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Just a month back, Prof. Andrea Ghez was announced as one of the awardees for the Nobel Prize in Physics! She is only the fourth woman to be awarded this prize which just highlights the gender disparities that we see these days. If you’d like to read more about the other, you can click here! She won the award for the discovery of black holes in our very own galaxy! Keep reading if you’d like to know how she achieved this!

History of black holes

Before we get into what the history is like, what exactly is a black hole? They basically refer to a massive object in the universe where gravity is so strong that it absorbs everything that comes into its path, including light. Such objects have been hypothesized to form when they collapse under their own gravity! For a long time, it was expected that such objects exist in our galaxy as well because there were many black holes being discovered in other galaxies.

Black Hole Image Makes History; NASA Telescopes Coordinate Observation |  NASA
The first ever image of a black hole that was taken! (Source: nasa.gov)

Even Einstein did not believe that such an object could exist because it contradicts the theories he put forward. Only ten years after he passed away, were black holes discovered!

The quest for the search of black holes

In the mid-1970s, they discovered a radio source from an object which was named Sgr A* at the time. Prof. Andrea Ghez and her team soon confirmed that they were indeed black holes and this was done in the year 1988. This was done after she pushed to study such objects in our galaxy despite the objections that she faced in her time.

Mapped orbits of the stars surrounding the black hole, Sagittarius A* (Source: Keck Observatory / UCLA Galactic Center Group)

The answer lied within looking at the motion of the stars using infrared technology. Once they realized that there was a certain cluster of starts near a particular object, the consensus of the discovery was agreed upon. This led to a whole new area of research with these objects still being studied to date. They managed to study stars that were too small to be seen by a telescope by just studying their motions! Monitoring these stars for many years, they realized that they could map the change in orbit with time. What was interesting is that they got closer to each other with time proving that the gravitational force is impacting them, proving their hypothesis.

What are the future perspectives?

There are many questions still pertaining to this field especially those that concern interactions with the black holes. These are whether how the stars interact with the black hole? Do general relativity principles work in this context? What the distribution of dark matter is like? How does the formation of stars occur? Can the mass of this black hole be measured with respect to its distance from the galactic center? What is the rate of occurrence of such objects in the universe?

One of the most thought-provoking questions still remains is that whether or not physical information is lost within a black hole? This theory is known as the information loss paradox. With this relatively new field, it seems like there are so many questions that still need to be answered. Maybe, someday we’ll have a better understanding of these controversial objects in our universe!

References

Lewis, B. (2020). The Noel Prize in Physics 2020: Andrea Ghez. Retrieved from https://astrobites.org/2020/10/13/the-nobel-prize-in-physics-2020-andrea-ghez/

Chu, J. (2020). Andrea Ghez ’87 wins a share of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics. Retrieved from https://news.mit.edu/2020/andrea-ghez-shares-2020-nobel-prize-physics-1006

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