There are big gaps in our knowledge of black holes

Watch astrophysicists Priyamvada Natarajan and Feryal Özel discuss the origins and behavior of black holes in our new animation

Produced in partnership with Science at Pioneer Works

Massive sat down with astrophysicists Priyamvada Natarajan at Yale and Feryal Özel at the University of Arizona to discuss the big questions about black holes that frame their theoretical and observational research. 

This animated piece, created by artist Ofra Kobliner with sound and music by Annakalmia Traver, discusses Natarajan's theoretical work on a new channel for the origin of the first black holes: the direct collapse of pre-galactic gas disks at the earliest moments of our universe. Natarajan explains:

The big open question is one of how the first black hole seeds formed...the traditional explanation is that the first stars form, and the massive ones ended up as little black holes. But the key conundrum is that we are detecting quasars--these actively growing black holes--very very early on in the universe when the universe was a fraction of its current age...And there's a timing problem.

This Chandra image of Sagittarius A* and the region around it was based on almost two weeks of observing time.

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory | Wikimedia Commons

The piece also delves into Özel's observational work using the Event Horizon Telescope. In her own words, here's Özel's big question:

Now looking at it naively, Sagittarius A* and M87 are pretty close cousins; they are both quiescent, they're both in nearby galaxies. So what is the difference between them? What is it that affects their behavior? By looking at the images at extremely high resolution and looking at the black hole all the way down to the drain, getting close to its event horizon, where matter disappears, we're hoping to get some answers to these unsolved questions.

Her data is collected from a massive array of radio telescopes that cover the Earth, imaging the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the center of our Galaxy, Sagittarius A*, and the black hole at the center of the Galaxy M87. Özel and collaborators use the high-resolution images created from EHT to look for direct evidence for a black hole predicted by the theory of General Relativity.

Özel and Natarajan will be on stage with astrophysicist Janna Levin Thursday, July 26, 2018 discussing the big questions surrounding black holes for the next installment of Pioneer Works' Scientific Controversies series.