Journey to a Black hole Transcript

Imagine a place in the cosmos where gravity is so powerful that nothing not even light can escape its pull. It's a region surrounded by swirling streams of hot gas heated to temperatures reaching, millions of degrees. A Phenomenon where particle jets shoot from its center at nearly the speed of light, racing away from an event horizon that it's an unforgiving boundary of no return. This is a black hole, a cosmic cauldron where space and time as we know it, cease to exist. (Title: Journey to a Black Hole)

Black holes have captured our imagination and become the source of many science fiction stories. We imagine them as portals into parallel universes or giant vacuum cleaners sucking the nearby space clean of all matter. In reality black holes play a major role in the shaping of Galaxies. By unlocking their mysteries scientists will confront the limits of our understandings when it comes to the laws of physics. Black holes have been apart of the universe since nearly the beginning of time. Based on Isaac Newton's laws of gravity in the 1700's scientist, began to discuss the possibility of an object so dense that it could completely capture light. Then in 1915 Albert Einstein proposed his theory of general relativity. He showed that gravitational fields altered the very geometry of space and time. The first real evidence of black holes was discovered during the 1960's and 70's. Observations from space revealed an unexpected source of X-rays coming from a previously unremarkable area of the galaxy. A massive object was the sources of this energy and Signus X1 became worldwide news. Scientist had discovered a black hole in a binary system providing the first real evidence. And while direct observation was impossible its existence was inferred due to the black hole's apparent gravitational effect on the companion star. Dozens of further discoveries confirm these binary system black holes to be the remains of an exploded star. And there's likely to be hundreds of thousands of these stellar inhabitants in our galaxy alone. Around the same time scientists found the centers of many different galaxies emitting astounding amounts of energy. These sources while small enough to fit inside a region the size of our solar system, produce more energy than a billion suns. Scientists had discovered the existence of supermassive black holes billions to billions of times more massive than our own sun. While their formation remains a mystery new evidence shows that most galaxies harbor these suppermassive inhabitants at their centers. Today scientists are ready to take a virtual journey to learn more about a black hole. And the tools now exist that will directly probe these marvels of the universe. Over the next twenty-five years NASA will put these tools to work in a series of missions, an important part of the space science enterprise. They'll probe the regions surrounding black holes in far greater detail than ever before. Each mission will observe this phenomenon in a different way. Like assembling the pieces of a puzzle. These missions will give us a larger picture. Challenging our understanding of black holes and moving us along on our virtual journey. One fascinating piece of this puzzle is how particle jets near the event horizon can be hearled away at nearly the speed of light. For supermassive black holes these relativistic jets can reach out to distances exceeding thousands of light years. These cosmic particle accelerators are extremely powerful. Producing energies well beyond those reached inside man made accelerators here on Earth. Peering down these jets reveals radio and optical photons being scattered into high-energy gamma rays by the incredible velocities inside the jets. The Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope, or GLAST will observe these Gamma rays. So Scientist can better understand this process. Supporting the GLAST mission in the study of the jet phenomenon is a second observatory called ARISE or the Advance Radio Interferometry Between Space and Earth. Arise will image the base of the jet at a resolutions 100 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope, this improved view will help us learn more on how these relativistic jets are formed. Another important piece of the black hole puzzle is the accretion disk, a spiraling Taurus of gas, dust, and particles entering this region like water swirling down a drain. As matter is pulled more deeply into a back hole's gravitational well, the material heats up with amazing efficiency and radiates X-rays, the final cries of matter as it falls into the black hole. Just beyond the accretion disk lies the event horizon the boundary from which light can't escape. It's a cloak that hides a singularity where the known laws of physics break down. Constellation X, a network of X-ray satellites will probe this point of no return. This mission will measure the motions of the multimillion-degree gas and allow scientist to map the gravitational field, constructing a virtual image of a black hole. These observations will confront our understanding of general relativity inside a strong gravity field, the place where a black hole distorts space and time like the images seen in a fun house mirror. The final piece of the black hole puzzle involves detecting gravitational radiation, another key prediction of Einstein's theory. This radiation can be thought of as a ripple in the fabric of space-time traveling at the speed of light. The most dramatic case where scientists expect to find gravitational radiation is a small black hole located in a galaxy that's spiraling into the nucleus of a supermassive black hole. The space science enterprise mission called LISA, or the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna will be the first observatory to measure this gravitational radiation and provide a precision test to the theory of general relativity. Completing our cosmic puzzle will show us how black holes can serve as laboratories of extreme gravity, it's the dominating force that allows gas, stars, solar systems, and Galaxies to evolve and interact. Understanding extreme gravity's influence on space and time will provide unique new insights into the structure and evolution of the Universe. NASA's virtual journey to a black hole will challenge current physical laws and theories and perhaps open the doors to a new era of physics. Providing a more fundamental understanding of the universe and our place within it.


Special Thanks to:
Dr. Padi Boyd
Tim Camahan
Lisa Guerra
Allie Hajian
Dr. Jim Lochner
Dr. Kipp Thorne
Christopher Wanjek
Dr. Nick White
Dr. Laura Whitlock

Historical satellite images courtesy of NASA Archives
CERN images courtesy of European Laboratory Particle Physics
Narrated by Peter Thomas
Einstein images courtesy of The Institutues for Advanced Study
Alan Richards, Photographer
Old Faithful animation courtesy of Walt Feimer, Allied Signal
Written, Produced, and Directed by Mike Zeko

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