This computer-generated image shows an artist's conception of a black hole. The event horizon is depicted as the black sphere in the middle of the picture. The surrounding disk of gas, represented by white and blue rings, whirls around the black hole at different speeds, with the material closest to the black hole approaching the speed of light.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA
Black Holes Out for a Spin
News story originally written on May 14, 2001
Everyone is awed by black holes.
How could there be a thing that devours all light and matter around it...so that matter can never escape?!?
Now, Dr. Tod Strohmayer, a scientist at NASA, has found that black holes may spin. Dr. Strohmayer used data gathered from NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer to show that at least some black holes spin about like whirlpools, wrapping up the fabric of space with them. "Almost every kind of object in space spins, such as planets,
stars, and galaxies," said Strohmayer. "With black holes, it's
much harder to directly see that they are spinning, because
they don't have a solid surface that you can watch spin
around. We can, however, see the light emitted from matter
plunging into the black hole. The matter whips frantically
around the black hole before it is lost forever."
The specific black hole that Strohmayer was studying was a stellar black hole, i.e., a black hole formed from a collapsed star. When stars at least 10 times the mass of the Sun cannot support themselves any longer, the stars can explode off their outer shell in a supernova explosion. There is still a lot of material left that doesn't get thrown off into space. This material collapses into a single point of infinite density. This singularity point is the beginning of a stellar black hole.
Because the star that formed the black hole would have been spinning, it is thought that the spin of a black hole is caused by the angular momentum of the star that formed it.
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