Is This Black Hole Coming to Earth? [Video]

Is This Black Hole Coming to Earth? [Video]

A SUPERMASSIVE black hole could swallow our entire planet in years to come, a scientist has warned. Fabio Pacucci detailed how the huge structure is growing in size by swallowing matter and merging with other black holes that it comes in contact with.

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Currently, Earth is orbiting it at a safe distance, 25,000 light-years away.

However, that could change if the Milky Way galaxy collides with another, potentially sending our planet toppling towards a black hole.

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“Nothing, not even light, can move fast enough to escape a black hole’s gravitational pull once it passes a certain boundary, known as the event horizon,” Pacucci revealed at a TedTalk event last month.

“The black hole is millions or billions times greater than that of our sun and has an event horizon that could span billions of kilometres.

“Unlike their stellar cousins, supermassive black holes aren’t wandering through space. Instead,they lie at the centre of galaxies.

“Our solar system is in a stable orbit around a supermassive black hole that resides at the centre of the Milky Way, at a safe distance of 25,000 light-years.

Black hole

Is This Black Hole Coming to Earth? [Video]

Fabio Pacucci revealed a huge black hole could swallow Earth (Image: GETTY)

Fabio Pacucci

Fabio Pacucci gave the warning at a Ted Talks event (Image: GETTY)

The black hole is millions or billions times greater than that of our sun

Fabio Pacucci

“But that could change.”

However, Pacucci claims there is no need to worry just yet.

“A collision with the Andromeda Galaxy is predicted to happen 4 billion years from now, which may not be great news for our future planet,” he added.

“Before we judge them too harshly, black holes aren’t simply agents of destruction.

The Earth is about 25,000 light years away

The Earth is about 25,000 light years away (Image: TED)

“They played a crucial role in the formation of galaxies, the building blocks of our universe.

“Far from being shadowy characters in the cosmic play, black holes have fundamentally contributed in making the universe a bright and astonishing place.”

Black holes are formed when a massive star consumes all its nuclear fuel and its core collapses.

In December, scientists rewrote astronomy textbooks after an astonishing black hole discovery.

In 2001, astrophysicist Jocelyn Burnell proposed a chilling “spaghettification” theory in the event of Earth being sucked up by a black hole.

She said: “If we fell into a black hole, a star-sized black hole, the first thing that would happen is we would begin to feel our bodies being pulled apart.

“Not only is gravity strong inside a black hole, but the gradient of gravity is low also.

“It would ultimately rip things apart in the most unpleasant manner — spaghettification.

“You would get long and thin — you become stranded.

“It would not be pleasant at all.”

The huge black hole at the heart of our galaxy has turned unusually bright — and scientists have no explanation for the dramatic behaviour.

It has started eating far more interstellar gas and dust than it has ever been seen doing before, researchers said.

When they first spotted it, they thought they had accidentally looked a star — but further research has shown that the black hole is in fact showing behaviour that astronomers had never expected.

Is This Black Hole Coming to Earth? [Video]

“We have never seen anything like this in the 24 years we have studied the supermassive black hole,” said Andrea Ghez, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and a co-senior author of the research.

“It’s usually a pretty quiet, wimpy black hole on a diet.

“We don’t know what is driving this big feast.”

Scientists looked through observations taken since 2003, from observatories in Hawaii and Chile.

They noticed that on 13 May, the back hole was lit up twice as bright as had ever been before — and it continued to turn incredibly bright on two other nights this year.

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The changes are “unprecedented”, scientists say, and it is not clear why they are happening.

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The kind of brightness spotted by researchers usually comes from radiation thrown out as gas and dust is eaten up by the black hole.

As such, it could be just the beginning in a major change in the activity of the black hole.

“The big question is whether the black hole is entering a new phase — for example if the spigot has been turned up and the rate of gas falling down the black hole ‘drain’ has increased for an extended period — or whether we have just seen the fireworks from a few unusual blobs of gas falling in,” said Mark Morris, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and the author of a paper describing the discovery..

Scientists will now keep looking at the area and hope that new images can help resolve that question.

That could in turn help us understand how black holes grow and the kinds of effects they have on the galaxy and the larger universe.

The brightening could have come from the fact that a star was seen going very close to the black hole in summer last year, or that another mysterious object known as G2 had its outer layer ripped off when it passed by in 2014.

It might also be the result of big asteroids passing near the black hole, scientists said.

The black hole poses no danger to life on Earth. It is 26,000 light years away, and the radiation coming out of it would need to be 10 billion times brighter to have any effect here.

Black holes have long been a source of much excitement and intrigue.

And interest regarding black holes will surely grow now that gravitational waves have been discovered.

Many of the questions I am asked regard how “true” science fiction concerning black holes might be, and whether worm holes, such as those featured in Stargate, are real or not.

Invariably though, the one item that is almost assured to come up are the largely gruesome ways in which black holes might theoretically affect human beings and the Earth itself.

Mass, Charge, Spin

There are three properties of a black hole that are (in principle) measurable: their mass, their spin (or angular momentum) and their overall electronic charge.

Indeed, these are the only three parameters that an outside observer can ever know about since all other information about anything that goes in to making up a black hole is lost.

This is known as the “no hair theorem”. Put simply: no matter how hairy or complex an object you throw in to a black hole, it will get reduced down (or shaved) to its mass, charge and spin.

Of these parameters, mass is arguably the most significant.

The very definition of a black hole is that it has its mass concentrated in to a vanishingly small volume — the “singularity”.

And it is the mass of the black hole — and the huge gravitational forces that its mass generates — which does the “damage” to nearby objects.

Is This Black Hole Coming to Earth? [Video]

Space Spaghetti

Spaghetti. Nice to eat, but not nice to get turned in to. matsuyuki/flickr

One of the best known effects of a nearby black hole has the imaginative title of “Spaghettification”.

In brief, if you stray too close to a black hole, then you will stretch out, just like spaghetti.

This effect is caused due to a gravitation gradient across your body. Imagine that you are headed feet first towards a black hole.

Since your feet are physically closer to the black hole, they will feel a stronger gravitation pull towards it than your head will.

Worse than that, your arms, by virtue of the fact that they’re not at the centre of your body, will be attracted in a slightly different (vector) direction than your head is.

This will cause parts of the body toward the edges to be brought inwards. The net result is not only an elongation of the body overall, but also a thinning out (or compression) in the middle.

Hence, your body or any other object, such as Earth, will start to resemble spaghetti long before it hits the centre of the black hole.

The exact point at which these forces become too much to bear will depend critically on the mass of a black hole.

For an “ordinary” black hole that has been produced by the collapse of a high mass star, this could be several hundred kilometres away from the event horizon — the point beyond which no information can escape a black hole.

Yet for a supermassive black hole, such as the one thought to reside at the centre of our galaxy, an object could readily sink below the event horizon before becoming spaghetti, at a distance of many tens of thousands of kilometres from its centre.

For a distant observer outside the event horizon of the black hole, it would appear that we progressively slow down and then fade away over time.

Bad News For Earth

What would happen, hypothetically, if a black hole appeared out of nowhere next to Earth?

The same gravitational effects that produced spaghettification would start to take effect here.

The edge of the Earth closest to the black hole would feel a much stronger force than the far side.

As such, the doom of the entire planet would be at hand. We would be pulled apart.

Equally, we might not even notice if a truly supermassive black hole swallowed us below its event horizon as everything would appear as it once was, at least for a small period of time.

In this case, it could be some time before disaster struck. But don’t lose too much sleep, we’d have to be unfortunate to “hit” a black hole in the first place — and we might live on holographically after the crunch anyway.

Mind The Radiation

Interestingly, black holes are not necessarily black. Quasars — objects at the hearts of distant galaxies powered by black holes — are supremely bright.

They can readily outshine the rest of their host galaxy combined.

Such radiation is generated when the black hole is feasting on new material. To be clear: this material is still outside the event horizon which is why we can still see it.

Below the event horizon is where nothing, not even light, can escape. As all the matter piles up from the feast, it will glow.

It is this glow that is seen when observers look at quasars.

But this is a problem for anything orbiting (or near) a black hole, as it is very hot indeed.

Long before we would be spaghettified, the sheer power of this radiation would fry us.

Life Around A Black Hole

For those who have watched Christopher Nolan’s film Interstellar, the prospect of a planet orbiting around a black hole might be an appealing one.

For life to thrive, there needs to be a source of energy or a temperature difference.

And a black hole can be that source.

There’s a catch, though. The black hole needs to have stopped feasting on any material — or it will be emitting too much radiation to support life on any neighbouring worlds.

What life would look like on such a world (assuming its not too close to get spaghettified, of course) is another matter.

The amount of power received by the planet would probably be tiny compared to what Earth receives from the Sun.

And the overall environment of such a planet could be equally bizzare.

Indeed, in the creation of Interstellar, Kip Thorne was consulted to ensure the accuracy of the depiction of the black hole featured.

These factors do not preclude life, it just makes it a tough prospect and very hard to predict what forms it could take.


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