It almost sounds like the perfect comic book villain: something that is inescapable, deadly, and nearly impossible to detect. But it exists in real life and not just on the pages of a comic book, and it might be closer than we think. What could cause so much destruction? A black hole.
What is a Black Hole?
You’ve seen them in science fiction books and movies, but the truth about black holes may be even worse than fiction. Black holes are virtually inescapable because they compress matter so densely that only something travelling faster than the speed of light can travel through it, which is impossible for us to do. The smallest a black hole can be is 12 miles across, though most are much larger than that and grow as they move.
Black holes are notoriously difficult to detect, which is dangerous because you don’t even have to be that close to one to be effected. A black hole can reach out through light years with its gravity, which means that a planet that gets too close could be obliterated, vaporized, or sent to an entirely new area of space.
There’s also nothing you can do to destroy a black hole. In fact, any action to kill it only makes it bigger and stronger. Scientists believe the only way to destroy a black hole is to wait eons until it evaporates—of course, by that time space could be entirely different anyway.
Are We Next to a Black Hole?
With all this terrifying information, you probably want to know if we are at risk here on earth. Scientists keep as good of records as they can on the locations and conditions of black holes, but this project can be difficult because by the time you are close enough to identify a black hole, you are dead. Black holes don’t emit radiation and are completely invisible, making them nearly impossible to track through most every type of equipment and calculation.
The most dangerous type of black hole is a stellar mass black hole, which is created when a star dies. The closest known black hole to earth is V616 Monocerotis, also known as V616 Mon, which is about 3,000 light years away. V616 Mon is about 9-13 times larger than the sun and is only detectable because it is located in a binary system with a star about half the size of the sun. The next closest known black hole is 6,000 light years away.
The three closest known black holes are only detectable because they are in a binary system, which means they are close to a detectable star or planet and cause it to move in unique patterns and at rapid speeds because of the black hole’s powerful gravity. In reality, only a small portion of intergalactic items are located in a binary system, meaning that it is incredibly likely that there is a closer black hole that we just don’t know about.
No Need to Worry
If you plan on taking cover in a bunker from a possible black hole heading our way, rest assured—our solar system has existed for more than 4.5 billion years and has yet to be interrupted by a black hole. Those are great odds that there likely isn’t a black hole within a dangerous range of earth. In fact, the odds of getting killed by a black hole are one in three trillion. There are a lot of other space objects that pose a much more serious threat.
However, aside from the risk of a black hole colliding into our solar system, there’s also a risk of creating black holes ourselves. In theory, a small, temporary black hole can be created by slamming protons together with enough force, similar to what is done with particle collides in Geneva, Switzerland and in other places around the world. However, these black holes would be too small to be sustainable, meaning they would likely evaporate almost instantly.
The chances of a black hole having any direct effect on our lives and safety is minuscule. However, it’s still interesting to learn about these mysterious and destructive space objects and imagine what could happen if they ever crossed our path.