Super Massive Black Hole Encounter

Super massive black holes are the cement holding galaxies together. Massive is a word fitting extremely large objects – preface it with “super” and you have unimaginable size. Asking anyone to visualize something hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions or billions times larger than our sun is pointless. If a super massive pimple came up in conversation – few in the room would struggle over mental images.  Super massive black holes defy common understanding, they elude definable points of reference. Ridiculous vastness aside, black holes are considered fictional science fiction devices rather than concrete science fact.

Princeton physicist John Wheeler came up with “black hole” in 1967. Albert Einstein surmised their existence as part of his theory of relativity – simply put, when a star “dies” it collapses in on itself, resulting in a core of dense mass. Picture New York city instantly compressed onto a pin head and you have “baby steps” towards visualizing just how dense is dense. If the “remnant core” exceeds three times the star’s mass, gravity screams “oh hell no” – a black hole is born.

Galaxies cluster around the extreme gravitational pull of black holes. The Milky Way galaxy boasts a respectable super massive behemoth over four million times the mass of our sun. Indiscriminate cosmic glue, responsible for galactic rotation, orbits, and sealed fates for anything passing the “event horizon” – a  gravitational point of no return, the threshold of absorption by forces so powerful, not even light can escape.

Astronomers are buzzing over an opportunity to witness a black hole in action. In 2011 German astronomers noticed a gas cloud  oblivious to its ill fated path, speeding up as it neared the event horizon. Recent data indicates part of the cloud has begun “spagettification”, a certified sign of black hole might –  gravity elongates as it pulls towards oblivion. The main body of this cloud is expected to succumb by April.

To actually observe an object, to see how it behaves as it vanishes into mystery – how cool is that?  Ponder a moment capable of catapulting science fiction into fact.

http://earthsky.org/space/almost-snack-time-for-our-galaxys-supermassive-black-hole?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=2a1b8f0bbc-EarthSky_News&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-2a1b8f0bbc-393970565

Image via ESO/MPE/M. Schartmann/L. Calçada

Image via ESO/MPE/M.Schartmann/L.Calcada

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