According to Space Daily, a group of scientists at MIT have started to measure the radius of a black hole lying at the center of a distant galaxy. The radius is defined as the closest point matter can approach before being pulled into the black hole.
What black holes are
According to NASA, black holes are points in space where matter has been squeezed so tight that no matter or even light can escape it if it gets too close. A black hole can be created when a star collapses on itself.
Supermassive black holes
The black hole that the MIT scientists are interested in is called a "supermassive black hole," which resides at the center of a galaxy called M87, 50 million light years away from our Milky Way Galaxy, according to Space Daily. NASA suggests that every galaxy has a supermassive black hole in its center. The one at the middle of M87 is 6 billion times massive than the sun.
Measuring a black hole
The scientists at MIT's Haystack Observatory are using radio telescopes in Hawaii, Arizona, and California to create an array called the "Event Horizon Telescope" that can ascertain detail 2,000 times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope, according to Space Daily. The array has examined that glow of matter that surrounds the event horizon of the M87 black hole, the point beyond which nothing can escape its gravity. The glowing matter exists because so much is being pulled in that a kind of "cosmic traffic jam" is created. The resulting flat pancake of matter is called an "accretion disk" which orbits the black hole at close to the speed of light, causing the black hole to spin in the same direction. Magnetic fields are formed and jets of superheated material above the accretion disk are shot across the galaxy, perhaps propelled by the spin of the black hole, influencing stellar processes.
Proving Einstein right
The purpose of the project is to put to a test a principle of Albert Einstein that the mass and spin of a black hole determine how close material can get to it before being sucked it, according to Space Daily. The telescope array, which uses several radio telescopes linked together to create a more powerful virtual telescope, is powerful enough to examine the accretion disk of the M87 black hole, thus ascertaining its mass and spin.
What happens if one falls into a black hole
People or spacecraft falling into a black hole has been a staple of science fiction, such as the Disney movie entitled "The Black Hole." However, Slate quoted the astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson as stating that anyone or any object that falls into a black hole would quickly be torn apart by tidal forces, ultimately reducing him or it to a stream of atoms.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.