Explaining Black Holes

Black Holes | Nantucket, MAAlmost everyone has heard of black holes, a mysterious part of space that brings to mind a dangerous, hovering void. Black holes, however, are actually areas that contain an incredible amount of matter, and are not an empty space, as the name seems to suggest.

The Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) is hosting a lecture titled “Hungry Black Holes” on Tuesday, July 10, at 7 pm by Dr. Suvi Gezari in the MMA Research Center at 2 Vestal Street. Dr. Gezari is an Assistant Professor of Astronomy at the University of Maryland and was a Maria Mitchell Observatory National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) student in 1998.

She will talk about an increase in technology and surveying equipment that is changing the ways that scientists are able to study the night sky. Supermassive black holes (SMBHs), which often reside in the centers of galaxies and light up while consuming and digesting stars and gas, are being watched through the increasing capabilities of time domain observations which can help astronomers understand their mass, spin, and binarity.

Most black holes are created after a supernova explosion and the resulting death of a large star. So much mass is forced into too small of a space, resulting in an incredibly strong gravitational pull that not even light can escape. Black holes can also result from stellar collisions. These black holes are even larger, about ten to twenty-four times as massive as our own sun. At the center of almost every massive galaxy is a supermassive black hole, the largest variety of black hole. Each supermassive black hole has a mass that is millions to billions times that of the sun. There is one at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy. It is this variety of black hole that Dr. Gezari will be focusing on in her Tuesday lecture.

The Maria Mitchell Association will be hosting a summer Science Speaker Series on Wednesday evenings and other special evenings, such as Dr. Gezari’s, from 7 to 8 pm. The talks will feature astronomers, authors, environmentalists, biologists, researchers, and others each week. For a full schedule and description of each speaker, visit mariamitchell.org. The event is free for MMA members and $10 for non-members.

The Maria Mitchell Association is a private non-profit organization. Founded in 1902, the MMA works to preserve the legacy of Nantucket native astronomer, naturalist, librarian, and educator, Maria Mitchell. The Maria Mitchell Association operates two observatories, a natural science museum, an aquarium, a newly opened research center, and preserves the historic birthplace of Maria Mitchell. A wide variety of science and history-related programming is offered throughout the year for people of all ages. This year celebrates Mitchell’s 200th birthday with special lectures, events, classes, and exhibits all year-long, culminating in the Maria Mitchell Women in Science Symposium in October 2018 in Boston.