More Hidden Black Hole DangersBlack holes such as GRO J1655-40 form from collapsed stars. When stars at least eight times more massive than our Sun exhaust their fuel supply, they no longer have the energy to support their tremendous bulk. These stars explode as supernovae, blasting their outer envelopes into space. If the core is more than three times the mass of the Sun, it will collapse into a singularity, a single point of infinite density.Although light cannot escape black holes, astronomers can see black holes by virtue of the hot, glowing gas often stolen from a neighboring star that orbits these objects. From our vantage point, the light seems to flicker. The Rossi Explorer has recorded this flickering (called quasiperiodic oscillations, or QPOs) around many black holes. QPOs are produced by gas very near the innermost stable orbit the closest orbit a blob of gas can maintain before falling pell-mell into the black hole. As gas whips around the black hole at near light speed, gravity pulls the gas in one direction, then another, adding to the flickering. The QPO is related to the speed and size of this orbit and the mass of the black hole.
Wanjek, Christopher (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, United States)
August 21, 2013
January 1, 2003
Publication: Space Science Reference Guide, 2nd Edition