Black Holes: The most important breakthroughs of 2019

Black holes are regions of space that exhibit unimaginably strong amounts of gravitational acceleration. The force acting on particles is so strong, not even electromagnetic radiation such as light can escape it. 2019 was a very important year for black holes, as our understanding of the cosmic entities vastly grew during the past year.

The first image of a black hole

After many years of waiting, scientists were finally able to take the first image of a black hole. The black hole represented is M87, and it lies 53 million miles away at the center of the Virgo A galaxy. The image eventually led to a realistic render by NASA.

Image: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration
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Though the image was very grainy, it confirmed our assumptions regarding black holes, also proving Einstein to be right once again. The image was captured by a system of telescopes around the world, called the Event Horizon Telescope. The name refers to a physical term “Event Horizon” which usually describes a boundary beyond which events cannot affect an observer on the opposite side. The edge of a black hole is also called an event horizon.

The black hole that’s so large, it shouldn’t exist

A team of scientists at the National Astronomical Observatory in China (NAOC) discovered a black hole so big, it is impossible for it to exist. The discovery was made by a team of international scientists using China’s Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST). The telescope operates by searching for stars being pulled by gravitational forces from black holes, instead of the traditional x-ray method. The mass of the black hole was estimated to be 70 times greater than the Sun.

Source: NASA

The black hole, LB-1, challenges how we assumed black holes would form. We had assumed that stars shed away gasses in “stellar winds,” however LB-1 is so large, most of its gas should have been shed away. The black hole is about 15,000 light-years away.

Planets around supermassive black holes are possible

Researchers from the National Astronomical Observatory in Japan have discovered that it is possible for planets to orbit around a supermassive black hole.

An artistic rendering of a supermassive black hole. Image: NASA
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Earlier, we had assumed that planets only formed around protoplanetary disks, which are made up of dust and gas found around stars. The dust in the torus of a supermassive black hole forms a very intense dust ring that low-temperature areas are formed as radiation from the central region is stopped.

The researchers found that if the temperature were low enough, the dust can cluster together to form protoplanets. This initial planetary stagte will then eventually grow into Earth-sized worlds.

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