How Supermassive Black Holes Were Discovered

This essay is one of the five winners in the 2019 writing competition held by the Black Hole Initiative at Harvard University. “The Black Hole Initiative offers a unique environment for thinking about the topic of black holes more creatively and comprehensively,” says BHI director, Avi Loeb. To add context to the exciting April 10 announcement that astronomers have observed a black hole for the first time, this week Nautilus is featuring all five winning essays.

In the 1700s, John Michell in England and Pierre-Simon Laplace in France independently thought “way out of the box” and imagined what would happen if a huge mass were placed in an incredibly small volume. Pushing this thought experiment to the limit, they conjectured that gravitational forces might not allow anything, even light, to escape. Michell and Laplace were imagining what we now call a black hole.

Astronomers are now convinced that when massive stars burn through their nuclear fuel, they collapse to near nothingness and form a black hole. While the concept of

Citiți o mostră, înregistrați-vă pentru a citi în continuare.

Mai multe de la Nautilus

Nautilus10 min cititePsychology
A Quiet Path Out of the Coronavirus Shadow: Mindfulness helped this ER doctor through a dark time. It can help us through these times.
Eleven years ago, I sat down across from a man named Edward Espe Brown. I had returned home to Texas from a four-month stay at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California, endured a breakup, and was feeling adrift. I told Ed that I was struggling
Nautilus14 min cititeMedical
How to Conquer COVID-19 Amid a Confederacy of Dunces: Science can’t be democratic, says an outspoken virologist.
Robert Burioni is a virologist at the San Raffaele University in Milan, Italy, and a serious scientist. But in 2016, something happened that changed his course. He was on television with two anti-vaxxers—a famous actress and a former DJ—who were taki
Nautilus6 min cititePsychology
Do We Have Free Will? Maybe It Doesn't Matter
Belief is a special kind of human power. Agustin Fuentes, an anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame, eloquently claims as much in his recent book Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being. It’s the “most prominent, promising, and d