6 Mind Blowing Things Nobody Taught You About Black Holes

#3. We Think They Constantly Emit Antimatter

Hawking radiation is a good contender for "the smartest sounding anything ever" award. It sounds like an antidote to the Hulk, giving incredible intelligence at the expense of physical strength. It's actually the reverse: a very intelligent thing that makes a mockery of the very idea of physical strength.

SionTouhig/Getty ImagesNews/GettyImages

So it's very well named.

The idea is that the universe is constantly spawning particle-antiparticle pairs. They borrow enough energy to exist, then immediately annihilate each other in a blast of gamma radiation that pays it back, as long as they do it fast enough that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle doesn't notice. It's worrying to think that reality might play the same sort of bullshit game as stock traders.

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Except the traders' tricks are even more unbelievable and violate more laws.

But if this virtual particle-antiparticle pair spawns on the edge of the event horizon, one is pulled into the black hole, and the other is free to escape. It would sound like psychedelic song lyrics if it hadn't been written by one of the smartest men on the planet. And the general impression among astrophysicists is that we're just waiting to develop the ability to detect it so that we can get on with giving him a Nobel Prize already.

Since which particle escapes is random, Hawking radiation implies that the event horizon pumps out a 50/50 mixture of matter and antimatter. That's a constant stream of self-destructing annihilation, which would mean that black holes add to the explosive awesomeness of the universe simply by existing.


You break it, you bought it, and that applies to the law of conservation of energy. The black hole has to pay the energy bill for so blatantly taking the piss out of physical reality. For large black holes, that's no problem: The Hawking radiation is a tiny outlay compared to the planets' worth of matter they consume every second. But for small black holes, they can emit more energy than they consume. If the black hole consumes less matter than it emits, these seemingly nonsensical outlays eventually drain and destroy the thing we all thought was absolutely certain. Again, just like stock traders. And the black hole explodes. Even Michael Bay hasn't thought of that one yet.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
"Get me Bruce Willis and all of the special effects."

Don't worry -- any black hole small enough to explode is too small to damage anything when it does so. But punctures in space-time detonating themselves is how reality says, "Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn't make science cool; science makes Neil deGrasse Tyson cool. AND EVERYTHING ELSE THAT WAS EVER COOL."

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
And he is Attokelvinly cool.

#1. They Fire Intergalactic Death Rays

Even if they get pretty bright as they eat everything ever, everyone knows that black holes are the roach motels of existence. They're the Pac-Man of reality: Once they eat everything, we'd better hope existence has another level. What you don't know is that they can fire high-energy intergalactic cannons.

For all you lens-flare-bashing pedants: Reality agrees with J.J. Abrams.

That's a black hole jet, and for scale, the bright dot it's coming from is the entire Messier 87 galaxy. It's one of the largest and closest galaxies to Earth, and that jet makes it look like a little bit of twinkle. The plasma jet is over 5,000 light-years long. Over 1,500 parsecs. That's the sort of distance that would make the Millennium Falcon say, "Let's just get a job as a postman."

While the black hole consumes matter swirling in around its equator, it also fires polar beams at the rest of the universe at close to the speed of light. The physics involved are still being studied, but are generally agreed to involve turning electromagnetism and stellar hydrodynamics up until the knobs break off and punch holes in the fabric of space-time.

Then there's the black hole firing an intergalactic plasma cannon.

X-ray: NASA/CXC/ CfA/D.Evans et al.; Optical/UV: NASA/ STScI; Radio: NSF/VLA/CfA/D.Evans et al., STFC/JBO/MERLIN
"Well, honey, when a boy being of pure energy and a girl being of pure energy love each other very much ..."

That's 3C321, a pair of galaxies where one is blasting hell both into and out of the other. The lower left pink (X-ray) galaxy's central black hole is aimed so that its jet hits the blue (radio wave) one. Which means that a cosmic fire hose of gamma rays, X-rays, and relativistic particle cannonry blast across the 20,000 light-years between the two. But that's the black hole equivalent of Bruce Lee's one-inch punch. And that is the most ass-kicking sentence in existence. The pink/blue bright spot is where this jet is slamming into the side of an entire galaxy, flensing any planets of at least their atmosphere and causing cosmic levels of kickass.

This is the black hole that even NASA scientists call the "Death Star," and these are people who refer to stellar detonations as "events." Because when fiction makes a Death Star, it's much smaller than the real thing.

When reality does it, it's BIGGER.

When he isn't marveling at the real universe, Luke fights aliens in 6 Signs Your Love of StarCraft Goes Too Far. As an earthly achievement, he explains 5 Ways to Save Olympic Wrestling. Luke also tumbles and responds to every single tweet.

For more spectacular space insanity, check out 11 Deep Space Photos You Won't Believe Aren't Photoshopped and 6 Badass Space Landings Humanity Totally Nailed.

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