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A Singular Sensation

16 Apr 2009, 18:47 UTC
A Singular Sensation
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The big black hole news this week comes courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope: there's an especially bright emission of hot gas emitting from a blob of matter caught by the supermassive black hole that lives in the center of the elliptical galaxy M87. Apparently Hubble has been following the highs and lows of this particular blob of matter (known as HST-1) for a good seven years; it's prone to these sorts of outbursts. It's surprising to astrophysicists because nobody expected the brightness of this jet to actually increase in brightness -- and they're still not sure what's causing it, although theories abound.Ever since black holes were first theorized, they have captured the public's imagination, and featured in all kinds of science fiction scenarios. One of the most popular jumping-off points for conjecture is what happens to you should you be so unfortunate to cross the critical event horizon and "fall into" a black hole. Caltech cosmologist Kip Thorne coined the colorful term "spaghettification" to describe the gravitational effects: namely, there would be such a difference in the pull of gravity on your feet vs the pull on your head that your body would literally be stretched out into a ...

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