Questions for ‘Here’s an easier way to weigh a black hole’

illustration of a black hole

Astronomers have figured out how to use the disk of hot gas and dust around some black holes (like the one shown in this artist’s illustration) to measure a black hole’s mass.

Mark A. Garlick, Simons Foundation

To accompany “Here’s an easier way to weigh a black hole

Before Reading:

1.  In astronomy, is a black hole really a hole? How big can a black hole be?

During Reading:

1.  What does a black hole “eat”?

2.  What about a black hole can flicker? And what newfound information are scientists deriving from measuring that flicker?

3.  What is an accretion disk?

4.  How many black holes did Colin Burke’s team study in this new study? What did they already know about each of those black holes? How big were they?

5.  Which black hole flickered fastest and which most slowly?

6.  What types of black holes did the researchers not study — and why?

7.  Flicker measurements are the easiest way to gauge the size of a black hole, Burke says. But it’s not the fastest. Why? How are upcoming observations with the Vera C. Rubin Observatory likely to help?

After Reading:

1.  Black holes are among the many mysterious phenomena in our universe. Imagine you are running the science program at NASA, the European Space Agency or some other major institution. What are the five things you would most like to learn about the cosmos and in what order? Explain your first choice and how it made it to the top of your list.