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Enigmas of the Void: Black Holes


Enigmas of the Void: Black Holes

The void of space is one of nature’s greatest mysteries, it is believed to carry the secrets of the universe in expanses that simultaneously carry nothing and everything within them. The scale of space is incomprehensible and the mysteries are infinite: aliens, dark matter, unending expanses, the beginning of life, what will end it, the origins of time itself, and black holes. Black holes are by far one of the most feared and well known occurrences in astronomy. Still under study today, these looming giants are invisible in space and cannot be heard without special equipment. The only way to know for sure that a black hole exists in an area is to feel the sheer power of its gravitational pull, and once it is felt, there is no known escape.


Black holes can be described as exactly what they are named as. What really is a black hole? According to Britannica, a black hole is described as a “cosmic body of extremely intense gravity from which nothing, not even light, can escape” (“black hole”). How can something like this be? To answer that, one has to know how a black hole is created in the first place. There are a couple ways black holes are believed to form, but the more well known example is when the collapse of a supermassive star causes a supernova and its gravitational pull becomes unstable. Stars require energy to sustain themselves, this energy is the hydrogen that it is composed of. There is so much mass in this area that the star is always undergoing nuclear fusion, meaning the hydrogen within the star is combining to make helium. This reaction releases huge amounts of energy and radiation, but the field created by this process is what helps the star sustain its own weight and so it does not collapse in on itself. The star will continue to do this for billions of years, depending on the mass of the star, more massive stars undergo stages until they are a red supergiant. At this point in time, the star is running out of fuel, and it is beginning to build a carbon core, which becomes iron. This iron core and lack of fuel makes the red supergiant unstable, as it can no longer contain its weight and energy, and so it undergoes singularity, which is when the mass of something is pulled into one space from gravity. The massive amounts of mass undergoing singularity creates an explosion called a supernova, creating an enormous expansion of heat and light. According to Black Holes in Space by Patrick Moore and Lain Niclson, “The amount of energy released in a supernova explosion is awe-inspiring. The star will shine as brightly as ten million suns, and the total energy given by the outburst is greater than that released by the Sun over its entire lifetime” (Moore and Nicolson 71). When the remnants of the supernovas mass is too great, a black hole forms. Black holes are massive and the gravitational pull that results from this immense amount of mass is so great that nothing known, not even light, can escape the event horizon (the distance around a black hole that is affected by the immense gravitational pull). The fact that light cannot escape a black hole means that it cannot be seen, as people’s eyes rely on reflected light to see something, and so it has been dubbed the name “black hole” despite the belief that it is not a hole at all. This new mass remains and is not really known to do anything but absorb anything that it can, growing in mass more and more without any confirmed way to stop or even slow its growth. When discussing a black hole, one must rely on opinions because black holes are so hard to study and not much has been discovered in the long run for certain, meaning much is left to theories and there are a plethora of them. Quantum physicists have a hay day on this subject discussing what it is, how it works, what it can do, etcetera, etcetera. Unfortunately for scientists, black holes are extremely difficult to study as one cannot get close to them because they are far too dangerous and because the closest black hole is 1,600 lightyears (about 9.4058e+15 miles) away according to the National Science Foundation website (“Astronomers discover closest black hole to Earth | NSF”). However, that does not stop humanity’s curiosity from using what is known to create theories for possible answers to people’s questions.


The first theory that could ever be made about black holes was when the very existence was a theory itself, that being the first. “The first suggestion of a black hole was by Michell in 1783 (he called the objects “dark stars”). The idea is based on Newton’s law gravity and the escape velocity, and it was logical to ask whether an object could have enough mass that nothing could escape” (“UGS 303: History of Black Holes”). This was later brought up by Karl Schwarzschild, but he was incorrect about how they worked. The first correct theory explaining why Schwarzschild was incorrect and what was true was given by Albert Einstein in a paper he wrote in 1939, he called them “Schwarzschild singularities” and explained what they really were in his relativity theory. Though it was believed that these singularities existed, there was no true physical evidence until 2001 when Hubble and Chandra observatory teams both observed something fascinating in space. They had witnessed matter in space suddenly vanishing as matter gravitated towards an object that could not be seen. This phenomenon was actually a black hole absorbing matter at such a velocity that it was completely invisible and so the monstrous black hole theory was no longer just a terrifying possibility based off of theory. An article containing a description of the event and a quote from the team states: “Harvard-Smithsonian’s Michael Garcia remarked at the AAS conference on the irony that darkness, not light, gave away the black holes in these studies. “It’s a bit odd to say we’ve discovered something by seeing almost nothing, but, in essence, this is what we have done.”” (“Proof, at Last! Hubble and Chandra Detect First Physical Evidence of Black Holes”) Later evidence was provided when a group of researchers called the Event Horizon Telescope provided an actual photograph of a cloud of matter with a black circle in the middle. The photo shows this heated matter cloud being sucked into the very obvious black hole in the center. “The event horizon is 40 billion kilometers across, approximately four times the diameter of Neptune’s Solar System orbit. It is also distant: it is in the center of the nearby galaxy Messier 87 (M87), roughly 55 million light years away” (Larson). The existence of black holes and what they look like was finally proved correct after hundreds of years of consistent study and it was no longer just a theory.


The theory of black holes comes hand in hand with another theory concerning the “anatomy” of a black hole and that was the theory of the event horizon, or the point in a black hole where gravity took effect on matter. The event horizon can best be explained as the “point of no return” in a black hole and when looking at it, it is the black area that is most thought of when picturing a black hole. As described in an article on Today’s Science, “At that distance, spacetime has curved to such an extent that time slows to a stop and light freezes in place. If you tried to observe an event horizon by bouncing a photon off of it, you would never see the photon getting back to you” (Nisbett). A large contributor to the theory of the event horizon is Stephen Hawking, who did immaculate work in terms of researching quantum physics, space and time, and black holes. A quote from his famous book, A Brief History of Time, discusses event horizons and why they appear black. “It means that the boundary of the black hole, the event horizon, is formed by the light rays that just fail to escape from the black hole, hovering forever just on the edge. It is a bit like running away from the police and just managing to keep one step ahead but not being able to get clear away! Suddenly I realized that the paths of these light rays could never approach one another. If they did, they must eventually run into one another. It would be like meeting someone else running away from the police in the opposite direction – you would both be caught! (Or, in this case, fall into a black hole.)” (Hawking 103-104). Stephen Hawking rambles about the complexities of black holes in his works and puts into terms what an event horizon is and what would happen if someone fell inside it. There are many different possibilities: some talk about being transported to another dimension, some say you will be spat out somewhere very very far away in space, some say you will become one with the black hole. It is largely believed that no one could ever even survive this process because of spaghettification.


Spaghettification is the largely accepted theory that if something falls into a black hole, the extreme gravity from the event horizon would stretch the object out long and thin, like that of a spaghetti noodle. Despite its funny name, the thought of this theory being true when applied to a human being is quite terrifying, the person would not survive the trip as they would be instantly stretched and different parts of the body would take on the full force of the event horizons gravity field, tearing the person apart atom by atom. “Gravity gets weaker the farther you are from a star, the gravitational force on our intrepid astronaut’s feet would always be greater than the force on his head. This difference in the forces would stretch our astronaut out like spaghetti or tear him apart before the star had contracted to the critical radius at which the event horizon was formed!” (Hawking 90).


The next theory was brought by Einstein in a paper he wrote in 1935 but has not been looked into largely in the past because it has been overshadowed by his bigger works over black holes and relativity. This theory is the existence of wormholes or, as it was originally called, an Einstein-Rosen bridge. A wormhole is a place in space that is, put simply, a portal to a faraway point in space. It earned the name because it explains how it supposedly would work if they truly do exist. As put by Catherine Nisbett Baker in an article discussing wormholes, “Tunneling through an apple brings a worm from one point on the surface to a distant point on the surface without having to traverse the surface itself” (Nisbett). In Einstein’s paper he briefly mentions the possibility of matter being transported through space through relativity, one of the places this occurrence could be possible is at the center of a black hole. The existence of a wormhole at the center of a black hole would settle the discrepancies that appear in quantum physics concerning the “disappearance” of matter entering a black hole. It also goes hand in hand with the hawking radiation theory, which would mean that the matter is transported far away into space when a black hole is evaporated from hawking radiation. However, none of this can be proven as reaching a black hole, let alone traveling into one is impossible at this point in time. It is said that if someone were to go into a wormhole, there would be no way back and no way to communicate back data, leaving any explorer that entered the black hole stranded in space uncountable light years away from Earth. This theory is very far fetched and relies on hawking radiation, which is an unproven theory within itself.


The hawking radiation theory was named after the man who proposed it, Stephen Hawking. Hawking radiation is a theoretical radiation that is supposed to be released from black holes. When it comes to physics, it is stated as a law that matter cannot be created nor destroyed, yet matter that enters a black hole is believed to be lost forever. Well, according to this theory, the energy in a black hole can eventually be released as a black hole disappears. An accounting of Stephen Hawking’s possible “fix” to this contradiction is described in an article over Stephen Hawking’s theories, “he presented new calculations which seemed to show that quantum information slowly makes its way out of a black hole through quantum fluctuations on the black hole’s surface (the event horizon). ‘“If you jump into a black hole,” Hawking said at the conference, “your mass energy will be returned to our universe, but in a mangled form which contains the information about what you were like.’” (“Stephen Hawking: Shedding Light on Black Holes”). The only known way this can be possible is through hawking radiation, which is theorized to be released from a black hole as antiparticles split off near the event horizon. As put in more clear terms by Catherine Nisbett Baker in her article, “what if the pair production happened just beyond an event horizon? Imagine that the antiparticle fell into the black hole, while the particle flew off into space. Two things would happen: first, some of the black hole’s gravitational potential energy would leave with the particle; and second, the antiparticle would annihilate with a companion particle inside the black hole” (Nisbett). The antimatter splitting and entering a black hole would lead to a black hole losing energy and mass, causing its gravitational pull to weaken. Eventually, this could lead to the black hole evaporating if enough hawking radiation is absorbed by a black hole. This is all theoretical though, nearly everything about this theory needs further research no matter how much it makes sense. This does not necessarily make it a terrible theory, though, as most things to do with black holes must be theories until they are proven true from observing events in the universe, only time will tell the truth about these ideas.


This next theory is largely tied in with one of the most controversial theories in physics, that is the existence of dark energy in the universe. Dark energy is a proposed type of energy that accounts for one of the greatest mysteries in the universe: What makes up most of the missing mass in our universe? The expansion of the universe must be caused by something, and that something may be the very thing that fills the “68 percent of the mass energy of the universe” (Baker). This proposed energy is called “dark” because so far it has not been seen and there is a good possibility it may be impossible to study altogether. If we cannot see it, where is dark energy found? Well this is where the black hole theory comes into play, it is highly possible that the missing mass could be found inside black holes. Specifically, the supergiant black holes that could reside at the center of galaxies. If dark energy is stored inside black holes, that would explain the energy that is making the universe expand at an accelerating rate. It is also theorized that dark energy is actually the “vacuum energy” that makes molecules pop in and out of existence according to other quantum physics theories. Nothing about this can be proven yet as no one really knows what is inside the event horizon of a black hole.


This smaller theory is no longer a theory, as it has since been proven correct by NASA and ESA. It was once just an idea that stars could be eaten by black holes; this theory could not be proven correct until it was observed happening in early 2004. The phenomenon was explained in an article written about the event on Today’s Science, “Scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) realized that something unusual had happened when they spotted a brilliant flare of X rays and a fading afterglow from the center of galaxy RX J1242-11-a quiet galaxy about 700 million light years away. The flare, they concluded, was the grand finale to a sequence of cosmic events that began when a doomed star veered off course after a close encounter with another star. Its altered course took it right past the black hole at the center of its galaxy, which ripped it to shreds-in an event known as a stellar tidal disruption-within a couple of hours or days” (“Black Hole Rips Apart, Partially Eats Star”). The brutality of this event shows the immense power of black holes and what they are capable of. Luckily for humanity, black holes are not found anywhere near Earth’s solar system in terms of the scale of space.


It is baffling how much this crucial theory puts into perspective how amazing black holes truly are and paints a completely different picture of their existence. This theory is that at the center of most galaxies there are “cold black holes” that behave in a more “calm” way than other observed black holes in space. The theory has been put to the test as many believe that there is a black hole at the center of the Milky Way, our own galaxy. In 2000, astronomers from around the world gathered in hopes to find the truth and to prove this theory. The team attempted to observe the temperatures and X-rays given off in galaxies and found strong support for the theory. In a Today’s Science article, the findings are explained:“astronomers investigated sources of X rays with the Chandra telescope. X rays are only emitted by gases at temperatures of millions of degrees. Many of the X-ray sources the researchers investigated turned out to be hot stars. But one cooler X-ray source, which was located right in the galactic center, was also emitting radio waves. Given that black holes often emit X rays and radio waves in tandem, the team reasoned they had found a black hole” (“Scientists Find Cold, Wandering Black Holes”). The findings are strong, yet a black hole is quite invisible so it cannot actually be seen. Gravitational pull and temperature are much lower than what is expected and the same is the case with nearby galaxies, meaning these suspected black holes are faint, calm, and cold when compared to other observed black holes.


The possibility of cold black holes at the center of the universe brings on another deep theory about black holes relative to space and time. The theory questions black holes as “seeds of life” due to the great possibility that they are what holds galaxies together. It is completely possible that black holes are the sole reason galaxies form in the first place and that is why galaxies rotate and spin. It is an entire theory on itself that black holes’ centers rotate like that of other celestial bodies in space such as planets, stars, and moons. This theory is believed to be correct and supported by studies recounted in an article over X-rays of black holes, “The X rays are emitted by matter that is being sucked in while orbiting the black hole. Because Strohmayer detected different oscillations, he deduced that some matter can get closer to the black hole, and circle it at a higher rate. This is only possible if the black hole is spinning. Why? A spinning black hole, because of its tremendous mass, would pull on space itself, bending and warping it as it turns. To illustrate this effect, imagine objects floating in a whirlpool. The whirlpool shapes the water around it, and as an object gets closer to the center of the whirlpool, it begins to circle around faster and faster.”” (“X-Ray Findings Put a New Spin on Black Holes”). The gravitational pull of a black hole is filled with dreadful possibilities, but these observations give evidence that the violent, rotating, devouring pull of a black hole is capable of creation as well as destruction.


One last important theory is one that would not be expected at all at one’s first look into black holes, if fact most that know about black holes may not have considered it as light cannot escape a black hole. This theory proposes the ironic, but slightly beautiful, idea that “black holes, the darkest objects in the universe, may be casting anywhere from 5 to 50% of the total light in the universe” (“Shiny Black Holes”). Now this sounds ridiculous but it is very possible, though the light is not from the clusters of crushing mass themselves, but rather caused by the immensely powerful gravitational pull they give off. Black holes pull things towards them with an extremely vast radius due to their tremendous size and mass. According to observations made by research teams, it is entirely possible that several, if not all spiral galaxies are actually held together by massive black holes that lay in the very center. This may be why, upon observation, several spiral galaxies have an extremely bright center. Objects being pulled into a black hole are absorbed at nearly the speed of light, meaning that these massive black holes could very well produce a shocking amount of light while masses plunge into the center. This would also explain the movement of spiral galaxies in general, the matter travels in a spiral formation as the gravity of the massive black hole takes effect. Sadly, this cannot be fully confirmed as the center of galaxies are blindingly bright so no black hole can be seen. However, this idea shows what an impact black holes could have relative to space and how ironic the nature of everything can be when viewed from a different perspective.


These theories are all mind boggling to think about and there are dozens upon dozens of books to help explain how everything works. Quantum physics, space, time, relativity, radiation, gravity, antimatter, dark matter, dark energy, mass, and wormholes. Just about every term one can think of when it comes to complex science subjects comes up when discussing black holes. Perhaps the most powerful object in the universe, black holes often seem impossible to study because of how dangerous they are and how far away they can be. Black holes may be just terrifying forces of pure destruction born from the death of stars. But maybe, just maybe, they are something more, something far far bigger than any human could ever imagine. Black holes very well could be future or past births of solar systems or galaxies. They could very well hold the secrets of the universe, life, and time within their deadly, unwavering grasp but only time will tell. Humanity is a mere observer and the most the greatest minds known can do is simply dream and theorize what these vast expanses of inescapable darkness are and what they hide within them.


Works Cited

“Astronomers discover closest black hole to Earth | NSF.” National Science Foundation, 11 January 2023, Accessed 30 November 2023.

Baker, Catherine N. “Do Black Holes contain Dark Energy.” Today’s Science, April 2023,

“black hole.” Britannica High School, 31 May 2023,

“Black Hole Rips Apart, Partially Eats Star.” Today’s Science, March 2004,

“Event Horizon.” Today’s Science, 25 October 2012,

Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time. Tenth Anniversary Edition ed., Bantam Dell Publishing Group, 1998.

Larson, Chris. “Seeing the Invisible: First Photo of a Black Hole.” Today’s Science, April 2019,

Moore, Patrick, and Iain Nicolson. Black Holes in Space. Orbach and Chambers, 1974.

Nisbett, Catherine. “Black Holes, White Holes, the “Fireworks Model.”” Today’s Science, August 2014,

Nisbett, Catherine N. “Making a Hologram Wormhole Model.” Today’s Science, February 2023,

“Proof, at Last! Hubble and Chandra Detect First Physical Evidence of Black Holes.” Today’s Science, February 2001,

“Scientists Find Cold, Wandering Black Holes.” Today’s Science, March 2000,

“Shiny Black Holes.” Today’s Science, January 2000,

“Stephen Hawking: Shedding Light on Black Holes.” Today’s Science, September 2004,

Thorne, Kip S. Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy. W.W. Norton, 1994.

“UGS 303: History of Black Holes.” University of Texas at Austin, Accessed 30 November 2023.

“X-Ray Findings Put a New Spin on Black Holes.” Today’s Science, July 2001,