“You set my soul alight.
Glaciers melting in the dead of night,
And the superstars sucked into the supermassive-
Supermassive black hole.”
– Muse, “Supermassive Black Hole”
Confession time: I first heard this song while watching Twilight. I know, I know. But you have to admit, the soundtrack from the film was pretty darn good.
What’s a black hole? What’s a supermassive black hole? Are stars “sucked” into them? Is Muse made up of a bunch of astronomers?
Black holes are areas that have a ridiculously high density and extremely strong gravitational field. Its gravitational field is so strong that nothing- even light- can escape if it passes the event horizon, the boundary around the black hole. In the inner region of the black hole is a singularity, a one-dimensional point where a huge amount of mass is kept into an infinitely small space.
Black holes come in a variety of sizes.
Stellar black holes are generally 10 to 24 times the mass of the sun. (The mass of the sun is 1.989 x 1030 kg, or 2.192 x 1027 tons.) This mass is packed into an area the size of a city. Stellar black holes are formed when a large star collapses causing a supernova, an exploding star that pushes some of the star out into space. With enough mass left in the remnant core and a large enough gravitational attraction, the dead star becomes a black hole. Scientists believe that there could be 10 million or more stellar black holes in the Milky Way alone.
Intermediate-mass black holes are hundreds or thousands times the mass of the sun. These intermediate-mass black holes may be formed from a chain reaction of star collisions in compact star clusters. This creates a build-up of massive stars, which then collapse to form an intermediate-mass black hole.
The largest black holes are referred to as supermassive black holes, which have masses more than 1 million suns. One possible method to create a supermassive black hole involves the merger of intermediate-mass black holes. Another possibility is the collapse of large gas clouds to form a supermassive black hole. Scientists theorize that every large galaxy has a supermassive black hole at the center. In the Milky Way, the supermassive black hole is Sagittarius A*, which has a mass of about 4 million suns.
A black hole cannot be seen directly. To locate black holes and study them, scientists look for stars and matter affected by the gravitational force of a black hole. For example, if a normal star passes too close to a black hole, the star may be torn apart. In this process, the star matter accelerates and heats up, emitting x-rays which can then be picked up by astronomy instruments.
So yes, stars can be pulled into a supermassive black hole. Looks like Muse did their research. (Though I don’t think any Muse members are astronomers.)
Oh, and by the way, if you were to fall into a black hole, you would simply drift through, living a normal life- or as normal a life could be in a black hole in space. Or you could incinerate into ash at a firewall. Scientists aren’t sure yet. Maybe just stay away from black holes.
Keep calm and science on.