What exactly IS a black hole With all the excitement surrounding the new Star Wars movie, it is a big day for lovers of science fiction. But how much does the average person really understand about beaming up; phases and photons; wormholes and warp drive How powerful are these fantasies compared to the real thing If theories of their existence are true, black holes are the most powerful force in the known physical universe; however, do they even exist Most scientists believe so, but by their very nature, black holes are impossible to observe. One can only see how the hole affects the space around it, and draw conclusions from there. Enough information is known to imagine what it would be like to explore one in a spaceship during a far distant Star Wars future, though. Many people are familiar with the term black hole, but few people actually know anything about this phenomenon beyond reading science fiction books. A black hole forms as a result of a massive star running out of fuel to burn.

Once the star is no longer exerting outward force by burning off gases, it begins to collapse under its own intense, inward gravity (Chaisson 193). It is like slowly letting the air out of a balloon. Once the star is shrunk to a certain size, while its mass, or weight, remains the same, its gravity becomes so powerful that nothing can escape (Hawking 87). This critical size to weight ratio is known as the Schwarz child Radius (Hawking 87).

Once a black hole is created in this way, an invisible area, or boundary exists. If any object crosses this line, it can no longer escape the gravitational force of the black hole (Hawking 87). This line is called the event horizon (Hawking 87). If black holes are proven to exist, beyond theoretical physics, then they would probably be a very common anomaly in this universe. In 1915, Albert Einstein put forth the first real proposition of such an anomaly in his Theory of Relativity (Black Holes FAQ). In the 1930 s, three physicists, doctors Volk off, Snyder and Oppenheimer, were able to prove the validity of black holes mathematically.

Since then, black holes have become a very important and integral part of science and the over all understanding of the universe. It has been proven, mathematically, that black holes have infinite gravity based, escape velocities and an immense affect on light, time and even the very fabric of space. What exactly is an escape velocity All bodies in space have gravity. According to Einstein s Theory of Relativity, this is because bodies with a large mass, or weight, actually warp space (Chaisson 77). For example, if a two dimensional sheet of cloth, stretched and suspended at four corners, represents space, and a bowling ball is placed in the center, the sheet will warp downward. If a golf ball is then set at the edge of the sheet and allowed to move freely it will be attracted toward the bowling ball, unless the golf ball is traveling at a speed great enough to not be affected by the curve.

This critical speed is known as an escape velocity. This is the speed at which an object must travel to escape a body s gravitational force (Chaisson 77). If a body is compacted, such that its weight stays the same but its radius, or size, becomes smaller, it s escape velocity increases in proportion (Chaisson 196). The simple formula for this, in physics, states that a body s escape velocity is equal to the square root of its mass, divided by its radius (Chaisson 77). Since a black hole s size is always decreasing and it s weight is always the same, the escape velocity is infinite (Chaisson 195). This means that nothing can escape a black hole past the event horizon, not even light.

Light is made up of waves and particles. These particles strike an object and bounce off. After they ve bounced off the object they move at a different speed and direction. When the hit our eyes, or telescopes, or other instruments, we interpret the speed and movement and see what they ve bounced off. It was discovered, in 1676, by Danish astronomer, Ole Christenson, that light travels at a very high, but finite speed (Hawking 18).

These properties of light govern that it must be subject to forces of nature, such as gravity, and a black hole has more than enough gravity to spare. Light travels at such a high speed that it is not affected by gravity, unless that gravity is very strong. A black hole s gravity is powerful enough to trap light because its escape velocity, being infinite, exceeds the speed of light (Hawking 82). This is why a black hole is black. Once light crosses the event horizon, it is drawn into the hole in space. Although the light is still hitting objects, it is not able to bounce off to indicate their existence to an observer, therefore the black hole appears as a void in space.

Closing in on the edge of the event horizon, light travels back to an observer at a slower and slower rate, until it finally becomes invisible. This is due to heavy gravity and the effect that a black hole has on time (Black Holes FAQ). However, with a creative observation used in physics, it is possible to indirectly observe a black hole. Scientists routinely measure an object s gravitational pull by its affect on the objects around it. Picture this: You must find a black cat in a coal mine.

You can neither see the black cat nor the coal. However, there is a spool of glow-in-the-dark yarn in the mine. You see a string of the yarn twisting around and know that the cat is playing with it, even though you cannot see the cat. Imagine the coal mine is space, the cat is a black hole, the ball of yarn is a star, and the string attached to the ball is matter being expelled by the star, known as the star s accertion disc (Black Holes FAQ). In rare instances scientists will find a star near a black hole, a binary star system where one of the stars has imploded into a black hole.

Physicists can observe matter being expelled from the star and being pulled toward another object before the matter vanishes, or passes the event horizon (Hetche). According to Einstein s General Theory of Relativity, time is not a constant (Hawking 87). Time is relative to an observer and his or her environment (Hawking 87). It has been proven that time moves slower at higher speeds (Hawking 87). In other words, time can be just as volatile as light or dirt. An example of this aspect of time is a singularity; an event or point that has a future or a past, but not both (Hawking 49).

In human life, death would be considered a singularity. A black hole is also considered a singularity. If an object crosses the event horizon of a black hole, it relatively ceases to exist, because it has no future, since it can never escape. There is the chance that time slows or stops the closer you get to the center of the black hole (Hawking 88); since absolutely nothing in the known universe can survive in or escape from a black hole. It can be said that time is stopped within the event horizon. The only way for an object to escape this fate would be for a strange anomaly to occur in the fabric of space, caused by a theoretically different type of black hole than is generally excepted.

If the mathematics that describe this black hole are reversed, the outcome is an object called a white hole (Black Holes FAQ). As the complete opposite of a black hole, a white hole is an object into which nothing can fall and objects are only spit out (Black Holes FAQ). At this point, white holes are strictly theory. Their existence is highly unlikely. If certain properties, such as motion or a positive or negative charge are applied to a black hole, then the possibility of a white hole forming within the event horizon arises (Black Holes FAQ). This leads to an even more improbable occurrence called a wormhole (Black Holes FAQ).

In theory, a wormhole would be a tear in the fabric of space. Since time essentially has no effect on a black or white hole, due to the event horizon, if an object were to fall into a wormhole, it could be spit out anywhere in time or space (Black Holes FAQ). How is it possible to test this theory if no signals can escape the black hole Simple, enter the black hole yourself. Suppose one were the captain of a starship, three or four hundred years in the future, and one approached a black hole. What would one see Nothing, no thing, which is what will tell you that the black hole is there. Due to the hole s light absorbing properties, you wouldn t be able to detect any of the stars behind it.

Because no signals emanate from the black hole, you wouldn t be able to tell anything more about it without passing through the event horizon. If you chose to penetrate the event horizon of the black hole nothing would have seemed to change from your perspective. One could still receive radio signals or other signals from outside the black hole, however, since no signals or light from your ship can escape, it would appear to observers that your ship had vanished. From here on, none of your discoveries could ever be made public, because there would be no way to send your findings to the outside world. After this point, no scientist is sure of what would happen to you and your ship. The most likely scenario would be that you are torn apart by the immense gravity.

Nevertheless, if one were to survive, what would someone find at the center of the black hole Better yet, could the ship ever reach the center of the black hole Probably not. As you ll recall, a black hole s center is always getting smaller and smaller so you never really could reach the center (Chaisson 195). Even if someone were brave enough to enter the event horizon, it is likely that even he would never reach the singularity. Perhaps black holes are the ultimate mystery of the universe. They are impossible to observe, from within or without. Although black holes have not been conclusively proven to exist, there is strong evidence that they do.

Even if they don t, black holes are very important to the worlds of astronomy and physics and even literature. Scientists have vastly increased their knowledge of the universe and the properties of matter through exercises that seek to discover a black hole s effect on light, time and the very fabric of space. Whether or not we ever really find them, black holes, white holes, and wormholes will give science fiction writers ideas for many years to come. Chaisson, Eric. Relatively Speaking: Relativity, Black Holes, and the Fate of the Universe. New York: W.

W. Norton & Company, 1988 Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. New York: Bantam Books, 1988 Online. Internet.

Black Holes; Frequently Asked Questions: web Interview on IRC (Internet Relay Chat): Hetche, Peter. Junior, University of Georgia.