This week astronomers, using gravity wave detectors, announced that they have detected a ‘warp’ in space-time. This warp is a long way from us – 3 billion light years to be exact! So, what created such a wave in the very fabric of the universe? The answer is black holes.
Two stars – one 31 times larger than our Sun and one 19 times larger – collapsed into black holes at the end of their lives. But that’s not what caused the gravity ripple. Some 3 billion years ago, when life on Earth was just beginning, these black holes crashed into one another, producing a single black hole. This is 49 times heavier (though much, much smaller than) our Sun and its gravity is what the scientists have picked up.
- So what do we know about black holes? Here are some out of this world facts:
- Black holes were first thought to exist in the 18th Century but the first one wasn’t discovered until 1964
- They are formed when a huge star runs out of fuel and collapses under its own gravity
- Their gravity is so intense that the stars which become black holes collapse to the size of an atom, called a ‘singularity’
- Black holes are not these singularities. Instead they are the regions nearby where the singularity’s gravity is so strong that even light (the fastest thing in the universe) can’t escape its pull
- Black holes are quite rare. The closest one to us is about 20,000 light years away
- They are constantly growing because they ‘suck’ in any matter which gets too close
- As well as bending space, black holes distort time. In fact, if you get close enough to a black hole, time will actually stop!
- If you did get close enough to a black hole for time to stop, you wouldn’t be around to notice! That’s because the gravity affecting your feet would be much stronger than that affecting your head – or even your ankles. Your body (or spacecraft) would be ripped apart long before you got anywhere near the singularity
There’s so much more I could tell you about black holes – or about outer space in general. If you love the subject then you’ll be happy to hear that you can download a free quiz on the subject here. It’s full of quirky facts and fun for all the family. Why not give it a go?