This activity provides an introduction to black holes and the Milky Way.
Show students the video “Monster of the Milky Way”, which deals with how astronomers discover and explore black holes, and in particular, the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. One astronomer is prominently featured in the first half of the film, Eric Becklin. From the Sofia website: “Dr. Becklin is the leader of all SOFIA science activities. He works to see that the observatory science goals are met and to ensure that the design, implementation, and operation of the observatory – including its telescope and instruments – will meet these goals.” Along with beautiful graphics, the video is quite descriptive, and it is about 51 minutes long.
Show students the tactile images of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Download the tactile files to emboss (.prn files — Tiger Embosser files available to download here.)
Left: SOFIA/FORCAST mid-infrared image of the Milky Way Galaxy’s nucleus showing the Circumnuclear Ring (CNR) of gas and dust clouds orbiting a central supermassive black hole. The bright Y-shaped feature is believed to be material falling from the ring toward the black hole that is located where the arms of the “Y” intersect.
Right: HST/NICMOS near-infrared image showing the same field of view with the same scale and orientation as the left figure. At this wavelength, opaque dust in the plane of the Milky Way hides features that are seen in the SOFIA image. In contrast, the stars in the HST image emit mostly visible and near-infrared light and so are not seen in the SOFIA mid-infrared image. Extra opacity due to especially dense concentrations of dust in the CNR produces patches of apparently lower star density in the near-infrared image.
Left: NASA/DLR/USRA/DSI/FORCAST Team/Lau et al. 2013
Video Questions and Answers
Black Holes – “Monster of the Milky Way” (Nova)
Video Question Answers:
Where would you find the brightest part of a galaxy? WHY? (The center – huge collection of stars and gas/dust)
Why can we not see the center of our galaxy with visible light? What type of light can be used to see the center of the galaxy? (Obscured by opaque cosmic dust, Infrared)
What did Eric Becklin and his team of astronomers use to pinpoint the center of the Milky Way Galaxy? What did it allow them to do? (Infrared detector, see through the dust to see infrared light of stars not seen before)
How many light years across is the Milky Way Galaxy? (100,000)
What lies at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy? (Black Hole)
What do massive objects like the Sun do to the fabric of space – time? (Bend and warp it)
Why does light get bent or pulled into a black hole and can’t get out? (The black hole’s gravity is so strong that light can’t go fast enough to escape it.)
If we can’t see black holes, how do we know they exist? (Stars orbiting around “nothing”)
What happens to a star if it passes too close to a black hole? (Gravity whips it around super-fast, like a slingshot)
How did Andrea Ghez and other scientists prove that there is a black hole at the center of our galaxy? (Lots of stars orbiting around an invisible point in space)
How far, in light years, is our solar system from the center of the Milky Way Galaxy? (26,000)
When a Super Giant explodes it leaves behind a _________ star. If this super-dense star continues to collapse it will form a _________________ . (Neutron, black hole)
How many black holes are there in our galaxy? (Millions)
What would happen to your body as you fell into a normal sized black hole? (Spaghettified – body super stretched, killing you)
What if you fell into a Super-Massive black hole? (You could go in a ways, then see blinding light, then vaporize)
How many galaxies have black holes at their center? (almost all)
How will the Andromeda galaxy effect ours in about 2 billion years? (Galactic cannibalism – the two galaxies will collide and form one large galaxy)