#4 Black Holes

January 14 and 28, 2017 - 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Michael Strauss, Ph.D., Department of Astrophysical Sciences

Black holes are among the most enigmatic objects in astronomy.

Their existence was predicted almost a century ago as a consequence of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity; in the last few decades, astronomers have discovered vast numbers of them, some in orbits around ordinary stars, while others are a billion times more massive than the Sun lurking at the cores of galaxies.  In this course, we will explore the nature of black holes and related objects (including neutron stars, white dwarfs, and pulsars), using no more than high-school algebra, and drawing upon a wide range of observations in astronomy.  We will ask such questions as: what happens if you were to fall into a black hole?  What happens when two black holes collide?

If black holes don’t emit any light (as the name implies), how can we know that they are there?  Do black holes live forever? (The answer, surprisingly enough, turns out to be no.)  Along the way, we will find ourselves learning some of the basic properties of stars, and how they can turn into a black hole.  We will also come aw understanding of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.  We will learn that black holes can actually be a prodigious source of energy, and in particular are the basic engines powering quasars.  We will discuss Prof. Strauss’ own research on quasars, among the most distant astronomical objects known.  We will also discuss the exciting discovery, announced in February 2016, of the first detection of gravitational waves from a pair of merging black holes.