Science and science fiction have many areas that overlap. One of these areas is the significance of black holes. These unique areas of space have fascinated astronomers, science fiction writers and general individuals ever since their existence was first detected. Black holes are evidence of both the gradual increase in scientific learning as well as the limits of such knowledge even today. What is a black hole and what are the methods by which scientists are able to detect them?
While stars come into existence and last for a significantly long time, stars do not exist forever. When stars die matter becomes squeezed into a very tiny space. The effect on such a region is that gravity intensifies to such a degree that no light is able to escape and thus the name black hole came into existence. Black holes can vary in size from a single atom to much larger than Earth’s sun. There is evidence that every large galaxy contains a significantly large black hole at its center. Current research on black holes is being done through use of satellites and telescopes traveling through space and such research holds out hope that it may shed more light on how the universe was formed. Since no light escapes a black hole it cannot be seen through ordinary means. Space telescopes using special tools are required in order to detect a black hole.
Black holes are not so much seen as detected by the affect which they have on the various objects which are around them. This is a method that has been used in science successfully in order to detect extremely small particles not evident to the naked eye. As microscopic and telescopic tools have advanced such approaches have become less important, but in dealing with black holes, areas of no light at all, they have again become extremely useful in black hole research. There are three primary methods currently in effect to detect black holes using their impact on the objects around them. These are mass estimates from objects around a black hole or spiraling in them, gravitational lens effects, and emitted radiation.
Measuring the impact on objects around a black hole can help to identify it and to calculate its size. When objects are near an object of large mass they will often wobble in reaction. When a star or gas disk is seen acting in such a manner when no large mass is nearby this is an indication that a black hole may be present. The black hole justifies behavior that cannot be explained otherwise. The degree of the wobble can then be used to calculate the overall mass of the black hole that is affecting it. Astronomers study sections of the universe for activity that cannot be explained through visual stimuli and can thus detect that a black hole is present in that region.
Another approach to black hole detection is a gravity lens which draws on Einstein’s theory that gravity is actually able to bend space. The affect of gravity on light has been measured during a solar eclipse and such research has determined that Einstein’s theory is in fact correct. The outflow from this theory is that while light is not emitted from a black hole, the presence of a black hole has such a significant impact that the light from a gravitational lens would be bent and this could be detected when the lens is focused in the proper location. A gravitational lens effect occurs when two images of the object are seen close together. Such an effect indicates that an object has passed between Earth, where the lens is being emitted, and the object in space. If no object is seen then it can be inferred that a black hole has passed between Earth and the location in space where the lens is focused.
Emitted Radiation is yet another method used by scientists to detect black holes. Any material that falls into a black hole is both super-heated as well as accelerated. As a result of this activity, an x-ray telescope will be able to detect the x-rays being emitted from the black hole. In addition to x-rays, emitted material ejected at high speeds can also form jets that can be detected in space. By focusing on regions which contain such x-rays or jets a black hole can be detected and by calculating the amount of material involved, an estimation of the mass of a black hole can be produced.
Astronomers have developed various methods by which to detect black holes. These have had to be creative because the nature of black holes is to prevent any light from being emitted and thus relegating standard measuring techniques useless. Despite these challenges scientists are now able to detect black holes, measure their size, and use such research to learn much about the universe and its origins. Indirect evidence of black holes has given rise to the possibility of being able to travel great distances through space and even the possibility of time travel. Such ideas hold out hope that research on black holes offers much for future people to understand and use to advance scientific progress.