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How Black Holes Work

You may have heard someone say, "My desk has become a black hole!"
You may have seen an astronomy program on television or read a
magazine article on black holes. These exotic objects have captured
our imagination ever since they were predicted by Einstein's Theory of
General Relativity in 1915.
What are black holes? Do they really exist? How can we find them? In
this article, we will examine black holes and answer all of these

What is a Black Hole?

A black hole is what remains when a massive star dies.

If you have read How Stars Work, then you know that a star is a huge,
amazing fusion reactor. Because stars are so massive and made out of
gas, there is an intense gravitational field that is always trying to
collapse the star. The fusion reactions happening in the core are like a

giant fusion bomb that is trying to explode the star. The balance
between the gravitational forces and the explosive forces is what
defines the size of the star.As the star dies, the nuclear fusion reactions
stop because the fuel for these reactions gets burned up. At the same
time, the star's gravity pulls material inward and compresses the core.
As the core compresses, it heats up and eventually creates a
supernova explosion in which the material and radiation blasts out into
space. What remains is the highly compressed, and extremely
massive, core. The core's gravity is so strong that even light cannot
This object is now a black hole and literally disappears from view.
Because the core's gravity is so strong, the core sinks through the
fabric of space-time, creating a hole in space-time -- this is why the
object is called a black hole.

Types of Black Holes

There are two types of black holes:
Schwarzschild - Non-rotating black hole
Kerr - Rotating black hole
The Schwarzschild black hole is the simplest black hole, in which the
core does not rotate. This type of black hole only has a singularity and
an event horizon.
The Kerr black hole, which is probably the most common form in
nature, rotates because the star from which it was formed was
rotating. When the rotating star collapses, the core continues to rotate,
and this carried over to the black hole (conservation of angular
momentum). The Kerr black hole has the following parts:
Singularity - The collapsed core
Event horizon - The opening of the hole
Ergosphere - An egg-shaped region of distorted space around the
event horizon (The distortion is caused by the spinning of the
black hole, which "drags" the space around it.)
Static limit - The boundary between the ergosphere and normal

If an object passes into the ergosphere it can still be ejected from the
black hole by gaining energy from the hole's rotation. However, if an
object crosses the event horizon, it will be sucked into the black hole
and never escape. What happens inside the black hole is unknown;
even our current theories of physics do not apply in the vicinity of a
Even though we cannot see a black hole, it does have three properties
that can or could be measured:
Electric charge
Rate of rotation (angular momentum)
As of now, we can only measure the mass of the black hole reliably by
the movement of other objects around it. If a black hole has a
companion (another star or disk of material), it is possible to measure
the radius of rotation or speed of orbit of the material around the
unseen black hole. The mass of the black hole can be calculated using
Kepler's Modified Third Law of Planetary Motion or rotational motion.