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What is a black hole and what did Professor Stephen Hawking reveal about them?

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What is a black hole and what did Professor Stephen Hawking reveal about them?
They are among the scariest objects in the universe – and the most fascinating (Picture: EPA; Getty)

Black holes possess a destructive power unlike anything else known to humanity.

Professor Stephen Hawking spent his life studying these greedy galactic gobblers, drawing several remarkable conclusions which changed our understanding of them forever.

A black hole is a region in space which has such a strong gravitational pull that nothing can escape, including light. Some are produced by the death of stars.

We cannot see black holes, because light is sucked into their gaping maw, but we know they are there because we can observe the behaviour of material and stars close to them.

There are three types of black holes, according to Nasa.

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The first is called a primordial black hole, which formed during the early days of the universe.

It’s believed these holes are so tiny they can be as small small as a single atom but with the mass of a large mountain. Hawking said they are white hot and eventually die in a huge explosion as powerful as one million one-megaton hydrogen bombs.

The most common type of black holes are called ‘stellar’, which can be 20 times greater in mass than the the sun and stretch to about 10 miles across.

‘Dozens of stellar mass black holes may exist within the Milky Way galaxy,’ Nasa wrote.

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‘Stellar black holes form when the center of a very massive star collapses in upon itself. This collapse also causes a supernova, or an exploding star, that blasts part of the star into space.’

The largest black holes are called ‘supermassive’ and are one million times heavier than the Sun.

It’s believed one of these huge monsters lurks at the centre of the Milky Way.

Bizarrely, some scientists think we could survive a trip into the centre of a supermassive black hole.

Professor Hawking predicted that black holes radiate a very small amount of energy dubbed Hawking Radiation, radically reshaping scientists’ view of the most destructive objects in the universe.

“Stephen’s ‘eureka moment’ revealed a profound and unexpected link between gravity and quantum theory: he predicted that black holes would not be completely black, but would radiate in a characteristic way,’ said Martin Rees and emeritus professor of cosmology and astrophysics at the University of Cambridge.

What is a black hole and what did Professor Stephen Hawking reveal about them?
Artist’s impression of a black hole (Picture: Photo 12/UIG via Getty Images)

This prediction flew in the face of Hawking’s previous claim that black holes could only grow and could never shrink.

He performed a remarkable about turn and said that tiny ‘primordial’ black holes formed at the beginning of the universe could actually explode with the force of one million one-megaton hydrogen bombs.

The physicist said these tiny holes weighed billions of tons but were smaller than an atom.

His calculations found they would get hotter and hotter before exploding dramatically.

The physicist later said black holes were a passage to another universe, raising the possibility that brave humans could use them to visit alternative dimensions.

‘If you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up,’ he said in 2015.

‘There’s a way out.’

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