmos, there has been evidence of some kind of powerful destructive force out there.
Astronomers have seen stars being destroyed and disappearing from the night sky. There are remnants of galaxies floating out, isolated in space while other galaxies are shifting and some are even colliding with one another.
What could be out there that has the power to destroy stars and manipulate galaxies? It must be something insanely strong that causes these massive cosmic disturbances. Cosmic bodies like stars are rather large and do not typically disappear without a trace. Because they are so enormous, whatever is causing all of these events to happen must be extremely massive in order to affect other objects of this size. Astronomers do not always get to see the stars as they disappear, scientists usually just observe the empty space where the star used to reside. With this knowledge, they know that whatever is causing the destruction must also be very hard to detect.
Scientists use a variety of instruments to probe out and detect things happening in space and many of them can not be used to find these star destroyers. Throughout all of physics, there is only one object that could be destroying stars and other objects of this size, scientists know that it must be a black hole.
Stars are being destroyed without scientists noticing until after they are gone. Whatever is doing this must be hard to detect with our instruments and sensors. The only object that astronomers know of that can cause this destruction is be a black hole. But what are black holes exactly? Black holes were once thought to be nothing but science fiction after Albert Einstein first theorized their existence in his theory of General Relativity in the year nineteen sixteen. It would take another fifty five years until nineteen seventy one for the first black hole to be detected in our universe.
Black holes are born from the matter of dying stars. When a star with a sufficient mass begins to die, a black hole may be born in two ways. First, the star can explode in a massive explosion called a supernova. As it explodes, the star’s core will begin to collapse in on itself creating an incredibly dense ball in the center. This dense ball continues to draw in more mass and collapse further on itself until it becomes dense enough to form a black hole. Black holes have an unparalleled gravitational force that will draw in anything that is unlucky enough to get close.
The other way a black hole can form in the dying throes of a star circumvents a supernova all together. If the core begins to collapse in on itself before the supernova takes place, it can produce a gravitational force strong enough to overcome the explosive outward force.
When this happens a black hole is born without any of the usual fanfare astronomers see with a supernova. These types of black holes are much harder to detect when they are born because there is no supernova cloud or outburst of energy, a star in the sky just goes dark as it forms a new black hole. Astronomers typically detect black holes by using telescopes with x-ray capabilities and using it to scan the cosmos for a specific x-ray signature.
This x-ray signature is picking up the emitted x-rays that are being produced by the yet to be devoured, superheated gas and matter that swirl around and into the black hole. Searching for the emit x-rays from these clouds around the black hole are one the most reliable way that astronomers have found to detect black holes from earth.
Black holes were first theorized by Albert Einstein in his theory of General Relativity. They are born from the matter of a dying star. A star can go supernova and then collapse in on itself or it can begin to collapse first and create enough gravitational pull to stop the star from exploding. Astronomers typically detect black holes by looking for the x-rays that are emitted from the hot gas and matter swirling around it.
When there is a cloud of matter swirling into the black hole, it is feeding and this is one of the most fascinating processes in our universe. Astronomers can only see what is around the black hole and the boundary of the black hole.
This boundary is called the event horizon and marks the point at which not even light can escape the gravitational pull and is drawn into the black hole. Once matter or light passes this point, it becomes part of the black hole itself.
The gravitational pull grows so strong as something approaches the event horizon of the black hole that the end closest to the black hole gets pulled stronger than the far end leading to a process scientists call spaghettification. This process causes objects to elongate and be pulled longer and longer resembling a piece of spaghetti as it is sucked beyond the event horizon into the black hole’s interior.
NASA recently was able to capture images of a black hole actively feeding on a star. This spectacular event was captured by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS. This allowed astronomers for the first time to watch a black hole tear apart a star and draw it into itself. This particular black hole resides around the Volans constellation roughly three hundred and seventy five million light years away from Earth. A black hole feeding is one of the most fascinating processes in the universe.
The boundary of the black hole is called the event horizon and marks the point at which not even light can escape the gravitational pull of the black hole. As a black hole feeds on an object a process called spaghettification occurs in which objects are stretched thin like a piece of spaghetti as they are pulled into the black hole.
NASA recently captured the first images of a black hole actively feeding on a star three hundred and seventy five million light years from Earth. As black holes feed, their mass becomes larger in addition to growing in size. Black holes range in size and can be relatively small, but they can also become monstrously massive.
The smallest black holes that astronomers have found measure only three point eight times the mass of our sun which is quite a bit smaller than some stars that scientists have found. But the biggest black hole astronomers have found is many billions of times larger than our sun and some believe that black holes can grow to sizes as large as one hundred billion solar masses. The biggest black hole that has been found alone is almost unthinkably large at sixty six billion times the mass of our sun. It is so large that if it were to be placed in the center of our solar system it would stretch out past the outer limits of the system.
As black holes feed, they gain additional mass and size. They range in size from three point eight times the mass of our sun all the way up to many billions of times larger than the sun. The largest that astronomers have found to date is sixty six billion times the mass of the sun and is larger than our entire solar system. But what are the implications of the giant supermassive black holes of this size? What could they be capable of? Astronomers have already theorized that a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy with enough gravitational pull could lead to the death of its own home.
When black holes feed they draw in giant clouds of gas and other matter. But not all of this matter gets pulled into the black hole, some of it forms an orbiting cloud around the black hole called an accretion disk. The matter in these accretion disks gets so hot that it begins to radiate energy out in the form of light, including visible light and x-ray radiation. This out-poor of energy can be strong enough to rip apart the galaxy it resides in destroying everything around it.
Then this supermassive black hole is then left on its own, isolated in the depths of space. A supermassive black hole of this size would be one of the most destructive objects that is theoretically out there somewhere in the universe.
A supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy with enough mass could lead to the death of its home galaxy. The accretion disk is the cloud of matter swirling around a black hole outside of its event horizon. This matter can get super heated and begin to emit powerful light and x-rays. These emittances are so powerful that they can tear apart the objects that reside in the galaxy, completely destroying it.
The size of black holes are not the only frightening realities of black holes though. Did you know that they can travel through space on their own, devouring everything in their path? These types of black holes are called rogue black holes and the cosmos may be filled with them flying through space at dizzying speeds.
The average rogue black hole travels well over a hundred thousand miles an hour but at least one has been clocked going nearly five million miles an hour, that means its covering over one thousand three hundred miles every second. Astronomers believe that supermassive black holes can become rogue when two galaxies, each with a supermassive black hole, collide and in the ensuing chaos, one of the supermassive black holes is thrown out of its galaxy and barrels through the cosmos on its own.
Once a black hole goes rogue, there is very little that can stop it from destroying everything that is unlucky enough to get trapped in its immense gravitational pull. Black holes can go rogue and fly through the cosmos on their own. They can travel extremely fast, reaching average speeds of over a hundred miles an hour and maximum recorded speeds of nearly five million miles an hour.
Black holes can go rogue when two galaxies with black holes at their center collide with each other and one of the black holes is thrown out on its own during the collision. Black holes are one of the most destructive objects in our universe and astronomers still do not understand everything about them. Who knows what we will learn when astronomers can take a closer look into black holes. There are many frightening and mysterious objects that lay beyond our solar system and black holes are just one of them. Scientists will keep striving to understand more about our universe to keep us more informed and better prepared for what might be found out in the deep cosmos.