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An artist's drawing a black hole named Cygnus X-1. It formed when a large star caved in. This black hole pulls matter from blue star beside it.


Image Credit: NASA/CXC/MAllison Weiss


Gravity's revenge


This black hole was formed when the star circling the blue giant went supernova. The stellar remnant that was left after the explosion was massive enough to create a gravitational singularity. This happens only in very massive stars, our own sun is too small.
With no nuclear fuel left to burn the stellar remnant started a relentless inward collapse. Even subatomic particles such as neutrons are no match for the massive inward gravitational pull.. they collapse and the remnant collapses (theoretically) with nothing to stop it. The surface of the remnant keeps collapsing past a point (the event horizon) where the space and time are so warped that even light cannot escape.. We cannot see past this point, hence the name "black hole". The stellar remnant itself collapses into a gravitational singularity.
We cannot see a black hole directly, but we can detect its gravitational field. Matter orbiting a black hole will get very hot and jets of matter and high-energy radiation will be blown into space. The matter orbiting a black hole gets pulled into a disk, called the accretion disk.
Black holes come in may different sizes and they are the result of violent events where matter is pushed together under extreme conditions. The smallest black holes may be only the size of atoms and they are created by subatomic particles smashing together. They may only live a short time. The most massive black holes are stellar remnants of galaxial centres. The centre of our galaxy contains a massive black hole.

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