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What is a Black Hole

What is a Black HoleA black hole is what remains when a massive star dies. It is a concentration of mass great enough that the force of gravity prevents anything from escaping from it except through quantum tunneling behavior. The gravitational field is so strong that the escape velocity near it exceeds the speed of light. This implies that nothing, not even light, can escape its gravity, hence the word "black.

A star is a huge, amazing fusion reactor; because stars are so massive and made out of gas, there is an intense gravitational field that is always trying to collapse the star. The fusion reactions happening in the core are like a giant fusion bomb that is trying to explode the star. The balance between the gravitational forces and the explosive forces is what defines the size of the star.

As the star dies, the nuclear fusion reactions stop because the fuel for these reactions gets burned up. At the same time, the star`s gravity pulls material inward and compresses the core. As the core compresses, it heats up and eventually creates a supernova explosion in which the material and radiation blasts out into space. What remains is the highly compressed, and extremely massive, core. The core`s gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape.

 Black HoleThis object is now a black hole and literally disappears from view. Because the core`s gravity is so strong, the core sinks through the fabric of space-time, creating a hole in space-time -- this is why the object is called a black hole. The core becomes the central part of the black hole called the singularity. The opening of the hole is called the event horizon. A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing can escape, even light. To see why this happens, imagine throwing a tennis ball into the air. The harder you throw the tennis ball, the faster it is traveling when it leaves your hand and the higher the ball will go before turning back. If you throw it hard enough it will never return, the gravitational attraction will not be able to pull it back down. The velocity the ball must have to escape is known as the escape velocity and for the earth is about 7 miles a second.

As a body is crushed into a smaller and smaller volume, the gravitational attraction increases, and hence the escape velocity gets bigger. Things have to be thrown harder and harder to escape. Eventually a point is reached when even light, which travels at 186 thousand miles a second, is not traveling fast enough to escape. At this point, nothing can get out as nothing can travel faster than light. This is a black hole.

Do they really exist?

What is a Black HoleIt is impossible to see a black hole directly because no light can escape from them; they are black. But there are good reasons to think they exist. When a large star has burnt all its fuel it explodes into a supernova. The stuff that is left collapses down to an extremely dense object known as a neutron star. We know that these objects exist because several have been found using radio telescopes. If the neutron star is too large, the gravitational forces overwhelm the pressure gradients and collapse cannot be halted. The neutron star continues to shrink until it finally becomes a black hole. This mass limit is only a couple of solar masses, that is about twice the mass of our sun, and so we should expect at least a few neutron stars to have this mass. (Our sun is not particularly large; in fact it is quite small.)

A supernova occurs in our galaxy once every 300 years, and in neighbouring galaxies about 500 neutron stars have been identified. Therefore we are quite confident that there should also be some black holes

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