2015, YEAR OF THE BLACK HOLE
Editor's Note: Aidan A. ('18) wrote this paper on black holes, for his advanced chemistry class.
2015 was a massively important year for an even more massive topic: black holes. In 1916, Albert Einstein, working out of a German patent office, published a landmark paper that offered an explanation for gravity. Einstein achieved this feat by postulating space-time, the three space dimensions and time, as a woven four-dimensional fabric that object rest upon leaving a depression in proportion to the object's mass. This depression causes other objects in the universe to ‘gravitate’ towards the depression much like if you stretch a sheet out horizontally, put a paperweight in the center, and then place marbles on the sheet. The much larger depression made by the paperweight will cause all of the marbles to roll towards it resulting in collisions. Seems easy enough. Right?
Well here is where black holes play into this equation. Imagine a star with a mass of about 20 times the sun resting on this space-time plane. When objects have as much mass as a star of this magnitude, there is a constant tug-of-war between gravity of the star and the nuclear fusion (combination) reactions in the center of the star creating pressure, keeping the stars shape and density. This system seems like a stable one, but while gravity is a constant, the fusion of elements in the star can only go on for as long as the fuel lasts. Once the nuclear fuel runs out in said star, the star cannot further combat the immense gravitational pull that the star exercises on itself causing it to collapse. As it collapses further and further, it reaches a point of infinite density and volume, known as a singularity. This monster is called a black hole. To translate a black hole to the sheet model we created earlier, we can think of an object so heavy that the fabric closes back up behind it forming a teardrop in the fabric where the top of the teardrop is the point of no returning to the rest of the sheet. Black holes have so much gravity that they tend to suck in most of their neighbors and surrounding massive objects. The strength of a black hole is so great that even light cannot escape its clutches, hence the name black hole. Black hole physicists have coined the term ‘event horizon’ to mark the boundary of the black hole at which light cannot even escape.
In 2015, scientists at MIT created a telescope as big as the earth (this is done by connecting pre-existing radio towers), which they will use to search for black holes, which have yet to be observed. Black Holes do not emit light, so scientists search for planets and star systems that seem to rotate around an invisible entity. A very obvious example of this is the Milky Way Galaxy, the residency of humans, making it a priority to take a peek at the black hole that is thought to reside at the center of our galaxy (and all galaxies for that matter).
The black hole phenomena is so interesting because it challenges our current understanding of the universe through complications such as singularities or what happens past the event horizon. Without phenomena such as black holes to challenge what we have learned and our presumptions, science can go down a path that represents our universe incorrectly.
I find black holes especially fascinating because there are no other events that involve such massive collisions and tremendous amounts of energy, all which cause me to wonder how life could ever form in such an unforgiving place as our universe. I was having a hard time justifying the importance of studying black holes for our everyday lives, when I realized the philosophical significance. The beauty of black holes and supernovae are undeniable and humans cannot conceive of something so awesome and stunning, something that Mother Nature creates on a regular basis. If we cannot extrapolate ways to incorporate black holes into our everyday lives, let me instill on you a respect for natural phenomena including the seemingly unique organic chemistry that takes place on earth. For every human achievement, Mother Nature has multiple greater ones (one of them being homosapiens), so do not be fooled as to think the human race has a birthright to this planet.
Garlick, M. A. (2014, March). Black holes [Digital image]. Retrieved January 9, 2016, from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/03/black-holes/finkel-text
Hlavacek-Larrondo, J. (2013). On the trail of monster black holes: collapsed objects weighing millions or billions of times as much as the Sun lie at the heart of nearly all galaxies. New images are finally stripping the mystery from these spheres of warped space. American Scientist, 101(6), 450+. Retrieved from http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/suic/AcademicJournalsDetailsPage/AcademicJournalsDetailsWindow?failOverType=&query=&prodId=SUIC&windowstate=normal&contentModules=&display-query=&mode=view&displayGroupName=Journals&limiter=&currPage=&disableHighlighting=false&displayGroups=&sortBy=&search_within_results=&p=SUIC&action=e&catId=&activityType=&scanId=&documentId=GALE%7CA349225097&source=Bookmark&u=packer&jsid=ab3cfc719352bfa817b70ed7de8cac32
Klein, J. (2015, June 07). An Earthling’s Guide to Black Holes. Retrieved January 6, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/06/08/science/space/guide-to-black-holes.html
Overbye, D. (2015, December 27). Science News That Stuck With Us in 2015. Retrieved January 06, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/28/science/2015-top-science-stories.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fscience&action=click&contentCollection=science®ion=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0
Overbye, D. (2013, August 12). A Black Hole Mystery Wrapped in a Firewall Paradox. Retrieved January 6, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/13/science/space/a-black-hole-mystery-wrapped-in-a-firewall-paradox.html