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Twisted Physics

Under a Dark Star

7 Jul 2009, 05:33 UTC
Under a Dark Star NASA
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Welcome to Black Hole Week at Twisted Physics: Part Deux. We think of black holes as a 20th century invention, dating back to 1916, when Einstein published his theory of general relativity and fellow physicist Karl Schwarzschild used those equations to envision spherical section of spacetime so badly warped around a concentrated mass that it is invisible to the outside world. But the true "father" of the black hole concept was a humble 18th century English rector named John Michell -- a man so far ahead of his scientific contemporaries that his ideas languished in obscurity, until they were re-invented more than a century later.Born in 1724, Michell attended Cambridge University and wound up teaching there for a time, before becoming rector of Thornhill, near the town of Leeds. He is described somewhat unflatteringly in contemporary accounts as "a little short man, of black complexion, and fat," who was nonetheless "esteemed a very ingenious Man, and an excellent Philosopher." For a small-town rector, he had some pretty impressive scientific connections: Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley and Henry Cavendish all visited him at some point in his career. Michell's research interests were all over the map. He started out looking into magnetism, ...

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