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Gravity cavity

By Sarah, 24 January 2014 News

Written by Neha Karl

Galaxy Centaurus A in comparison to the full moon.

CSIRO scientists are trying to locate supermassive black holes by using radio telescopes.
Image: Ilana Feain, Tim Cornwell & Ron Ekers (CSIRO/ATNF). [ATCA northern middle lobe pointing courtesy R. Morganti (ASTRONI), Parkes data courtesy N.Junkes (MPIfR). Photo of the ATCA and Moon: Shaun Amy, CSIRO].

Can you imagine a force so powerful that it can pull in light? It may seem unreal, but this force exists in our Universe as a black hole, and nothing can escape its pull!

Black holes are one of the most powerful and exotic objects in our Universe. They have the ability to slow down time, and most fascinating of all, life may not have been possible without them.

A regular black hole is formed when a large star – at least 20 times heavier than our Sun – runs out of fuel. Without new energy pushing the star out, the star collapses in on itself, shrinking down to a very small size. Eventually the star explodes in a supernova, leaving behind the smallest, densest part of the star. This core keeps collapsing until it is so dense, not even light can escape. However, in the centre of many galaxies are supermassive black holes – more than a million times heavier than our Sun – that grow by drawing in nearby material.

Black holes can be very hard to spot, and astronomers need you to help locate them! Researchers at CSIRO are looking to locate supermassive black holes. They have worked with Zooniverse to develop Radio Galaxy Zoo, a website where you can be a citizen scientist and contribute to research. All you need is a computer with an internet connection, and you can begin your career in astronomy! The instructions are simple and you will quickly learn how to locate black holes by comparing images from infrared and radio telescopes. Satellites and telescopes move through space and take images for you to study. There are many images to explore, and you can talk to the scientists online about your discoveries. So far, 2400 people have helped to classify over 370 000 galaxies, and you can help find more!

There are millions of black holes in our Universe, but only one supermassive black hole in the Milky Way Galaxy. It lies at the centre of the galaxy and is four million times the mass of the Sun. But don’t worry about being pulled in – luckily it is still over 30 000 light years away!

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