What Are Black Holes?

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Black Holes. They are the dead collapsed ghosts of massive stars and they have an irresistible pull: their dark swirling, whirling, ever-hungry mass has fascinated thinkers as diverse as Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen Hawking and countless science fiction writers. When their ominous existence was first predicted by the Reverend John Mitchell in a paper to the Royal Society in 1783, nobody really knew what to make of the idea - they couldn’t be seen by any telescope. Although they were suggested by the eighteenth century Marquis de Laplace and their existence was proved on paper by the equations of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, it was not until 1970 that Cygnus X 1, the first black hole, was put on the astral map. What causes Black Holes? Do they play a role in the formation of galaxies and what have we learnt of their nature since we have found out where they are?

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Black Holes on the In Our Time podcast

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Black holes are some of the strangest and most fascinating objects found in outer space. They are objects of extreme density, with such strong gravitational attraction that even light cannot escape from their grasp if it comes near enough.

Albert Einstein first predicted black holes in 1916 with his general theory of relativity. The term "black hole" was coined in 1967 by American astronomer John Wheeler, and the first one was discovered in 1971. 

There are three types: stellar black holes, supermassive black holes and intermediate black holes.

Continue reading Nola Taylor Redd's short article: Black Holes: Facts, Theory and Definition

Further Reading

At the beginning of the 21st century, physics is being driven to very unfamiliar territory--the domain of the incredibly small and the incredibly heavy. The new world is a world in which both quantum mechanics and gravity are equally important. But mysteries remain. One of the biggest involved black holes. Famed physicist Stephen Hawking claimed that anything sucked in a black hole was lost forever. For three decades, Leonard Susskind and Hawking clashed over the answer to this problem. Finally, in 2004, Hawking conceded.

Read Leonard Susskind's book: The Black Hole War

Related Topics

Dark Matter | The Multiverse | Particle Physics | Quantum Mechanics

Each day I post short quotes by great thinkers on a particular philosophical, scientific or historical topic, along with videos, interviews and articles by contemporary thinkers that explore each topic in more detail. Find me on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to learn about the ideas that helped shape our world.