“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-hole

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.

sgr_a

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.)

muse-plain

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.

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