When Billions of Stars Collapse

In the 1700s, John Michell in England and Pierre-Simon Laplace in France independently thought “way out of the box” and imagined what would happen if a huge mass were placed in an incredibly small volume. Pushing this thought experiment to the limit, they conjectured that gravitational forces might not allow anything, even light, to escape. Michell and Laplace were imagining what we now call a black hole.

Astronomers are now convinced that when massive stars burn through their nuclear fuel, they collapse to near nothingness and form a black hole. While the concept of a star collapsing to a black hole is astounding, the possibility that material from millions and even billions of stars can condense into a single supermassive black hole is even more fantastic. Yet astronomers are now confident that supermassive black holes exist and are found in the centers of most of the 100 billion galaxies in the universe.

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