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In space, there is nothing more frightening than the words “black hole.” The inferences made by long-distance observations indicate something sinister about an object that seemingly consumes light and energy. “Black holes were theorized more than 200 years ago and later were predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The discovery of active galaxies forced astronomers to think that monstrous black holes really do exist and are the ‘engines’ at the heart of these fireworks. The gushers of light and other radiation from such objects could not be explained by starlight alone” (Black Holes). Year by year, science is evolving and figuring out solutions that have left past generations baffled, but one question has left every generation confused and searching for answers. What are black holes and what do they do? Are they just a natural phenomenon that sucks in any matter that comes near it, or do they serve a more meaningful purpose?
There are many theories surrounding the purpose of black holes, but no one has actually seen or been close enough to a black hole to be able to make it a fact. “Astronomers are missing as many as one-third of black holes by looking with the wrong telescopes, according to a new study which finds that massive black holes may be hiding behind thick clouds of dust and gas in the centers of galaxies. Now, astronomers have blown the black holes’ cover after peaking at the high-energy x-rays emanating from the thick shrouds of material that blanket the objects” (MalakoffNov et al.). Scientists could not observe the full black hole with the telescope they were using. They could only infer the existence by what happens around the black hole. In other words, they witness light and other objects disappearing into a specific area.
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The disappearance of light from objects or matter tells scientists that the matter is getting swallowed by the black hole. “Astronomers speculate that every galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its center. Our own Milky Way has one, although it’s not actively sucking in matter. Researchers know that there are millions of galaxies in which a glowing disc of particles circles the central black hole, and sometimes jets of ions burst from inside the doughnut-shaped hole under twisty magnetic forces” (MalakoffNov et al.). Every galaxy is believed to have a massive black hole in the center of it, and with the black hole that we know of being light-years away, it should not pose any threat to us. But what if there are smaller black holes closer to us that we do not know about?
A black hole is one of the biggest mysteries known to mankind in the realm of space exploration. Solving the mystery of black holes could unlock answers to some of the unanswered questions that scientists from around the world have been trying to solve for decades. If the theories of black holes are correct, and these objects are inescapable voids of nothingness, then more research and exploration should be conducted to determine if a black hole could be an undoubted threat to mankind. Still, others theorize that a black hole could be useful to mankind as a teleportation device, carrying us from our galaxy to another, or to a distant point in the universe. This idea is similar to how wormholes are believed to work and how white holes are theorized to serve as galactic transport. If these theories are correct, would matter entering different black holes yield the same outcome, or would the results vary? “According to theory, there might be three types of black holes: stellar, supermassive, and miniature black holes – depending on their mass. These black holes would have formed in different ways” (How many types of black holes are there?). If various types of black holes exist, then there could also be different outcomes for the matter that enters into a black hole. Therefore, without further research into black holes, we cannot conclusively answer the question of what happens to the matter that enters these three different types of black holes. “Stellar black holes form when a massive star collapses. Supermassive black holes, which can have a mass equivalent to billions of suns, likely exist in the centers of most galaxies, including our own galaxy, the Milky Way. We do not know exactly how supermassive black holes form, but it is likely that they’re a byproduct of galaxy formation. Because of their location in the centers of galaxies, close to many tightly packed stars and gas clouds, supermassive black holes continue to grow on a steady diet of matter” (How many types of black holes are there?). The only black hole location that scientists can confidently identify is the supermassive black hole at the center of our universe. There could be black holes closer to Earth that we do not yet know about.
Black holes are theorized to have formed shortly after the “Big Bang”, but there are certain things scientists know about them which they have never discovered. However, this does not mean that they do not exist. “No one has ever discovered a miniature black hole, which would have a mass much smaller than that of our Sun. But it’s possible that miniature black holes could have formed shortly after the ‘Big Bang,’ which is thought to have started the universe 13.7 billion years ago. Very early in the life of the universe, the rapid expansion of matter might have compressed slower-moving matter enough to contract into black holes” (How many types of black holes are there?). If this black hole formed after the “Big Bang”, is it still around today? Another question we cannot conclusively answer is: what is the lifespan of a black hole? With three known types of black holes, do they all have the same lifespan, or do they even have a lifespan at all?
The closest black hole on record is at the center of the Milky Way. “The closest black holes yet discovered are several thousand light-years away. They are so far that they have no effect on Earth or its environment. A supermassive black hole appears to inhabit the center of the Milky Way galaxy, about 27,000 light-years away. Although it is several million times the mass of the Sun, its great distance insures that it won’t affect our solar system” (Are Any Black Holes Close to Earth?). A black hole cannot be seen because strong gravity pulls all of the light into the middle of the black hole. Scientists have different ways that they can tell if a black hole is there, such as looking at how much the gravity affects the stars and gas around the black hole. Also, when a black hole and a star are close together, a high-energy light is made. This type of light cannot be seen by the human eye, but it is visible through high-power satellites and telescopes placed throughout space.
Most likely, Earth is not in danger of being sucked into a black hole, because it would take a black hole of large mass to have the gravitational pull to do so. The best way to understand the universe is to explore one thing at a time, gather data to test theories, and pull all of the gathered information together. “Most black holes form from the remnants of a large star that dies in a supernova explosion. (Smaller stars become dense neutron stars, which are not massive enough to trap light.) If the total mass of the star is large enough (about three times the mass of the Sun), it can be proven theoretically that no force can keep the star from collapsing under the influence of gravity. However, as the star collapses, a strange thing occurs. As the surface of the star nears an imaginary surface called the ‘event horizon’, time on the star slows relative to the time kept by observers far away. When the surface reaches the event horizon, time stands still, and the star can collapse no more – it is a frozen collapsing object” (“Blackholes” NASA). From what we know of this type of black hole, our sun is not large enough to die in a supernova explosion, so our sun is not capable of turning into a black hole. This does not mean that we should not explore the possible dangers and or advantages of black holes for mankind.
The explorations will lead to more theories and an increase in knowledge. One way to do this would be by finding a black hole that is closer to Earth than the massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Using a device such as a satellite or rover, we could determine exactly what a black hole is and test the validity of theories and misconceptions concerning black holes. “Although the basic formation process is understood, one perennial mystery in the science of black holes is that they appear to exist on two radically different size scales. On the one end, there are the countless black holes that are the remnants of massive stars. Peppered throughout the Universe, these ‘stellar mass’ black holes are generally 10 to 24 times as massive as the Sun” (“blackholes,” NASA). This tells us just how small our Sun is on a galactic scale compared to larger stars categorized as massive stars. “Astronomers spot them when another star draws near enough for some of the matter surrounding it to be snared by the black hole’s gravity, churning out x-rays in the process. Most stellar black holes, however, lead isolated lives and are impossible to detect. Judging from the number of stars large enough to produce such black holes, however, scientists estimate that there are as many as ten million to a billion such black holes in the Milky Way alone” (“blackholes,” NASA). As of now, we have a basic understanding of how black holes operate, but we do not know where the majority of the black holes are located, out of the millions in our galaxy. For a black hole to endanger Earth, it must have a mass larger than our Sun. However, our Sun is not large enough to turn into a black hole.
The subsequent paragraph will detail what scientists know so far about the only black hole whose location we are certain of. “On the other end of the size spectrum are the giants known as ‘supermassive’ black holes, which are millions, if not billions, of times as massive as the Sun. Astronomers believe that supermassive black holes lie at the center of virtually all large galaxies, even our own Milky Way. Astronomers can detect them by watching for their effects on nearby stars and gas” (“blackholes,” NASA). We are certain that this black hole cannot endanger Earth due to its remote distance. The exploration of the universe and its many existing phenomena will afford numerous opportunities for learning and expanding our knowledge, perhaps even locating habitable planets in the nearby universe. The space explorations of today will greatly benefit future generations, just as we’ve benefitted from scholarly explorations of the past.
Some believe that black holes do not exist without direct evidence. These people are somewhat concrete in their thinking, or maybe they are just scientists who want objective data. The main problem is that technology has not advanced enough to make the exploration and discovery of black holes possible. This is nothing new in terms of science. Scientific history is full of examples in which people question the existence of something they could not prove or see directly. There was a time when people thought the Earth was flat, but most were able to change their minds after technology made scientific measurements more advanced. Another example would be proving the existence of atoms. There was a time when science couldn’t prove atoms existed, but they knew atoms existed even though they couldn’t see them. An inference that was likely used was: scientists knew oxygen existed, but they couldn’t see the molecules or atoms. Thus, the issue with black holes is no different. Perhaps advancements or inventions will solidify the existence of black holes. On the other hand, advances in technology may help scientists understand that their inferences about black holes were incorrect. Until then, data will be collected and theories and ideas will be formed concerning black holes.
Here is what scientists think about black holes at this point. “It is believed that the centre of essentially every galaxy, including our own, plays host to a supermassive black hole. In a small fraction of galaxies, large quantities of gas rain down into these giant black holes, causing the black hole to grow while releasing enough energy within the central few light hours of the galaxy to outshine all of the galaxy’s stars thousands of times over. This is more than a mere cosmic firework show; the energy released as the black hole grows can shape or even shut off the processes by which the galaxy itself forms. In other words, supermassive black holes may well be the safety valve that regulates galaxy formation, preventing galaxies from growing too big too fast. But although they are rapidly becoming a standard part of our model of how galaxies form and evolve, it is important to step back and ask just how strong is the case that these monster black holes actually exist” (Reynolds). These authors describe the black hole as a type of safety valve to keep galaxies from getting too big. This is like the human body and its immune system, keeping the body healthy and getting rid of things that do not belong.
Some scientists do not believe in the existence of black holes, while others are convinced of their existence and are trying to prove it, even though black holes cannot be directly observed. “The formation of the first stars and black holes a few hundred million years after the Big Bang marks the end of the cosmic ‘dark ages’. These objects heat and ionize the surrounding gas, and by a billion years after the Big Bang (or redshift (z) of about 6), they have ionized nearly all of the hydrogen in the Universe. This grand picture is mostly a product of theoretical modeling – data on the first generations of objects are scarce. Only recently have candidate galaxies at z higher than 6 been identified in deep Hubble Space Telescope images. What about the supermassive black holes that presumably lie at their centers? A small number of quasars (extremely luminous galactic nuclei powered by supermassive black holes) at z of about 6 have been discovered in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey” (Alexey). This research is significant because it challenges the assertion that black holes do not exist, while providing substantial backing for the claims made by some scientists regarding the existence of black holes.
“According to the no-hair conjecture, equilibrium black holes are simple objects, completely determined by global charges which can be measured at infinity. This is the case in Einstein-Maxwell theory, due to beautiful uniqueness theorems. However, the no-hair conjecture is not universally valid and there is now a plethora of matter models offering hairy black hole solutions. In this note, we focus on one such matter model: the Einstein-Yang-Mills (EYM) theory, narrowing our attention to four-dimensional, static, non-rotating black holes for simplicity” (Winstanley). As one can see, the existence of black holes is a contested topic within the scientific community. Should this be a reason to halt exploration?
The more research conducted, the more we understand about our universe. For those scientists who deem knowledge about black holes irrelevant to us, given that it may not be utilized by our generation or because a device’s journey to a black hole might outlive us, will result in a lack of information. This information deprivation could hinder future generations from achieving greater understanding of our galaxy.
As previously stated, the inability to see something does not deny its existence. It simply means we are not yet technologically capable of proving it. This rationale can be extended to religious beliefs around the globe. Just because the worshipped deity is not visible, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In conclusion, research into black holes has the potential to solve mysteries that scientists have been grappling with for centuries. Whether or not black holes exist, there is something in the cosmos capable of absorbing light or even life from matter, a phenomenon that unquestionably warrants further investigation.
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