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The Great Enigma Of Space – Black Holes

By James Donahue

Astronomers and contemporary physicists assure us that black holes exist in space, although no one has ever seen one. That is because, in theory, black holes are not only black fields of negative energy, they don’t emit light and they trap any forms of light that get sucked into them. Consequently to us, they are almost completely invisible.

It wasn’t until the X-ray telescope was invented that any astronomer has ever found proof that black holes are really out there.

By studying the behavior of other stars that supposedly get close to black holes scientists developed some interesting theories about the very nature of these strange anomalies, and what might happen if space travelers should ever accidentally fall into one.

Thus the great enigma of space involves something that cannot be seen by the naked eye or even through the most powerful normal telescope because it is so powerful it swallows up proof of its existence. The only reason we believed in them before the X-ray telescope is because such things have been mathematically calculated to be possible and because astronomers and physicists found great voids of nothingness where such holes were believed to be. Also such voids seemed to have a dramatic effect on stars and star systems that wander by.

In a strange way, black holes depict our worst nightmares. They are the real bogeymen of the universe . . . the unseen dark monster hiding under the bed. We suspect that they are out there, but we don’t know what they are. We are pretty sure they would do terrible things to us if we ever have the misfortune to let one get too close.

The concept of a body in space that is so massive that even light cannot escape may have first been introduced by geologist John Michell in a letter to the Royal Society in 1783. French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace reinforced the idea in a paper published in 1796. Laplace dubbed the name "dark stars." Michell and Laplace were about a hundred years ahead of their time, however.

It wasn’t until Albert Einstein developed his general theory of relativity that the concept of dark stars, or black holes really got the attention of world scientists. Einstein published his theory in 1915. German physicist Karl Schwarzschild built on Einstein’s work and produced the formula for what has been called the Schwarzschild Radius. His formula shows, at least in mathematical terms, that a black hole could theoretically exist.

The name "black hole" appears to have used for the first time in a published report by Ann Ewing in a 1964 issue of the Science News Letter. She wrote: "According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, as mass is added to a degenerate star a sudden collapse will take place and the intense gravitational field of the star will close in on itself. Such a star then forms a ‘black hole’ in the universe."

Since Schwarzschild, scientists like Javant, Narlikar and Stephen Hawking have built theories about black holes, but proving them has been difficult.

New and more advanced telescopes with X-ray vision have helped astronomers locate and even measure the size of black holes. What they are discovering is that black holes are spinning at very high speed. One in the constellation Aquila was found to be rotating at an impossible 950 times a second.

Black holes are theorized to be the result of collapsed red super giant stars. Once they burn out and collapse, matter in them concentrates in extreme mass with a gravitational force so powerful it prevents anything within a certain area around it from passing. That area is called the "event horizon" of a black hole. A star that drifts within the event horizon eventually becomes sucked into the hole. What happens to it after that is only a subject of speculation.

According to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, a spinning black hole causes a "dent" in the fabric of spacetime. It is theorized that time slows for anything falling into the black hole.

Very large black holes, each about a billion times more massive than our Sun, have been found at the very center of numerous galaxies, including our own Milky Way. These black holes appear relatively old and generating less energy than other fierce black holes known as quasars.

Yet these black holes are shooting jets of energy in the form of radio waves, but without producing light. Steve Allen of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics at Stanford University, noted the energy produced in these jets is measured at "about a trillion trillion trillion watts."

As they race out into space the jets carve out large "bubbles" in the surrounding gas environment, some of them up to tens of thousands of light years wide.

All of this is part of a dynamic living universe. It is a spectacular show of force that we are only recently beginning to be aware of.