Sorry Science Fans, Discovering A 70-Solar-Mass Black Hole Is Routine, Not Impossible
“Astronomers aren’t perplexed by this object (or similar ones to it) at all, but rather are fascinated with uncovering the details of how they formed and how common they truly are. The mystery isn’t why these objects exist at all, but rather how the Universe makes them in the abundances we observe. We don’t falsely generate excitement by spreading misinformation that diminishes our knowledge and ideas prior to this discovery.
In science, the ultimate rush comes from discovering something that furthers our understanding of the Universe within the context of everything else we know. May we never be tempted to pretend anything else is the case.”
Did you hear about this “impossible” black hole that “perplexes” astronomers and “defies” theory? If you followed the news cycle last week, that’s probably what you’ve heard. But the truth is far more interesting, and includes facts like:
-this is the fourth black hole we’ve found like it, not the first,
-there are two other ways to make black holes that would explain this object in addition to the one way that can’t,
-and that we’ve seen each and every one of the steps necessary to make a black hole like this,
-but that finding this black hole with this particular method really is revolutionary?
As always, the real science is far more interesting than the mangled hype you’ve seen before. This black hole doesn’t defy theory, but sure does teach us a lot. Come get the real story today.
What Was It Like When The First Stars Died?
“It’s theorized that this is the origin of the seeds of the supermassive black holes that occupy the centers of galaxies today: the deaths of the most massive stars, which create black holes hundreds or thousands of times the mass of the Sun. Over time, mergers and gravitational growth will lead to the most massive black holes known in the Universe, black holes that are millions or even billions of times the mass of the Sun by today.
It took perhaps 100 million years to form the very first stars in the Universe, but just another million or two after that for the most massive among them to die, creating black holes and spreading heavy, processed elements into the interstellar medium. As time goes on, the Universe, at long last, will begin to resemble what we actually see today.”
Our Universe, shortly after the Big Bang, proceeded in a number of momentous steps. The first atomic nuclei formed just minutes after the Big Bang, while neutral atoms took hundreds of thousands of years. It took another 50 to 100 million years for the very first star to be created, but only, perhaps, a million or two years for the most massive among the first stars to die. They may have been short-lived, but the first stars were truly spectacular, and their deaths set up the first steps in a changing Universe that would take us from a pristine set of materials to, eventually, the Universe as we know it today.
Take a major step in the cosmic journey of how we got to today by looking at what it was like when the first stars died!
How Do The Most Massive Stars Die: Supernova, Hypernova, Or Direct Collapse?
“When we see a very massive star, it’s tempting to assume it will go supernova, and a black hole or neutron star will remain. But in reality, there are two other possible outcomes that have been observed, and happen quite often on a cosmic scale. Scientists are still working to understand when each of these events occurs and under what conditions, but they all happen. The next time you look at a star that’s many times the size and mass of our Sun, don’t think “supernova” as a foregone conclusion. There’s a lot of life left in these objects, and a lot of possibilities for their demise, too. We know our observable Universe started with a bang. For the most massive stars, we still aren’t certain whether they end with the ultimate bang, destroying themselves entirely, or the ultimate whimper, collapsing entirely into a gravitational abyss of nothingness.”
How do stars die? If you’re low in mass, you’ll burn through all your fuel and just contract down. If you’re mid-ranged, like our Sun, you’ll become a giant, blow off your outer layers, and then the remaining core will contract to a white dwarf. And the high-mass stars can take an even more spectacular path: going supernova to produce either a neutron star or a black hole at their core. But that’s not all a high-mass star can do. We’ve seen supernova impostors, hypernovae that are even more luminous than the brightest supernova, and direct collapse black holes, where no explosion or even ejecta exists from a star that used to be present and massive. The science behind them in incredible, and while there are still uncertainties in predicting a star’s fate, we’re learning more all the time.
Come get the fascinating physics behind how the most massive stars die. You might think “supernova” every time, but the Universe is far more intricate and complex than that!
‘Direct Collapse’ Black Holes May Explain Our Universe’s Mysterious Quasars
“In a theoretical study published in March of this year, a fascinating mechanism for producing direct collapse black holes from a mechanism like this was introduced. A young, luminous galaxy could irradiate a nearby partner, which prevents the gas within it from fragmenting to form tiny clumps. Normally, it’s the tiny clumps that collapse into individual stars, but if you fail to form those clumps, you instead can just get a monolithic collapse of a huge amount of gas into a single bound structure. Gravitation then does its thing, and your net result could be a black hole over 100,000 times as massive as our Sun, perhaps even all the way up to 1,000,000 solar masses.”
Some of the most distant, luminous objects in our entire Universe, quasars, are a mystery. How does our Universe get an active, supermassive black hole that forms so early, especially given how relatively small the stars that make black holes are known to be? Even given the earliest, most massive stars that can theoretically form, you’d only expect seed black holes of a few hundred solar masses, yet these early quasars have almost a billion Suns worth of mass to begin with. You’d need a seed 1,000 times as massive to get there. Well, that’s exactly what the scenario known as ‘direct collapse’ could get you. If a massive galaxy is close by another cloud of gas, it can suppress the formation of stars all while that cloud collapses, potentially leading to a black hole directly, without any stars. That black hole could be up to a million solar masses, providing a path to the earliest quasars with no further hitches. With the technology coming online in the next few years, we might yet see this process in action for the first time.
Come learn about the huge strides we’ve made in direct collapse black holes and finding the origin of the Universe’s quasars. The way you view our Universe may never be the same!
Surprise! The Universe Has A Third Way To Form Black Holes
“If a massive enough gas cloud collapses under its own gravity, it should form a black hole directly, without any intervening star.
This is one of the leading theories for how supermassive black holes begin, including at such early times in the ultra-distant Universe.”
Everyone knows the recipe for a black hole: create a massive enough star, allow it to burn through the fuel it its core, and wait. After enough time, the core will collapse, creating a type II supernova and a runaway fusion reaction. The outer layers explode while the core implodes, leaving behind a black hole if it’s massive enough. Alternatively, merge two failed black holes – i.e., neutron stars – together, and you get a black hole, too. But there ought to be a third way: through direct collapse. We haven’t seen enough supernovae for the stars that exist, and we don’t have a great explanation, otherwise, for super-early supermassive black holes. For the first time ever, we’ve witnessed a massive star simply wink out of existence. We may have just caught a direct collapse black hole red-handed.
It’s almost too good to be true, but it means so much if it’s right. Come get the full story today!