How do black holes emit light?

Black Hole Accretion Disc Light Massive Color Picture Artist's Rendition Weekly Show

If there’s one thing everyone knows about black holes, it’s that they give off no light. These behemoths of time and space erase objects from history, swallowing everything in their paths. Yet a few minutes of research will tell you we can detect black holes through their radiation. In fact, black holes are supposedly some of the brightest objects in the universe. Welcome to the bizarre world of astrophysics.

First of all, your science teachers were telling the truth: black holes give off no light. As their namesake implies, these objects have grown so massive not even light can escape their gravity. If a rogue black hole flew between us and the stars, the only way to detect it would be through its gravity. Astrophysicists have shown, however, that most matter in the universe clumps together. Stars live in galaxies, and galaxies move in clusters. Black holes often live at the centers of galaxies or alongside stars throughout them.

Black Hole Accretion Disc Light Massive Color Picture Artist's Rendition Weekly Show

An artist’s rendition of an accretion disc. Scientists have yet to understand why the black hole emits particle streams on polar axes.

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Breakthough study finds remnants of Big Bang

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The universe is a big place. Most physicists say it is infinite, and estimates of our observable universe fall around 93 billion lightyears across. Fortunately, math and science give us the tools to unravel what we cannot see, such as last week’s breakthrough discovery of the “echo” from the Big Bang.

The Big Bang theory posits the universe burst from a single point some 13.7 billion years ago. In a fraction of a second it underwent staggering expansion, growing exponentially at speeds faster than light. Early phases of the universe contained plasma so “dense” (high-energy) that photons could not escape. About 380,000 years later, the plasma cooled enough to let light push through, giving the universe its first moment of transparency. This theory is widely accepted by the scientific community and explains many properties of our universe, such as cosmic background radiation, large-scale structures, and the large presence of light elements (more on these in future posts).

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Cool science videos

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Every blogger has his inspiration, and mine has in part come from the amazing science channels on YouTube. To escape the old “wall of text with pictures” habit, here is a sampling of fun videos. Check out each channel for more science awesomeness.

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Cosmos premiere review: fasten your seatbelts

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In the 1980, famed astronomer Carl Sagan popularized science with his show Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. His show not only brought science to the masses but fostered a passion for discovery in viewers. Thirty-four years later, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is trying to resume Sagan’s mission with his new show Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

First things first: in case you don’t know Neil deGrasse Tyson (and you should), he is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space as well as a research associate in astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. He is the former host of PBS’s educational science program NOVA: Science Now. Known for his intelligence and his wit, Tyson is a regular on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. If anyone can capture Sagan’s spark, it’s Tyson.

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Stephen Hawking: there are no black holes

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Famed physicist Stephen Hawking announced last week there are no black holes—at least not the way we think of them. His new, not-yet-peer-reviewed paper says the idea of an event horizon—the point of no escape—violates quantum mechanics and therefore does not exist. In doing away with the event horizon, Hawking claims to have solved the firewall paradox, one of the most pressing problems in modern physics.

First, some background. Stephen Hawking is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist and the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge University. His work in quantum mechanics and general relativity is a cornerstone of modern physics and has made him one of the most famous scientists of the past century.

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