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June 8, 2007

Oldest Black Hole found

Astronomers at Mauna Kea's observatory found a black hole that is estimated to be 13 billion light-years away. That is an extremely incomprehesible distance to me, being the time it would take light, which travels at 186,000 miles per second, to travel from that black hole to our planet. 13 billion years- no warp drives there.

The significance of that time frame is that it is the estimated age of our universe is 13.7 billion years (not bad, nailing it down to 700 million years difference) and
"What we are seeing is very close to the beginning of the universe," said Christian Veillet, CFHT executive director. "We're seeing the universe when it was young."
This confuses me because a black hole is rightly named because no light can escape it gravitational pull.

For those of you not hip to the astronomy lingo, a black hole is the remains of star whose mass was so significant that the star collapsed in on itself. It collapsed to a point of singularity and the gravitational pull is so strong that it even warps space. Science fiction takes over at this point and allows all who can survive the spaghettification effect from entering the event horizon of the black hole (an effect where were you to unfortunate enough to fall into a black hole feet first, the gravitational pull at your feet would be 1 million times greater than at your head) would then be sent to another galaxy/parallel universe/Amber Arbucci's bedroom.

Of course not all stars have a violent metamorphosis. Most are content with living out the last few million years of their existence as a dwarf star or neutron star- a star significantly smaller than when it started but much more dense because it has collapsed. Some stars go out shooting like in an old Western. These stars supernova and explode like the Death Star after a torpedo makes its way into a small thermal exhause port no more than 2 meters wide.

Anything within striking distance of these supernova or black holes doesn't stand much of a change of survival. They either get sucked into oblivion or have thier surface temperatures raised by a few million degrees.

I won't even begin to explain the warping of space caused by a black hole because I need to read and reread Sagan to keep a firm grasp on the subject. Just watch the Disney movie The Black Hole.

13 billion years is a pretty good buffer from this cosmic nuisance although the nearest black hole is only 200 milion light years away. It has been widely regarded as loose fact that all galaxies have a massive black hole at their center. Considering we are on the fringe of our spiral galaxy we probably don't have much to worry about.

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