Scary Celestial Science: Black Holes

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Humans have never actually known what a black hole looks like. All black hole imagery we have seen is simply artistic interpretation. 

THE photograph

That is, until last year. The Event Horizon Telescope, or EHT, is a network of observatories that zoomed in on the M87 galaxy and took the FIRST EVER photo of a black hole.

Although not as detailed as some textbook depictions, the photo illustrates a fuzzy orange donut. The fuzzy ring is a disk of bright gas surrounding the black hole that looks like a black spot. This is because nothing, not even light, can escape the black hole’s powerful gravitational pull.

What’s a black hole?

First, let’s start with what they are NOT. Black holes are not a planet or a star, as they do not have a surface. Instead, a black hole is a region of space where matter has collapsed on itself and a huge amount of mass is now concentrated in a very small area. To compare, think of the vacuum or suction effect from a drain at the bottom of a pool.

So how are they made?

Black holes are formed when a star dies. Because of a star’s mass, gravity pulls on them, and this pull is balanced by the force the star creates with the gas it is made from. As the star ages and burns up this gas fuel, gravity begins to take over and the star falls in on itself and collapses. 

Gravity is now being squished into the small collapsed area, creating an incredibly strong force and pulling anything that gets too close. Once within the area surrounding a black hole, called the event horizon, nothing, including light, can ever leave. 

To learn more, check out Science News for Students.