In this non-technical mini-course, we will learn about the theory and experiments behind one of the most remarkable phenomena in science – the gruesome and powerful places in the universe called black holes. Formed through the deaths of huge stars, black holes are places where gravity overwhelms every other force in the universe and the behavior of space and time is altered, almost beyond recognition. Designed for non-scientists and presented in everyday language with lots of beautiful illustrations, the class will first describe how black holes emerged from Einstein’s work and then show how new instruments on Earth and in space are demonstrating that black holes of various sizes really do exist.
Week by Week Outline
Week 1: Introduction to the Universe & Theory
The realms of physics & astronomy.
What Einstein called “the happiest thought of my life”
Introduction to Warped Space-time
The rubber sheet and the trained ant help us understand relativity
Week 2: Black Holes in Theory
The rubber sheet leads to ultimate collapse
Understanding black holes and their structure and properties
Black holes and the nature of time
What it would be like to be near a black hole
Black holes in science fiction
Week 3: Observations of Smaller Black Holes
Finding black holes produced by single stars (x-ray revelations)
Finding black holes of intermediate size using gravity waves
Black hole mergers in the universe
How big can a black hole get?
Week 4: Supermassive Black Holes
The 2020 Nobel Prize observations: Black Hole at the Center of the Milky Way
Black Holes and Galaxy Mergers
Super-sized Black Holes: Quasars and Other Phenomena at the Largest Levels
Black Holes and the Beginning and End of the Universe (briefly)