Hunting Black Holes

  • Released Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:50PM

Spotting black holes is tricky. Because they don’t give off light, astronomers have a difficult time pinpointing their location. But when a black hole gets close enough to an object, like a star, for example, and begins consuming the object's mass, the matter that pours into its gravitational clutches can get so hot that it glows and releases energy in the form of X-ray light. The most powerful X-rays are emitted from the hottest material swirling just outside the edge of the black hole. By observing this light with space telescopes, scientists can determine where black holes are hiding in the cosmos. Watch the video to see a black hole in action.

Material stolen from the star forms a rotating disk that collects around the black hole.

Material stolen from the star forms a rotating disk that collects around the black hole.

As material spirals toward the black hole, it reaches temperatures of millions of degrees Fahrenheit and produces X-rays.

As material spirals toward the black hole, it reaches temperatures of millions of degrees Fahrenheit and produces X-rays.

NASA's Swift spacecraft captured this image of X-rays coming from Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

NASA's Swift spacecraft captured this image of X-rays coming from Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.


App

Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Sagittarius A* image courtesy of NASA/Swift/University of Michigan/N. Degenaar