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Black Holes - Introduction

Journey into a black hole

Animation of a Black Hole

Black Holes

Introduction to Black Holes

Black holes are objects so dense that not even light can escape their gravity, and since nothing can travel faster than light, nothing can escape from inside a black hole. On the other hand, a black hole exerts the same force on something far away from it as any other object of the same mass would. For example, if our Sun was magically crushed until it was about 1 mile in size, it would become a black hole, but the Earth would remain in its same orbit.

Even back in Isaac Newton's time, scientists speculated that such objects could exist, even though we now know they are more accurately described using Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. Using this theory, black holes are fascinating objects where space and time become so warped that time practically stops in the vicinity of a black hole.

One type of black holes has measured masses ranging from 4 to 15 solar masses, and is believed to be formed during supernova explosions. The after-effects are observed in some X-ray binaries known as black hole candidates.

On the other hand, galaxy-mass black holes are found in Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN). These are thought to have the mass of about 10 billion to 100 billion solar masses. The mass of one of these supermassive black holes has recently been measured using radio astronomy. X-ray observations of iron in the accretion disks may actually be showing the effects of such a massive black hole as well.

Journey into a Black Hole

See an animation of the suspected black hole at the heart of the galaxy M87.


A service of the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC), Dr. Alan Smale (Director), within the Astrophysics Science Division (ASD) at NASA/GSFC

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