Black holes are weird and little bit scary. When I was a kid and first learned about them, I was constantly fearing that our planet would be sucked away by one of inky vacuums. But, as I got older, I learned that objects in space are getting farther and farther apart. And I can’t say I’m disappointed considering these weird monstrosities. But, somehow, I can’t help but be morbidly fascinated with them.
Here are a few of my favorite terrifying, but oh-so-hungry space holes.
Lets start with The Biggest.
Now, defining how big a black hole is is kind of difficult concept in of itself. Because they are black (as the name suggests, duh) its kind of hard to see where they begin and end. But, we can see the effects of them. We call this area where black holes interact with the rest of the universe the event horizon. That is where the magic happens.
So, scientists have stumbled upon area of space with black holes whose event horizon is the biggest they have ever seen. The gravitational range, or “event horizon,” of these black holes is about five times the distance from the sun to Pluto. For comparison, these black holes are 2,500 times as massive as the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, whose event horizon is one-fifth the orbit of Mercury.
One of the biggest space suckers that they have found is 9.7 billion solar masses which is so huge that my little human brain is have trouble comprehending. I can’t really think of a comparison but let’s just say the word “big” falls very, very short as a descriptor. But this isn’t even the biggest one they’ve found. Scientists have found in NGC 4889, the brightest galaxy in the Coma cluster more than 335 million light years away, has a black hole of comparable or larger mass.
The Cannibalistic Black Hole
Black Holes aren’t picky eaters- they’ll consume pretty much everything. So it should be a little shock to scientists that when a bigger black hole encounters a smaller one, it won’t hesitate to consume it as well.
Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, investigators detected two black holes at the center of a galaxy dubbed NGC3393, with one black hole about 30 million times the mass of the sun and the other at least 1 million times the mass of the sun, separated from each other by only about 490 light-years. Now that might sound like a lot, but in space, especially where black holes a concerned, that’s not a lot of elbow room.
Its a strange concept if you really think about it.
What happens when nothing collides with nothing?
Well, apparently, according to science, it makes a whole lot of nothing. A lot of violent confusing nothing, but nothing nonetheless.
Because Black holes are basically weird distortions of reality, when they merge, it’s really hard to say precisely when that moment is. As the colliding black holes become very close to one another, just seconds before the final merger, their gravitational fields and velocities become extreme and the math becomes far too complex for standard analytical approaches.
However, we do know, that by the end of it, we’ve got one big space sucker that is a little bit less than the mass of the two holes added together.
The Black Hole that Spits Up
Sorry for the very un-cool wording, but when it comes to space, the english vocabulary becomes very lackluster I’ve found. But that’s neither here, nor there.
The point is, my human friends, that Astronomers have found a black hole that doesn’t just inhale, but exhales as well. While observing a black hole called H1743-322, which harbors five to 10 times the mass of the sun and is located about 28,000 light-years from Earth, scientists have found that it apparently pulled matter off a companion star, then spat some of it back out as gigantic “bullets” of gas moving at nearly a quarter the speed of light.
Basically spit up, right?
Rogue Black Holes
Hopefully this name makes up for the last because that sounds pretty cool.
So what is a rogue black hole exactly?
Well, when galaxies collide, black holes can get kicked away from the site of the crash to roam freely through space.
The first known such rogue black hole, SDSSJ0927+2943, may be approximately 600 million times the mass of the sun and hurtle through space at a whopping 5.9 million mph (9.5 million kph). Scientists think that hundreds of rogue black holes might wander the Milky Way.
How’s that for a scary bedtime story?
The Brightest Black Hole
Seems kind of silly doesn’t it? That something that is called a “Black Hole” can be bright? Oxymoron much. But black holes have never really been ones for obeying the physical laws of matter, energy, and so on.
As supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies suck in surrounding gas and dust, they can spew out huge amounts of energy which can appear in the form of light. The brightest quasar we see in the visible range is 3C 273, which is roughly about 3 billion light-years away.
The Fastest Spinning Black hole
Sometimes the way illustrations in textbooks show black holes, is a model that resembles a spinning top. This actually isn’t super far from the truth as some black holes are actively spinning and at tremendous speeds. One black hole called GRS 1915+105, in the constellation Aquila (The Eagle) about 35,000 light-years from Earth, is spinning more than 950 times per second. This is an insane amount of speed. To give you an idea of how fast this is, an item placed on the edge of the black hole’s event horizon would spin around it at a speed of more than 333 million mph (536 million kph), or about half the speed of light.
All that to say, black holes are weird.