Black hole

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Black hole with corona, X-ray source (artist's concept).

A black hole is a region of spacetime exhibiting such strong gravitational effects that nothing—not even particles and electromagnetic radiation such as light—can escape from inside it. Objects whose gravitational fields are too strong for light to escape were first considered in the 18th century by John Michell and Pierre-Simon Laplace. The first modern solution of general relativity that would characterize a black hole was found by Karl Schwarzschild in 1916. Quantum field theory in curved spacetime predicts that event horizons emit Hawking radiation, with the same spectrum as a black body of a temperature inversely proportional to its mass. The discovery of neutron stars sparked interest in gravitationally collapsed compact objects as a possible astrophysical reality.

Quotes[edit]

A Hertzsprung–Russell diagram,
utilizing some Milky Way galaxy stars.
Stellar evolutions of low-mass vs. high-mass stars,
with examples.
  • A star does not evolve over its lifetime through each spectral type, as Russell once thought; rather, each star experiences its own distinct history, based on its mass at birth. Smaller stars, such as tiny red dwarfs, will never reach the red-giant stage but just dully burn away like red-hot ovens. Stars that are born with appreciably more mass than our Sun, such as the white-hot O and B stars, will burn swiftly and eventually blow up, leaving behind a city-sized neutron star or even a black hole, a gravitational pit from which no light or matter can escape. ...the term black hole wasn't even coined until 1968. Yet the first tentative steps toward understanding this great metamorphosis, the distinct and striking stages in a star's life, were taken at the turn of the century. The elements in the stars themselves were telling the tale in the spectral messages they were telegraphing throughout the cosmos.
    • Marcia Bartusiak, Through a Universe Darkly: A Cosmic Tale of Ancient Ethers, Dark Matter, and the Fate of the Universe (1993)
  • "Schwarzschild's solution"—revealed a stunning implication of general relativity. He showed that if the mass of a star is concentrated in a small enough spherical region, so that it's mass divided by its radius exceeds a particular critical value, the resulting space-time warp is so radical that anything, including light, that gets too close to the star will be unable to escape its gravitational grip. ...John Wheeler ...called them black holes—black because they cannot emit light, holes because anything getting too close falls into them, never to return. The name stuck.
  • Black holes have the universe's most inscrutable poker faces. ...When you've seen one black hole with a given mass, charge, and spin (though you've learned these thing indirectly, through their effect on surrounding gas and stars...) you've definitely seen them all. ...black holes contain the highest possible entropy ...a measure of the number of rearrangements of an object's internal constituents that have no effect on its appearance. ...Black holes have a monopoly on maximal disorder. ...As matter takes the plunge across a black hole's ravenous event horizon, not only does the black hole's entropy increase, but its size increases as well. ...the amount of entropy ...tells us something about space itself: the maximum entropy that can be crammed into a region of space—any region of space, anywhere, anytime—is equal to the entropy contained within a black hole whose size equals the region in question.
    • Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos (2004)
  • A natural guess is that... a black hole's entropy is... proportional to its volume. But in the 1970s Jacob Bekenstein and Stephen Hawking discovered that this isn't right. Their... analyses showed that the entropy... is proportional to the area of its event horizon... less than what we'd naïvely guess. ...Berkenstein and Hawking found that... each square being one Planck length by one Planck length... the black hole's entropy equals the number of such squares that can fit on its surface... each Planck square is a minimal unit of space, and each carries a minimal, single unit of entropy. This suggests that there is nothing, even in principle, that can take place within a Planck square, because any such activity could support disorder and hence the Planck square could contain more than a single unit of entropy... Once again... we are led to the notion of an elemental spatial entity.
    • Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos (2004)
  • [F]or a physicist, the upper limit to entropy... is a critical, almost sacred quantity. ...the Bekenstein and Hawking result tells us that a theory that includes gravity is, in some sense, simpler than a theory that doesn't. ...If the maximum entropy in any given region of space is proportional to the region's surface area and not its volume, then perhaps the true, fundamental degrees of freedom—the attributes that have the potential to give rise to that disorder—actually reside on the region's surface and not within its volume. Maybe... the universe's physical processes take place on a thin, distant surface that surrounds us, and all we see and experience is merely a projection of those processes. Maybe... the universe is rather like a hologram.
  • The subject of this book is the structure of space-time on length-scales from 10-13 cm, the radius of an elementary particle, up to 1028 cm, the radius of the universe. ...we base our treatment on Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. This theory leads to two remarkable predictions about the universe: first, that the final fate of massive stars is to collapse behind an event horizon to form a 'black hole' which will contain a singularity; and secondly, that there is a singularity in our past which constitutes, in some sense, a beginning to the universe.
    • Stephen Hawking, G.F.R. Ellis, Preface, "The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time" (1973)
  • I'm sorry to disappoint science fiction fans, but if information is preserved, there is no possibility of using black holes to travel to other universes. If you jump into a black hole, your mass energy will be returned to our universe but in a mangled form which contains the information about what you were like but in a state where it can not be easily recognized. It is like burning an encyclopedia. Information is not lost, if one keeps the smoke and the ashes. But it is difficult to read. In practice, it would be too difficult to re-build a macroscopic object like an encyclopedia that fell inside a black hole from information in the radiation, but the information preserving result is important for microscopic processes involving virtual black holes.
  • It is hard to understand how this infinitely dense singularity can evaporate into nothing. For matter inside the black hole to leak out into the universe requires that it travel faster than the speed of light.
    • John Moffat, Reinventing Gravity (2008) Ch. 5 Conventional Black Holes, p. 85.
  • Is the reader feeling confused about the status of the black hole information paradox and black holes in general? So am I!
    • John Moffat, Reinventing Gravity (2008) Ch. 5 Conventional Black Holes, p. 87
  • Experimentalists dream of some spectacular discovery such as the proof of the existence of black holes to justify the more than eight billion dollars it has cost to build the LHC.
    • John Moffat, Reinventing Gravity (2008) Ch. 5 Conventional Black Holes, p. 88.
  • A large part of the relativity community is in denial - refusing even to contemplate the idea that black holes may not exist in nature, or seriously consider the idea that any kind of new matter such as the new putative dark energy can play a fundamental role in gravity theory.
    • John Moffat, Reinventing Gravity (2008) Ch. 14 Do Black Holes Exist In Nature? p. 204.
  • Hawking's intitial foray into quantum gravity was more modest than Wheeler's and other[s]... a sneak approach. He first wanted to know what the effect was of an ordinary, classic, curved-space gravitational field on a quantum system. He called this the semiclassical approach. Until that day, most quantum calculations had been done as if gravity didn't exist—they were hard enough without it in normal flat space-time... [Hawking accomplished this by] envisioning an "atom" whose nucleus was a catastrophically powerful black hole... Starobinsky ventured the opinion that rotating black holes would spray elementary particles. ...It was known from Penrose's work, among others, that you could extract energy from the spin of a black hole just like any other dynamo... in particles and radiation just like it did from a particle generator. ...But Hawking ...resolved to redo the calculation for himself ...he decided to warm up first, by calculating the rate of emission from a nonrotating quantum hole. He knew the answer should be no emission. ...his results were embarrassing. His imaginary black hole was spewing matter and radiation... he was reluctant to tell anybody but his closest friends; he was afraid Bekenstein would hear about it. ...It meant that holes had temperatures, just as Bekenstein's work implied.
    • Dennis Overbye, Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Scientific Quest for the Secrets of the Universe (1992)
  • Even though a black hole is practically invisible, astronomers can infer its presence from the effects it has on spacetime itself. ...Andrea Ghez... uses radio telescopes to study the motions of stars near the center of our galaxy. By watching how these stars move, she is really measuring the curvature of spacetime—the strength of gravity—in the heart of the Milky Way. ...Ghez realized that the stars are wheeling about an invisible, supermassive object that weighs more than two and a half million times as much as our sun. The black hole... dubbed Sagittarius A*... cannot be seen directly, but Ghez was able to find it because of the effect it has on spacetime, on the stars orbiting it. Ghez's technique is quite similar to what Vera Rubin did when she made the first compelling case for dark matter.
    • Charles Seife, Alpha and Omega: The Search for the Beginning and End of the Universe (2003)
  • I was very fortunate to know the great astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar during his last years. Chandra, as we called him, was the first to discover that general relativity implied that stars above a certain mass would collapse into what we now call a black hole. Much later, he wrote a beautiful book describing the different solutions of the equations of general relativity that describe black holes. As I got to know him, Chandra shocked me by speaking of a deep anger toward Einstein. Chandra was upset that Einstein, after inventing general relativity, had abandoned this masterpiece, leaving it to others to struggle through it.
  • There is no shortage of candidates for... baryonic dark matter. It may come in many forms—clouds of gas or dust, large planetlike objects, various forms of degraded stars, and black holes. ...MACHOS could include black holes and burned-out stars, such as white dwarfs or neutron stars... Black holes are perhaps the most intriguing, and the most difficult to detect and quantify. As far back as the eighteenth century, scientists speculated about worlds so massive that nothing escaped their gravitational grip, not even light. In the early twentieth century, J. Robert Oppenheimer used Einstein's general theory of relativity to explain how a black hole might form: The black hole would warp adjacent space so deeply that the escape velocity would exceed the speed of light... hence nothing... could leave... The center of the Milky Way emits intense gamma radiation—the death cry, perhaps, of stars falling into a black hole. Black holes may also be distributed in galactic halos, where they might constitute a substantial fraction of baryonic dark matter.
  • According to Newton's law of gravity, every object in the universe attracts every other object... with a gravitational force... ... almost as famous as ... On the left side is the force, , between two masses... On the right side, the bigger mass is and the smaller mass is . ...The last symbol... , is a numerical constant called Newton's constant. ...Ironically, Newton never knew the value of his own constant. ... was too small to measure until the end of the eighteenth century. ...Cavindish found that the force between a pair of one-kilogram masses separated by one meter is approximately 6.6 x 10-11 newtons. (The Newton is... about one-fifth of a pound.) ...Newton had one lucky break... the special mathematical properties of the inverse square law. ...[B]y the miracle of mathematics, you can pretend that the entire mass is located at a single point. This... allowed Newton to calculate the escape velocity... ... the bigger the mass [] and the smaller the radius , the larger the escape velocity. ...to compute the Schwarzschild radius ... plug in the speed of light for the escape velocity... ... is proportional to the mass. That's all there is to dark stars... at the level that Laplace and Michell were able to understand them.
    • Leonard Susskind, The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics (2008)
  • [A]round 1967, Wheeler became very interested in the gravitationally collapsed objects that Karl Schwarzschild had described in 1917. At the time they were called black stars or dark stars. ...Wheeler began calling them black holes. At first the name was blackballed by the... Physical Review. ...the term ...was deemed obscene! But John fought it... Amusingly, John's next coinage was the saying "Black holes have no hair." ...he was making a very serious point about black hole horizons. ...[Each a] smooth ...perfectly regular, featureless sphere. Apart from their mass and rotational speed, every black hole was exactly like every other. Or so it was thought.
    • Leonard Susskind, The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics (2008)

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