Black Holes Light Up

They are deep and dense, and not even light can escape their grip. We’re talking about black holes, but they may not be as dark as you think.

“If you have binoculars, you might be able to make out a smudge, which would be the nearest galaxies,” says Jon Miller, Ph.D., an assistant professor of astronomy at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

But what you won’t see — even with a telescope — black holes! In fact, Miller doesn’t even use one to study black holes. He uses his computer.

“I think it’s really for the best that NASA doesn’t let people like me drive billion-dollar satellites. So instead, we get data distributed through the computer networks,” Miller tells Ivanhoe.

These data reveal just how complex black holes are. As gravity pulls matter into the hole, it is heated 1,000-times hotter than the sun and forms mega-heated gases. As the hole’s magnetic field pulls these gases into its center, it creates a light show.

Miller says, “Just before matter falls into the black hole, it can glow very brightly in X-rays.” The Chandra X-ray Observatory takes X-ray photographs of these holes all over the universe.

According to Miller, every galaxy probably harbors a super massive black hole at the center of that galaxy. “I mean something that’s a million or even billions of times the mass of our sun,” he says. He hopes his research will help to prove not only what happens after black holes are formed, but also how they grow.


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