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An overview of the physics necessary to describe black holes, aimed at young students.

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Introduction

The goal of this talk is to motivate the existence of black holes from a physics perspective: I’m not going to derive their existence or their properties, but I’ll show you the types of tools physicists use to describe black holes mathematically and how they derive these properties. The punchline is that black holes are massive objects where all of their mass is concentrated at a single point in space: this point is what you often here called a “singularity”. They’re so massive, in fact, that they curve space and time themselves! Everything cool you’ve heard about black holes can be derived from understanding how black holes curve spacetime, so I’ll try to motivate how/why this happens. This will be our roadmap:

1. Understand the diﬀerence between ﬂat space and curved space. 2. Understand how to characterize the curvature of space. Physicists use what’s called a “metric” to describe the kind of space they’re talking about and to ﬁgure out what paths objects in that space will take from one point to another, so we’ll talk a bit about metrics. 3. Understand how measurements of time and space depend on your point of view. This is important, since the way we see black holes and how things fall into a black hole is very diﬀerent from what an object falling into a black hole actually experiences. 4. We’ll put time and space on the same footing, and learn how to draw spacetime diagrams! Spacetime can be ﬂat or curved, just like regular space can be ﬂat or curved. 5. We’ll motivate Einstein’s great discovery that the distribution of matter actually determines what the spacetime is: Matter tells spacetime how to curve. 6. Finally, we will use this fact to motivate the existence of black holes, and then talk about some black hole facts / misconceptions. 1

To get big distances. • Note that this is diﬀerent from curved space! (Get ball. you can derive the geodesics of your space. you would derive the equation for a straight line. ﬂatten out. let’s put a little d in front of each of our variables–this is a common convention. The metric tells you how to ﬁnd very small distances. it tells you how to take little distances in your space. curved space metrics are diﬀerent! A ﬂat space metric can not be made to look like a curved space metric just from a change of coordinates. Flat means that pythagorus’ theorem holds. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.2 What does ﬂat space mean? How is it diﬀerent from curved space? 1. basically you minimize the metric and derive what the shortest distance between two points is in your space. Since metrics give you lengths. Of course. if we were to do this for our ﬂat space metric. put cloth on ball. because we’re talking about two variables. (Note: the shortest distance between two points is called a ’geodesic’. 3. you just add up lots of little distances. (draw picture) 3. we all know how to ﬁnd a distance: (draw pythagorean theorem). • Why is this so useful? 1. To denote that we’re talking about small distances. draw triangle. Show Pythagorus’ theorem doesn’t hold. where we put x on the x-axis and y on the y-axis. It tells you how to get from one point to another in that space: how to take distance intervals in a space. Given a metric. Flat space also means that triangles have angles that add up to 180◦ . In this coordinate system. 3 What is a metric? • How does a physicist describe whether a space is ﬂat or not? With a metric! A metric is just a way of writing down whatever kind of space you want to talk about in some given coordinate system. 2. and voila! Our ﬂat space metric in 2-d cartesian coordinates is: ds2 = dx2 + dy 2 As advertised. The distance between points in 2-d ﬂat space is (draw picture) s 2 = x2 + y 2 2. Flat space vs. • Let’s write the ﬂat space metric. 2 . This is a two-dimensional coordinate system. Geodesics are curved lines). You are all familiar with the cartesian coordinate system.

you ﬁrst hear the siren at a high pitch. • Example 1: Consider the Doppler eﬀect. your friend will receive the balls more frequently since they’ll be less spaced out: you’re still throwing them once a second. The frequency of a sound wave is how often the particles of the air (through which the sound wave is propagating) vibrate as the sound waves moves through the air. but now the balls thrown later have less distance to travel before they get to your friend because you’ve moved closer to them before throwing the ball. your friend will observe a diﬀerent frequency than you observe in your frame of reference! • The theory of special relativity is like this. the frequency that you observe is going to be diﬀerent from the frequency that the source observes by some factor that depends on the relative velocity. • The basic idea that your frame of reference matters should make sense classically (in your everyday life). they receive one ball every second.thus they observe the same frequency as you observe.. but cooler! In relativity. • Example 2. In physics. and this becomes a lower and lower pitch as it passes and moves away from you in the opposite direction. so I am going to write our ﬂat space metric in polar coordinates: (draw polar coordinates) ds2 = dr2 + r2 dθ2 4 Space and time should not be treated separately (in relativity) • Basic idea of special relativity: the way you measure both space (distances) and time depends on your frame of reference. As the ambulance moves towards and away from you (though not straight towards you). But the laws of physics should be the same in any (non-accelerating) frame of reference. When an ambulance passes by you. the relative velocity between you and the ambulance changes. thus resulting in the changing pitch you hear. If your friend stands still. anytime the speed of the source of a wave (the ambulance) and the speed of the observer of the wave (you!) have a relative velocity. You throw one ball every second at the same constant velocity in the direction of your friend (thus. 3 . the pitch of sound that you hear depends on the frequency of the sound wave. It turns out that it’s easiest to write the black hole metric in polar coordinates. Physical idea: physics doesn’t depend on how you choose your coordinates (”physics doesn’t depend on the physicist”). the length you measure an object to be depends on your relative velocity to the object. Thus.in particular changing sign as it passes you. you are throwing the balls at a constant frequency).. and the time lapse between two events depends on the relative speeds of the observers’ reference frames.• Let me emphasize: there are diﬀerent ways of writing ﬂat space. But if you start running towards your friend. Why is this? Well..

• ⇒ the trajectory of an object is a curve in spacetime. this extra-dimensional space has a name: it’s called Minkowski space. ds2 = dx2 + dy 2 . • (Draw spacetime diagrams. • Now that all our coordinates are both space and time coordinates. The idea is the kind of the same idea as the ball throwing example. (Draw curves on spacetime diagrams as an example. and your position in time relative to some choice of time origin. and demonstrate the idea of coordinates on a spacetime diagram). Well. but in someone else’s frame (where the relative velocity between you and the other person is very large).• One example: the faster a clock moves. this means we should add a time component to our metric! Recall the ﬂat space metric. Demonstrate the ideas of past and future). it turns out there is only one way to consistently add time to our ﬂat space metric. and that is like this : ds2 = −dt2 + dx2 + dy 2 . Just like we call regular ﬂat space Euclidean space. now we’re interested in measuring distances between points in spacetime! In the theory of relativity. In particular. When you’re moving really fast. 4 . We call this curve a ’world line’. except imagine the frequency that’s changing is the frequency of your heart beats. in your frame your heart is beating at the same frequency it’s been beating at. the frequency is diﬀerent. This immediately implies that we can’t treat space and time separately (for our purposes)! • We should really think of time and space as on the same footing: we should think about ourselves as living in spacetime. speeds close to the speed of light. 5 Spacetime! and spacetime diagrams! • So: hopefully you believe me when I say that in the theory of relativity. the faster it keeps the same time. and you send them oﬀ in a rocket ship moving very very quickly away from earth (so the relative velocity between you and your friend is very large). this means we should think of everything that happens as an ’event’ in spacetime. which tells us how to measure spatial distances between points. the observed rate at which time passes for an object depends on the objects velocity relative to the observer. This means that if you have a friend that’s your age. We can assign everything spacetime coordinates: your spatial position relative to some coordinate origin. your friend will actually age • (Disclaimer:) Relativistic eﬀects are only seen at very very high speeds: speciﬁcally.

6 Where gravity comes in • Remember: we can derive the paths that objects take in spacetime (like geodesics) based on the spacetime metric. Einstein discovered that when an object is big enough. but our masses are so small that the eﬀects of this attraction are completely negligible. Spacetime tells matter how to move. This should make sense to us from our previous discussion: we characterize spacetime by a metric. 7 The black hole solution to Einstein’s equations • Finally. this is the black hole metric (again. We talked about how the metric tells us geodesics (shortest distance paths). the spacetime of a black hole is a special case of the solution to Einstein’s equations for a spherically symmetric mass distribution. We are gravitationally attracted to the earth. and that’s what keeps us in orbit around the sun. and because the earth is so big that gravitational force is what holds us here to its surface! The earth is gravitationally attracted to the sun. This says that spacetime tells matter how to move. It is what the spacetime of a spherically symmetric mass distribution looks like when enough mass is in a small enough radius. this is the metric that describes any spherically symmetric 5 . • Since we now have some understanding of metrics. 2. the gravitational ﬁeld emanating from that object is so strong that it bends spacetime itself! Einstein’s fundamental theory of general relativity says: 1. as derived by Einstein’s equations): ds2 = − 1 − 1 rs dt2 + dr2 + r2 dθ2 . and derive what the metric of that space is! (recall: metric tells you what shape your spacetime is). But we need to go a step further to talk about black holes. Matter tells spacetime how to curve. I am gravitationally attracted to each of you. rs r 1− r It is called the Schwarzschild metric. we can answer the question: what is a black hole? Formally. • One of Einstein’s great discoveries is that when an object is big enough. • This important result is summarized in Einstein’s equations. the gravitational ﬁelds from the objects are so strong that they bend spacetime! • Review: gravity aﬀects all objects with mass. and you can clearly see that it is not the ﬂat space metric! In fact. You can actually start with some given mass distribution. They look like (stuﬀ involving the metric that tells you the spacetime curvature) = (stuﬀ involving the energy of your matter in that space). and can use the metric to derive paths that objects take in that spacetime. and given a bit more information it can tell us about general paths too.

• As previously stated. its Schwarzschild radius. Observation 2: our metric blows up at r = 0. we can stare at our black hole metric a little bit and see exactly where things are going to get interesting. since it goes away with some clever changes of coordinates. This might happen. and from the potential energy you can show what the stable orbits are. When this happens. that never goes away no matter how many changes of coordinates you make. Black holes are often found at the center of galaxies for precisely this reason: they have a huge gravitational ﬁeld since they’re very massive. • The Schwarzschild radius is called the event horizon. It is why you sometimes here black holes referred to as ”singularities”–black holes cause the metric of spacetime itself to become inﬁnite! They’re a place where the curvature of spacetime becomes inﬁnite. which forms when all the mass of the spherically symmetric object lies in a small enough radius. 2. And this is the metric that describes a black hole. • You can actually derive what the stable orbits around a black hole are just by studying the metric. since you have so much mass all concentrated at one point in space. this spacetime is the spacetime of objects around the sun: there’s nothing special about it. I’ll talk about some of those features. (Note: the Schwarzschild radius depends on the mass of the object. It turns out that this isn’t a real blow up.. not even light: it is the point of no return.mass distribution: this is the metric that describes the spacetime around the sun. a black hole forms when all the mass of an object is squished into a small enough radius: speciﬁcally. for example. This makes sense. 8 Features of black holes Every cool thing you’ve ever heard about black holes can be derived from the black hole metric. • The ”singularity” at r = 0 is the generic feature of the black hole solution. the mass all collapses in on itself: you can think of all the mass being squished into a tiny radius at r = 0. This is a real blow up.diﬀerent masses = diﬀerent Schwarzschild radii). • Before I talk about all the properties of black holes. Absolutely nothing can escape beyond the event horizon. and its internal pressure is insuﬃcient to resist its own gravity. • Outside the Schwarzschild radius. it won’t be able to stop. 1. for example. inside its Schwarzschild radius. Observation 1: our metric blows up at r = rs . From the metric you can get the potential energy of a particle in the Schwarzschild spacetime. but r = rs is still an interesting place: it’s called the event horizon of a black hole. Now. and will form a black hole. 6 . when a dying star becomes unstable. and so astronomical objects will orbit them just like the Earth rotates around the sun. then the star collapses in on itself. If it collapses into a small enough radius.

But how do we see objects? by the light the objects emit back to us. 7 . The frequency of this light becomes so distorted. but nothing can leave. that while we see the object slowing down we also see it getting redder and dimmer. until it becomes so dim we can’t actually see it at all. until time literally stops. • Remember we talked about how relativistic eﬀects can change how we measure time. An observer far from the black hole will never actually see an object fall into a black hole: they will see the object slow down more and more until it actually seems to stand still. the object itself will feel totally normal! The object falling into the black hole. you will just see it appear to stretch out and fade away at the event horizon.Matter and light can pass inwards at the event horizon. clocks nearing a black hole appear to click more and more slowly. • On the other hand. according to his own clock. To a distant observer of a black hole. You will never see an object actually fall into a black hole. this is because the curvature of spacetime is so big inside the event horizon (remember: matter deforms spacetime itself!) that there are no paths that lead away from the black hole. just crosses the event horizon in a ﬁnite time. But eventually the gravitational forces on the object will rip the object apart. Basically.

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