RationalWiki's 2020 Fundraiser

There is no RationalWiki without you. We are a small non-profit with no staff – we are hundreds of volunteers who document pseudoscience and crankery around the world every day. We will never allow ads because we must remain independent. We cannot rely on big donors with corresponding big agendas. We are not the largest website around, but we believe we play an important role in defending truth and objectivity.

If everyone who saw this today donated $5, we would meet our goal for 2021.

Fighting pseudoscience isn't free.
We are 100% user-supported! Help and donate $5, $20 or whatever you can today with PayPal Logo.png!

Donations so far: $720Goal: $3500

Black hole

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Simulated image of a black hole.
The poetry of reality
Icon science.svg
We must know.
We will know.
A view from the
shoulders of giants.
— Outline Only —
This article is only a brief description of the subject and is not intended to give a full explanation.
Check out the "see also" or "references" sections, or Wikipedia's article for more detail.

They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.
Jude 1:13

A black hole is an astronomical body so dense that the escape velocity[1] is greater than the speed of light. The only currently known mechanism for producing new black holes is the core collapse of a massive star, which produces black holes of at least ca. three times the mass of the Sun. Black holes can merge and produce supermassive black holes, which have been found in the dense central regions of galaxies. Long thought to be theoretical, scientific consensus was that black holes exist because of compelling indirect evidence from multiple lines of research: accretion disk spectroscopy, stellar orbits, and the detection of gravitational waves from a black hole merger, until one was finally imaged in April 2019 (see picture further down) and the remaining doubts were finally dissipated. Older sources may still refer to black holes as purely hypothetical objects.

While the astrophysical evidence supports shows black holes or something that acts exactly like one to be real, theoretically, black holes are paradoxical objects, and create a lot of theoretical discussions that is freely confused with the astrophysical reality of their existence. Even physicists are guilty of unhinged speculation containing unprovable or infeasibly difficult-to-prove claims. General relativity essentially predicts that it can't predict what goes on at the very centre of a black hole. According to GR, an infinitely dense singularity would be formed. But if quantum physics is valid, such an object couldn't exist; it would have to have a physical size, even if extremely small. This incompatibility would need to be solved with a theory of quantum gravity. Stephen Hawking predicted that black holes would emit very faint radiation (Hawking radiation) due to quantum effects. The black hole information paradox is that no mathematically rigorous way has been found to correlate the information that falls into a black hole and the information embedded in Hawking radiation. Hawking's proposed solution led him to proclaim that "black holes don't exist", which is not the case; it is true only in a very technical sense only physicists can appreciate. Nobody has solved the paradox. Nobel prizes expected for anyone that does.

However, objects with such extreme properties have also attracted varying breeds of pseudoscientists. For example, Nassim Haramein claims to have solved quantum gravity in his "Resonance Project". Conveniently the solution also connects to Osiris' temple in Egypt, I Ching, Kabbalah and crop circles. It is as of these people want to trigger bullshit detectors to spare the experts from trying to dissect their (s)crap.

Existence and Formation[edit]

The first true image of a black hole, captured by the Event Horizon Telescope.[2]

There are black holes that are as large as thousands to billions of solar masses at the centre of our and most other galaxies.[3][4][5] These may have been created by the compression caused by the enormous central mass of stars mutually attracting each other until the gravity exceeded the radiation pressure. These supermassive black holes are so gravitationally powerful that their effect on the real motion of stars in close orbit around them can be (easily — with the right equipment) detected.

Black holes have been conjectured to form through the collapse of large stellar objects when the gravity of the object becomes sufficiently greater than the radiation pressure[6] or by the huge compressive forces inside (exploding) supernovas.

It has been hypothesised that black holes might have been created at or about the time of the Big Bang. These black holes could be tiny in comparison with stellar black holes and many would probably have decayed to ordinary matter by now.[7]

According to general relativity, black holes have only three distinguishing characteristics: mass, angular momentum and electric charge. Two black holes with the same mass, angular momentum and charge are truly identical objects. For this reason, some physicists speculate that black holes may be a kind of elementary particle, though a macroscopic one.

Observable properties[edit]

What gravitational lensing looks like.

Black holes have, theoretically, many outré properties of which possibly the most notable is relativistic time and space distortion. They have almost certainly been detected, by observing the radiation emitted from streams of matter from binary stars flowing into a black hole at velocities approaching light speed and by the lensing effect on light from more distant bodies as it passes close by on its way to Earth. Another method of finding black holes is examining their effect on the orbits of nearby objects, particularly stars.

In 2015, the gravitational waves caused by two distant black holes colliding were observed for the first time using two Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, thus validating the existence of gravity waves, a major prediction of general relativity (and, since those gravitational waves coincided with the predicted ones for a collision of two black holes, a very strong proof of the existence of these celestial bodies). The observation was announced in 2016.[8]

In 2019, the first image of a black hole (or rather what is known as its shadow) was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (see the second image of this article)[9]

Non-observable properties[edit]

Black holes are characterised by an event horizon. This is an imaginary spheroid around the object, of radius proportional to the mass of the object, at which communication from inside to outside becomes impossible (but see note[7] below). Many relativistic effects become apparent at this distance.

The distance of the event horizon from the center of the black hole is called the Schwarzschild Radius (rs), and is directly proportional to the black hole's mass. rs = 2.95 kilometers per solar mass.

Hypothetical properties[edit]

It is hypothetically possible that black holes have no "physical dimensions" — that is, the object inside the event horizon is a true quantum singularity: an infinitely dense, infinitely small point of mass[10]. To date, though, we know of no way to test this.

One of the latest hypotheses ("Brane theory") regarding the basic structure of the universe implies that black holes might contain "junction points" known as wormholes between universes at which matter/energy is passed from one universe to another. This is pure conjecture and will probably remain so. Also note, if this idea got your hopes up, that any matter going through such a junction point would be shredded by the immense tidal forces of the black hole before it could go through and the wormhole's throat would be short-lived, so you'd end up crushed to subatomic size unless you were on movies as Disney's The Black HoleWikipedia.

Another supposition is that the dark matter of which the universe is largely composed, could consist of a very large number of microscopic black holes. This, however, has been ruled out or at the very least them being a significant part of it[11].

What a black hole ISN'T[edit]

A black hole is not:

  • A hole (as in the equivalent of a two-dimensional (flat) hole in a wall). Not only one in space would look like a sphere or at most as an oblate spheroid if it was rotating fast enough, but also barring wormholes as commented above it does not carry anywhere, the afterlife included. If one catches you your mass is added to the black hole's one, so if there's an afterlife then you'll go there in the usual fashion... assuming souls aren't affected by gravity. This also means that is wrong to see them as a sort of funnel in a 2-D space (accretion disks around them have nothing to see with that.)
  • (Totally) black. If you've seen the movie "Interstellar" (if not, see image here), or the above picture of a real black hole, you can see how we can detect one thanks to both all that matter falling into one and the gravitational lensing it induces on whatever is behind it. One with no such luck could still be spotted thanks to the feeble radiations emitted by matter being absorbed by it (remember even interstellar space is not 100% empty of matter), and simulations of what would be to fall into one show you'd not even know you had passed the event horizon. And there's Hawking radiation, even if it's so weak (and the more massive the hole is, the fainter it is and thus the harder to spot) that most of the times is not noticeable at all and as the other Wiki states it's indeed a very good approximation to say a black hole is "black".
  • A cosmic vacuum cleaner. Barring tidal forces and that even light cannot escape from one, a black hole has the same gravitational attraction of an object of similar mass (a star, etc) and the only difference is that the hole being so small and not emitting radiation of any kind by itself except very feeble Hawking one would allow a hypothetical spacecraft to orbit it way closer than to a star of similar mass (assuming a stellar-mass black hole), tidal forces aside, close enough for to leave said orbit being very difficult or downright impossible due to the hole's gravitational field. A star or even an entire galaxy of them can orbit one or vice-versa with no ill effects (best example: our very galaxy), except on the former case if it's too close the hole will draw down matter from the star (just ask Cygnus X-1Wikipedia) or worse.
  • Magic. Black holes, for all their weird properties, are still objects of this Universe that are subjected to the same laws of physics all things in the latter must obey, thus they can be explained by said laws even if the ones we currently have break down when considering what happens on their very centers.

Hawking radiation, and black hole evaporation[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Hawking radiation

Physicist Stephen Hawking theorized that black holes slowly give up mass through a process dubbed "Hawking Radiation". In his theory Hawking stated (using a very, very simple explanation here) that when anti-particle/particle pairs pop into existence near the event horizon of a black hole from the vacuum energy, that one of the pair will be drawn into the black hole while the other escapes into space. As the pair have been created from the vacuum energy, they need to annihilate each other immediately to repay the energy back into the vacuum in order to satisfy the first law of thermodynamics. When this does not happen the black hole repays this energy by slowly giving up some of its own. It is thought that through this process even the largest of black holes would eventually disappear (where 'eventually' refers to mindtwistingly long timescales, even by cosmological standards).

The time that it would take a black hole to completely evaporate via Hawking radiation depends entirely on its mass:

t_{\operatorname{ev}} = \frac{5120 \pi G^2 M_0^{3}}{\hbar c^4} \;

Thus, a black hole with one Solar mass (2 x 1030 kg) would last for 2 x 1067 years, while a black hole with a mass of 1 gram would last for 8 x 10-26 seconds.

It's important to note that even if the maths behind it work Hawking radiation is a theoretical concept so far, as its detection is far beyond our current technological capabilities.

Micro black holes[edit]

Hypothetically, any process — at any scale — that squeezes matter into a space smaller than its own Schwarzchild Radius will create a black hole. This could happen if subatomic particles were smashed into each other with sufficient energy, thereby creating a microscopic black hole.

Some opponents of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) predicted that it would create such a micro black hole, which would swallow the Earth and doom us all. They have nothing to worry about. For one thing, some of the cosmic rays bombarding the Earth's atmosphere impact with more energy than the collisions in the LHC, and none of those have swallowed the Earth yet. For another, even if a microscopic black hole did pop into existence, it would evaporate via Hawking radiation so rapidly that it wouldn't have time to swallow anything. (A micro black hole weighing 1000 proton masses would evaporate in ~10-88 seconds.)

At 1032 K each particle of matter becomes its own black hole, and the usual understanding of space and time is at an beginning end.[12]



A paper written by the Rev John Michell in 1783 [published in 1784] was discovered in the 1970s. This is the first known discussion of the concept of a black hole. John Michell (1724-1793) was born three years before the death of Isaac Newton. He became a well-known British geologist and astronomer and was later regarded as the 'Father of Seismology' in his study of Earthquakes. He is also credited with the idea of Binary Stars, the demonstration of an inverse square law in magnetism, and was the inventor of the torsion balance before instigating the experiment, later completed by Cavendish, to weigh the Earth.[13][14]

However, there are distinctions between Michell's "black hole" and modern black holes. In Michell's model, the star is still shining, but the particles of light are pulled back to the surface of the star. This is like a ball thrown on the surface of the earth with velocity less than the escape velocity. In general relativity, nothing can get past the event horizon. Moreover, in GR, all the mass is in a single point. In Michell's theory, it isn't.

External links[edit]


  1. Escape velocity is the speed (strictly of course velocity) at which anything needs to travel in order to never be pulled back to an object
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-47873592 First ever black hole image released] BBC. 10 April 2019.
  3. Galactic black holes a likely source of cosmic rays
  4. Black hole 18 billion solar masses.
  5. Monster Black Hole Is the Largest and Brightest Ever Found by Charles Q. Choi (February 25, 2015 05:29pm ET) Space.com
  6. Radiation Pressure = general photon and particle pressure caused by nuclear and subnuclear reactions (heat) it fluctuates over the lifetime of a star.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Black holes were thought to be absolutely inviolable, but Stephen Hawking has shown that they are hairy and will, as long as there is spacetime, slowly decay through a phenomenon known as Hawking Radiation
  8. Gravitational Waves Detected 100 Years After Einstein's Prediction February 11, 2016 LIGO News Release
  9. Black Hole Image Makes History
  10. It is generally considered that a singularity marks the breakdown of general relativity, and that in a quantum gravity framework they'd disappear
  11. Black holes ruled out as universe's missing dark matter
  12. http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/807/what-is-the-opposite-of-absolute-zero
  13. Description of Michell's theory of black holes
  14. "On the Means of Discovering the Distance, Magnitude, &c. of the Fixed Stars, in Consequence of the Diminution of the Velocity of Their Light, in Case Such a Diminution Should be Found to Take Place in any of Them, and Such Other Data Should be Procured from Observations, as Would be Farther Necessary for That Purpose by John Michell. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 74: 35–57 (1784).