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How do black holes form?

Some black holes form when a massive star collapses into itself. But many mysteries still remain around these strange objects.
RELATED TOPICS: BLACK HOLES
PIA22085_hires
This artist's concept shows a black hole surrounded by a maelstrom of circling debris, as well as a powerful jet of hot plasma shooting into space.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

The most well-understood black holes are created when a massive star reaches the end of its life and implodes, collapsing in on itself.

A black hole takes up zero space, but does have mass — originally, most of the mass that used to be a star. And black holes get “bigger” (technically, more massive) as they consume matter near them. The bigger they are, the larger a zone of “no return” they have, where anything entering their territory is irrevocably lost to the black hole. This point of no return is called the event horizon.





Want to learn more about the mysterious beasts known as black holes? Check out our free downloadable eBook: Exotic objects: Black holes pulsars, and more.




Eventually, by growing and consuming material — planets, stars, errant spaceships, other black holes — astronomers think they evolve into the supermassive black holes that they detect at the centers of most major galaxies.

https://astronomy.com/news/2020/02/proxima-centauri-the-closest-exoplanet-to-earthBut there’s a twist. Two twists, actually.

First, it would take longer than the universe’s current age for black holes that started as dead stars to grow to galaxy-center-sized black holes. So astronomers also think the universe might have jumpstarted the process by creating giant primordial black holes in the moment just after the Big Bang – though this is just as weird and problematic as you might think.

Second, there’s very little direct evidence of so-called intermediate-mass black holes — the ones in between star-sized and galaxy-sized. Astronomers expect to see some black holes in this middle phase, on their way to becoming supermassive but not quite there yet — and, so far, they mostly don’t. 

Both tiny and enormous black holes do exist. We’re just still connecting the dots between them.

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