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On the Trail of Monster Black Holes

Collapsed objects weighing millions or billions of times as much as the Sun lie at the heart of nearly all galaxies. New images are finally stripping the mystery from these spheres of warped space.

Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo

2013-11HlavacekF1.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageBlack holes are among the most extreme and intriguing objects in the universe. They are also among the most difficult to study, being incredibly small and incredibly dark (that’s the “black” part) when left in isolation. But the massive black holes that live in the centers of most or all major galaxies are rarely left on their own. Instead they pull in nearby stars and gas, creating hot disks of plasma, mysterious jets of particles, and a cacophony of radiation. New techniques are bringing these black holes into view and starting to uncover the ways that they affect the overall form and evolution of galaxies. And black hole observations are about to get even better: A huge cloud of gas is about to fall into the central black hole in the Milky Way, touching off celestial fireworks, and the new global Event Horizon Telescope should make it possible to view black holes directly for the first time.

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