Black Holes Are Simple, Hungry Things, Says Astrophysicist Katie Mack

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Black holes are some of the most mysterious objects in the cosmos. These pitch black regions of spacetime are the glue that holds together the Milky Way, but they also devour planets and stars like Triscuits. In short, black holes are like the misunderstood teens of the sitcom that is the universe. They seem complicated and brooding, but deep down inside they’re just trying to live a simple life.

Theoretical astrophysicist Katie Mack speaks to Rae Paoletta on the seventh episode of I Need My Space, Inverse’s podcast about all things extraterrestrial, to dispel any hot gossip going around about these brooding gravitational phenomena. No, they aren’t interdimensional portals or some kind of real-life version of the Eye of Sauron. They’re just clumps of matter doing their thing.

“A black hole is what happens when you put a whole lot of matter in a very small space. They’re very simple creatures.” says Mack. “Based on the best theories out there, black holes have very few properties. They have a mass, they have a charge, they have a spin if they’re spinning, and that’s kind of it. They don’t have different colors or mountains or anything like that.”

But for such simple things, they have one hell of an appetite. In fact, astronomers have just discovered the fastest-growing black hole ever spotted by humans. This absolute beast can apparently guzzle down the mass of our sun every two days, that’s equivalent to 2.6 million Earths.

These galactic masses are such voracious eaters, that they’ll even slurp down some light. The gravitational forces created by black holes are so powerful that not even the fastest thing in the universe can escape its grasp.

“If you get close enough to a black hole that you’re within this region called the ‘event horizon’ and you shine a flashlight away from the center of the black hole the light will go towards the center of the black hole,” says Mack. “At that point, nothing can move away from the black hole if you get inside the event horizon. That’s the point of no return because it’s physically impossible to move away from the center of the black hole, all directions are towards [its] center.”

Further evidence that black holes are basically misunderstood adolescents with a bit of a clinginess problem.

Check out more from the conversation with Katie Mack in the seventh episode of I Need My Space. It’d mean the world to us if you subscribed, rated, and reviewed the show.

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