Neither this post’s title nor its subject is a racist insult, although truth be told, there really is a black hole occupying the White House because it is sucking the life out of America.
A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. It is called “black” because it absorbs all the light that hits the horizon, reflecting nothing. Around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an event horizon that marks the point of no return.
Black holes of stellar mass are expected to form when heavy stars collapse in a supernova at the end of their life cycle. After a black hole has formed it can continue to grow by absorbing mass from its surroundings. By absorbing other stars and merging with other black holes, supermassive black holes of millions of solar masses may be formed.
Despite its invisible interior, the presence of a black hole can be inferred through its interaction with other matter. There is growing consensus that supermassive black holes exist in the centers of most galaxies. In particular, there is strong evidence of a black hole of more than 4 million solar masses at the center of our Milky Way.
Last March, NASA’s Swift spacecraft first detected what scientists believe to be a black hole eating a star 3.8 billion light years from earth. By devouring the star, the black hole not only sent a beam of X-rays shooting towards Earth, it also “rejuvenated” itself.
Here’s a video NASA put together, imagining the event:
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center explains why matter and X-rays are shooting out of the black hole:
“As a star falls toward a black hole, it is ripped apart by intense tides. The gas is corralled into a disk that swirls around the black hole and becomes rapidly heated to temperatures of millions of degrees.“
The black hole itself is enormous, potentially four times the size of the one at the center of the Milky Way, according to NASA. The massive hole also seems to be shooting matter out of its center at 80 to 90% of the speed of light.
An event like this has never before been seen by scientists. David Burrows, professor of astronomy at Penn State University, told NASA, “It behaves unlike anything we’ve seen before.”
Earlier this year, NASA reported that the Swift telescope had detected dual black holes, that is, a supermassive blackhole at the center of a galaxy located extremely close to another galaxy with a blackhole at its center–a rarely observed occurrence.
At the 2011 Ted conference, Janna Levin, a professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College, described the “sound” of a black hole as like “someone knocking on the door, or mallets banging on a drum.”
H/t FOTM’s Steve