Black Hole Background

A black hole is a region of spacetime exhibiting gravitational acceleration so strong that nothing—no particles or even electromagnetic radiation such as light—can escape from it. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass can deform spacetime to form a black hole. The boundary of the region from which no escape is possible is called the event horizon. Although the event horizon has an enormous effect on the fate and circumstances of an object crossing it, no locally detectable features appear to be observed. In many ways, a black hole acts like an ideal black body, as it reflects no light. Moreover, quantum field theory in curved spacetime predicts that event horizons emit Hawking radiation, with the same spectrum as a black body of a temperature inversely proportional to its mass. This temperature is on the order of billionths of a kelvin for black holes of stellar mass, making it essentially impossible to observe.

A billion years ago, our Moon was closer to Earth than it is now. As a result, it appeared to be a much larger object in the sky. During that ancient era, if human beings had been around to witness such a sight, it would have been possible to see the entire Moon--not merely the one near side face that we see now. A billion years ago, it took our Moon only twenty days to orbit our planet, and Earth's own day was considerably shorter--only eighteen hours long. Stupendous, almost unimaginably enormous tides, that were more than a kilometer in height, would ebb and flow every few hours. However, things changed, as the lunar orbit around our primordial planet grew ever wider and wider. Annually, Earth's Moon moves about 1.6 inches farther out into space. Currently, the lunar rate of rotation, as well as the time it takes to circle our planet, are the same. But small moons like Methone are usually geologically inactive and bereft of an atmosphere. Therefore, they are usually unable to smooth away the scars. Dr. Peter Thomas of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, explained it this way in the May 17, 2013 New Scientist: "When we look at objects less than 200 kilometers in radius, they are all like potatoes. They have lumps, grooves, craters." This makes Methone's smooth surface a mystery. Dr. Thomas is a Cassini team member. "We developed new operations methods for INMS for Cassini's final flight through Enceladus' plume. We conducted extensive simulations, data analyses, and laboratory tests to identify background sources of hydrogen, allowing us to quantify just how much molecular hydrogen was truly originating from Enceladus itself," explained Dr. Rebecca Perryman in the April 13, 2017 SwRI Press Release. Dr. Perryman is INMS operations technical lead.