Black Holes from the Dawn of Light

To make a black hole, you need to think big. Really big.

Start with a star much bigger than the sun — the bigger the better. Then settle in, and wait a few million years for your star to die.

That should do the trick, if you want to get yourself a garden-variety black hole. But there’s another kind of black hole. They are mind-boggling in size. And deeply mysterious:

Super-massive black holes.

Last year, in the journal Nature, a team of astronomers reported finding one with the mass of 800 million suns. It’s the most distant black hole in the known universe. And it’s so ancient, it dates to a time when it seems light itself was only just beginning to move.

On this episode of Orbital Path, Dr. Michelle Thaller talks with astrophysicist Chiara Mingarelli — Flatiron Research Fellow at the Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York. Using a special gravitational wave observatory, Dr. Mingarelli is part of a cadre of astronomers hoping ancient super-massive black holes will soon reveal mysteries dating to the dawn of our universe.

Orbital Path is produced by David Schulman.
Our editor is Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler.

Support for Orbital Path is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science, technology, and economic performance.

Image credit: NASA artist’s rendering of a super-massive black hole.