Summer Science Series – Black Holes


We’re in the middle of summer, which means kids are in the middle of summer vacation. Are you worried your kid’s brains aren’t staying active enough? Luckily we’re here to help. Our Summer Science Series aims to present what we like to call a “mini lesson” covering a science topic that your kids are likely to enjoy. Some are more interactive while some are more lecture based. Our goal is to present you with some fun information you can pass on to your kids to make them think.

Today we’re going to focus on black holes. This post is more lecture based and works great as a topic to introduce into conversation while on the road or around a campfire.

A recent discovery by astronomers has shed some new light on black holes…new light that has made some citizens of the planet nervous. An international collection of telescopes have made it possible to discover a new “stealth” black hole. Unlike a typical black hole, this one is consuming a nearby star slowly. This slow behavior left it unnoticed until now, and scientists are now predicting there are more of these stealth black holes in our galaxy…thousands to millions of them, in fact.

With this new information kids may be more interested in learning about black holes. While it is likely they already have an idea of what a black hole is, this is a great opportunity to teach them more about why black holes form and what exactly they do.

A black hole is an area in space where the gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape. This happens when matter is compressed to a high degree. Since there is no light escaping from back holes they are impossible to see and can only be detected with special tools. These tools actually rely on radiation to see where a black hole might be.

There are several different types of black holes, but they all have the same structure; namely, the event horizon and the singularity. The event horizon can be described as a sort of boundary or perimeter. Once an object or particle enters this area that is around the center of the black hole, it cannot escape. The singularity is located in the center, which is where the mass of the black hole is. This is where the black hole is concentrated. As an object approaches the singularity, it is both compressed and stretched out, a process that has been called spaghettification. Depending on the black hole, this may occur within the event horizon, or maybe even before it.

Beyond these new stealth black holes, there are also stellar black holes and supermassive black holes. A stellar black hole is formed when a large star dies and collapses in on itself. These dense black holes have strong gravitational force and will pull in many objects surrounding it. A supermassive black hole is much larger than a stellar black hole. They are thought to be in the center of most galaxies. How these black holes form, however, is still being researched.

Let your kids know that no, our sun cannot become a black hole as it is much too small, and even if it did we are too far away from it to be pulled in. While predictions state there are many black holes in the universe as far as astronomers can tell we are in no danger.

Looking for something more visual to go with your lesson? Unfortunately, as light cannot escape a black hole, there are no images you can show. You may choose to use an illustration displaying what a black hole is believed to look like. Recently a sound file was released which plays the sound of two black holes colliding, which could supplement your mini lesson well. You can find it here.

We hope this mini lesson can help keep your kid’s minds active during the summer. We’ll have more of these posts throughout the summer, so make sure you check back often!

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