Note (12/2015): Hi there! I'm taking some time off here to focus on other projects for a bit. As of October 2016, those other projects include a science book series for kids titled Things That Make You Go Yuck! -- available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and (hopefully) a bookstore near you!

Co-author Jenn Dlugos and I are also doing some extremely ridiculous things over at Drinkstorm Studios, including our award-winning webseries, Magicland.

There are also a full 100 posts right here in the archives, and feel free to drop me a line at with comments, suggestions or wacky cold fusion ideas. Cheers!

· Categories: Astronomy, Physics
What I’ve Learned:

Black holes: scarier than galactic Bieber
“Black holes: scarier than LiLo, galactic-sized Bieber or astrophysicists settling bets with encyclopedias.”

In science, “black hole” means something very specific; it’s not just a catch-all term for scary, life-sucking things like Congressional speeches or a trip to the DMV or Lindsay Lohan’s vagina.

A true black hole has certain characteristics. Unimaginable denseness and an irresistible gravitational pull, created by a star that’s given up its fire and collapsed into itself.

So, more like Lindsay Lohan’s career.

Cosmically speaking, it takes a special kind of star to form a black hole. It’s not like any old class K hayseed can fuse a few hydrogen atoms together and call itself a singularity. To go full-on black hole, you’ve got to be big. Like, Disney movie or Lollapalooza-ten-years-ago big. And then you have to violently implode — the violentlier, the better — and still keep enough mass to suck in all the matter and light and paparazzi for light years around.

Most stars never get the chance. Take our sun, for instance. It could appear in every edgy Sundance flick and Marvel comic blockbuster made in the next 5.4 billion years, and it still won’t go out as a black hole. Our sun is like the Larry the Cable Guy of stars. It’ll just hang around, getting fatter and occasionally shilling heartburn medicine, until it finally pops an aneurysm on the toilet.

Or engulfs the solar system in a baking-hot inferno. Whichever comes first.

Other stars are big enough to implode — that’s “supernova”, in star talk — but there’s basically nothing left afterward. These become neutron stars: reclusive, dim and not so interesting. Think Peewee Herman, or Tawny Kitaen. And then forget them again.

Black holes, though, are fascinating. It’s thought there’s a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, and most others. Ours is four million times the mass of our sun, with the entire Milky Way orbiting it. It’s like the Justin Bieber of black holiness. And nearly as dense.

No one knows what happens inside a black hole, but space physicists are working on it. Stephen Hawking figured out that one kind of energy can escape a black hole, so they named “Hawking radiation” after him. Later, John Preskill won a bet with Hawking that this radiation would contain information about the stuff sucked into the hole previously.

(That’s some serious shit, winning a bet off the guy the thing was named for. Especially when it’s Stephen Hawking. He’s the smartest thing on four wheels since the Knight Industries Three Thousand.)

Recently, scientists argued about whether black holes are surrounded by a giant wall of fire — as if black holes weren’t badass enough already. One camp says “yes”, because monogamy of quantum entanglement, duh; the other says “nuh-uh”, because Einstein’s equivalence principle, obviously. They flung a bunch of math at each other, Hawking declared black holes dead (sort of, though most people agreed they weren’t) and the firewall finally (probably) went down. In flames. But no one knows for certain.

I vote we load Captain Bieber on a rocket, point it at galactic center, and let him find out for us. Maybe he can even get his own autograph on the way down the gravity well.

Image sources: (black hole), Scary Movie 5 (Lohan), Sky and Telescope and NYPost (Bieber galaxy), John Preskill/CalTech (Hawking-Preskill bet)

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