• Question: what inspired you to study black holes?

    Asked by 329sptm42 to Ollie, Angus, Christine, Guy on 6 Mar 2018.
    • Photo: Christine Simpson

      Christine Simpson answered on 6 Mar 2018:

      I find them and learning about the universe in general absolutely fascinating. The same physical forces that cause things to happen on earth are what cause black holes to exist, and I think it’s just so interesting to see the consequences of gravity in such an extreme situation.

      So for example on earth, gravity makes things like apples and rain fall to the ground and we don’t really think about it, and for a few seconds you can easily overcome the force of gravity of the whole planet with your muscles just by jumping up. On a slightly bigger scale- rockets overcome the earth’s gravitational attraction when they launch and if they keep travelling into space (and don’t go into orbit around earth), they’ll escape completely.

      On the other hand, when you get something as massive as a black hole, that same gravitational force is enough to completely dominate everything that comes near it. It doesn’t matter how big the engine is, or how much fuel you give it, no rocket could ever escape a black hole. Not even light can escape!

      Being able to study physics in those sorts of extreme scenarios never fails to amaze me, and that’s why I just had to study objects like Black holes.

    • Photo: Alexander Burke

      Alexander Burke answered on 7 Mar 2018:

      No one inspired me to study black holes. As a child, I was always fascinated by destructive things in the universe (quasars, neutron stars, supernova and so on). I used to ask my parents the same questions you students ask us. Such as: “How is our solar system going to end?”, “If I fell into a black hole what would happen?”, “How heavy are neutron stars?”. It got to the stage where my parents couldn’t answer my question (not sure if this was by choice or not!) so I started to read books and things on the internet. This got me really interested in astronomy (the study of space) and how things worked in the universe. At this point in time, black holes are the most destructive things we know of in the universe and so I naturally “gravitated” (pun intended) towards studying black holes and how they affect objects around them. You don’t always need this “magical inspiration” people talk about to get into a job you love. Things happen naturally over time, in my opinion.

    • Photo: Guy Rixon

      Guy Rixon answered on 14 Mar 2018:

      My team doesn’t study black holes directly. We’re interested in the stellar explosions that sometimes lead to black holes. Those explosions are important because they are how heavy elements spread between stars and through galaxies. And that’s important in turn because it affects the evolution of the universe.