Black Hole Sightings

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.

But there is an important difference. On our own planet, lakes and seas are flowing with water, while Titan's lakes and seas are filled primarily with methane and ethane, that slosh around within these liquid reservoirs. In this never-before-seen cycle, the hydrocarbon molecules evaporate and condense into clouds that send an exotic "rain of terror" back down to this strange moon-world's carbon-slashed surface. Some of these grads are aware that even if we could travel at warp 9 (Star Trek's imaginary multiplication of the speed of light) that it would take about one hundred thousand years to make the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy and upon return, the earth would be about 1.2 million years older than it is today. But why harp on the small stuff. There was a time when Earth had no Moon. About 4.5 billion years ago, when our ancient Solar System was still forming, the dark night sky above our primordial planet was moonless. At this time, the Earth was about 60 percent formed, although it did have a differentiated crust, mantle, and core. This was a very chaotic and violent era in our Solar System's past, with planets first forming out of blobs of primordial dust, gas, and rock. During this era, frequently likened to a "cosmic shooting gallery", collisions between the still-forming planets were commonplace. Orbits were not as orderly as they are now.