2018 Will Be The Year Humanity Directly ‘Sees’ Our First Black Hole
The Event Horizon Telescope has come online and taken its data. Now, we wait for the results.
Black holes are some of the most incredible objects in the Universe. There are places where so much mass has gathered in such a tiny volume that the individual matter particles cannot remain as they normally are, and instead collapse down to a singularity. Surrounding this singularity is a sphere-like region known as the event horizon, from inside which nothing can escape, even if it moves at the Universe’s maximum speed: the speed of light. While we know three separate ways to form black holes, and have discovered evidence for thousands of them, we’ve never imaged one directly. Despite all that we’ve discovered, we’ve never seen a black hole’s event horizon, or even confirmed that they truly had one.
Practically, there are three mechanisms that we know of for creating real, astrophysical black holes.
- When a massive enough star burns through its fuel and goes supernova, the central core can implode, converting a substantial fragment of the pre-supernova star into a black hole.
- When two neutron stars merge, if their combined post-merger mass is more than about 2.5-to-2.75 solar masses, it will result in the production of a black hole.
- And if either a massive star or a cloud of gas can undergo direct collapse, it, too, will produce a black hole, where 100% of the initial mass goes into the final black hole.
If 2016 was the year of the gravitational wave and 2017 was the year of the neutron star merger, then 2018 is set up to be the year of the event horizon. For any fan of astrophysics, black holes, and General Relativity, we’re living in the golden age. What was once deemed “untestable” has suddenly become real.