What exactly is a black hole and how is it formed?

A black hole occurs when a large star, much larger than our sun, runs out of fuel.

The remaining mass in the star collapses in on itself, causing a vacuum and sucking everything around it—including light—into the “hole.” That said, scientists have never actually seen a black hole. They are what’s called dark matter—they aren’t visible.

So how do we know they exist? From the effects they have on visible matter around them. For instance, sometimes a large supply of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and sulfur is detected on and around a living star.

None of these gases are produced by visible stars in large amounts; they are, however, produced in large quantities when a dying star— like a supernova —is burning much, much hotter. Black holes often pull at neighboring stars, too, causing them to wobble.

Scientists also know that when black holes suck in parts of a nearby star, X rays are emitted, so when big surges of X rays are detected around living stars— particularly when one or more of these other indicators is present, it’s a fairly clear sign that a black hole is present.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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