Everybody loves Black Holes (part I)

This past Saturday I attended one of the most unusual events I’d ever been invited to. Don’t get me wrong, it was very enjoyable. In fact, I think I may have enjoyed it more than many of the other people in attendance. This was the annual pot-luck dinner for the astronomy club I recently joined, which featured free food and a lecture on black holes. The free food was expected by everyone, the lecture was probably not what many had in mind.

Dr. Laura Brenneman studies black holes as a postdoc fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, so she knows a thing or two about them. From what I gathered, her expertise is in measuring them and analyzing their properties via their effects on whatever happens to surround them. She wrote an article for Sky and Telescope recently, which I think may have been part of the reason she was asked to speak at the aforementioned event.

The talk she gave was clearly dumbed-down for laypeople, but still more technical and more concerned with understanding of measured data than the conceptual stuff people usually look for in black hole related things. It’s my opinion that many, if not most, of the people there would have been more enthusiastic hearing hypothetical stories about extreme tidal forces ripping your friend’s spacecraft to bits when they flew to close to one. Neil DeGrasse Tyson wrote a book that touched on things like this: Death By Black Hole. Titles like that grab the attention a bit more than graphs of shifted iron emission lines, but I can’t say too many times that I really, truly and enthusiastically prefer Dr. Brenneman’s style. Getting a glimpse into the real work of a professional astronomer/physicist/cosmologist is amazing and rare.

This is how you see something that can't really be seen.

I learned quite a bit about the way black holes spin, emit radiation and behave within galaxies. More interesting still is the way galaxies behave around supermassive black holes at their center. I encourage you to look into it further, if you’re interested.

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to make this part one of two. Tomorrow I’ll post about black holes again.


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