Brain Pickings

An Animated Field Guide to Black Holes and the Key Conundrum of Time

A dive into some of the most thrilling unsolved questions of science.

An Animated Field Guide to Black Holes and the Key Conundrum of Time

In July 1967, just after her twenty-fourth birthday, the Northern Irish astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell noticed a strange signal in the data streaming in from the radio telescope she was monitoring. She had discovered a pulsar — an epoch-making breakthrough that earned the Nobel Prize, though Bell was denied recognition for the discovery she herself had made.

Pulsars furnished watershed evidence that neutron stars — the collapsed cores left behind by the final explosion of dying stars, first theorized more than three decades earlier — were real. From this followed the even more thrilling indication that black holes — which even Einstein had regarded as an enticing but purely mathematical and possibly unprovable theoretical construct — might also be real. The term black hole itself was coined that year by the influential physicist John Archibald Wheeler as a shorthand for the unhandsome standard phrasing: “completely collapsed gravitational object.” It was a defining moment in our understanding of the universe, laying the foundation for the most important discovery in modern astrophysics — the detection of gravitational waves half a century later.

In this lovely animation by science communication powerhouse Massive, University of Arizona astrophysicist Feryal Özel and Yale theoretical astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan delve into the deepest mysteries of black holes and what they may tell us about the nature of time and the universe. The short film is a companion to the fifteenth installment in the Scientific Controversies series hosted by astrophysicist Janna Levin — Director of Sciences at Pioneer Works, my collaborator in The Universe in Verse, and author of the magnificent Black Hole Blues (public library).

For more fascinating science from Massive, see their animated series celebrating the scientific prescience of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Published July 26, 2018




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