How do Black Holes Work: What You Need To Know

Black holes are one of the most fascinating and intriguing objects in the universe. They are extraordinary cosmic phenomena that helped scientists all over the world to reach significant discoveries about the universe and objects in it.

Black holes’ existence has been acknowledged for decades, but a lot of information about them still remains unexplored and unknown to this day.

What Are Black Holes

Black holes, despite their name, are not actually holes but are a region of spacetime with huge concentrations of matter packed into very tiny spaces.

They are immensely dense and their gravitational pull is extremely strong. It is strongest at the black hole’s boundary called the event horizon, where nothing–not even light–can escape them. This immense gravity causes the phenomenon known as “spaghettification”, which is the vertical stretching of any object that passes through it. 

Since no light of any kind can get out from the event horizon, black holes are “invisible” to the eye and are observed indirectly in several ways:

  • By how their gravity affects stars and the matter around them. As the matter is pulled toward the black hole, it is heated to millions of degrees and generates a high-energy light that can be detected using satellites and telescopes in space.   
  • By how gravitational ripples are formed when they collide. This helps us determine important information about the black holes such as their size or mass, their speed as they travel, and their distance.
  • By how their gravity pulls on other things. Movements and behavior of visible objects near black holes can be observed, which allows us to calculate how heavy a certain black hole is. This was how our galaxy’s supermassive black hole was discovered.

How Do Black Holes Form

While there are possibly several methods for the creation of black holes, most of them are thought to be formed by the death of a star. This happens when very massive stars exhaust their nuclear fuel and begin to cool and contract.

As the star implodes, it collapses in on itself and creates a gravitational field so strong that nothing can escape it. Scientists believe that the smallest black holes formed back when the universe began.

A black hole takes up zero space but has mass. In fact, it possesses only three properties: mass, spin, and electrical charge.

Originally, a black hole possesses most of the mass that used to be a star but it grows bigger, or more massive, as it absorbs matter near it.

Most black holes are small but as they consume material — stars, planets, other black holes — scientists believe that they eventually grow and evolve into supermassive black holes that can be a billion times heavier than our sun. These are found at the centers of galaxies and are believed to play a significant role in the evolution of galaxies by regulating their size and shape. Read more about how and why black holes form.

Types of Black Holes and How they Work

Black holes are generally divided into three categories according to their mass: stellar-mass, supermassive, and intermediate-mass. While astronomers use mass ranges to define each group, the exact dividing lines between the categories are arbitrary and are always reassessed.

Stellar-Mass Black Hole

A stellar-mass black hole is the result of an extremely massive star collapsing under its own weight. They are the most common and understood type of black hole, ranging from about 5 to 10 solar masses, depending on the initial size of the imploding star.

Stellar-mass black holes can be found in binary systems where one star is pulling matter from its companion. They can also form when two stars collide resulting in an extremely powerful explosion.

Gravitational waves are emitted by stellar mass black holes which can be detected by observatories on Earth. These waves provide valuable information about their astrophysical properties, indicating their size and mass with great accuracy.

Supermassive Black Hole

The largest type of black hole in the universe, supermassive black holes have mass typically millions to billions of times the mass of our sun. They’re thought to form at the center of galaxies when a dense cluster of stars collapses in on itself.

The black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, Sagittarius A*, is an example of a supermassive black hole. It has a mass that is 4 million times the Sun’s which is still relatively small compared to supermassive black holes in other galaxies.

To this day, it still remains a mystery to scientists how supermassive black holes came to be. However, studies of distant galaxies suggest that some of these monsters were formed very early after the birth of the universe.

Intermediate Black Hole

An elusive group of black holes, Intermediate-mass are those that fall in between the supermassive and stellar-mass range. These black holes weigh in somewhere between a hundred to hundreds of thousands of solar masses and can aid scientists in understanding the formation of supermassive black holes in galaxies.

There are several theories on how Intermediate-mass black holes form. One possibility is that they could be the remnants of massive stars that went through supernova explosions but didn’t have enough mass to collapse into a supermassive black hole.

Another theory suggests that these black holes are actually the cores of dwarf galaxies which were eaten by larger galaxies.

Scientists believe Intermediate-mass black holes may be hiding in globular clusters, dense star systems which orbit around the centers of galaxies.

Properties of Black Holes

Black holes are mysterious objects that have fascinated scientists and the general public alike. Here are some of the key properties of black holes:

Event Horizon

The event horizon is the point of no return for anything that enters a black hole. Once an object crosses the event horizon, it is impossible for it to escape the gravitational pull of the black hole. The event horizon is also the boundary that separates the visible universe from the invisible universe inside the black hole.


The singularity is the point at the center of a black hole where the laws of physics as we know them break down. It is a point of infinite density and zero volume, where all matter is compressed into an infinitely small space. The singularity is surrounded by the event horizon.


Black holes can spin, just like planets and stars. The spin of a black hole is caused by the rotation of the object that collapsed to form the black hole. The spin of a black hole affects its properties, such as the shape of the event horizon and the strength of the gravitational pull.


Black holes can have an electric charge, which is caused by the presence of charged particles. A charged black hole would have a different gravitational pull than an uncharged black hole, and it would interact differently with other charged particles in space.

In summary, black holes are fascinating objects with unique properties that challenge our understanding of the universe. From the event horizon to the singularity, spin, and charge, each aspect of a black hole contributes to its mysterious nature.

Effects of Black Holes on Surrounding Matter

Black holes are known for their massive gravitational pull, which can have a significant impact on the matter surrounding them. Here are some of the effects that black holes can have on their surroundings:

  • Accretion: When a black hole passes through a cloud of interstellar matter, it can draw matter inward through a process known as accretion. This can create a bright, hot disk of gas and dust called an accretion disk, which emits light across many wavelengths, including X-rays.
  • Star Tearing: If a normal star passes too close to a black hole, the black hole can tear the star apart as it pulls it toward itself. This process is known as tidal disruption, and it can create a bright flare of light that can be observed by astronomers.
  • Orbiting Stars: Black holes can cause stars to orbit around them in a particular way due to their intense gravity. These orbits can be studied by astronomers to learn more about the black hole’s properties.

    Overall, the effects of black holes on their surroundings can be both fascinating and destructive, providing valuable insights into the workings of the universe.

    Observing Black Holes

    Black holes are fascinating objects that cannot be directly observed with telescopes that detect x-rays, light, or other forms of electromagnetic radiation. However, we can infer the presence of black holes and study them by detecting their effect on other matter nearby. Here are some ways scientists observe black holes.

    Gravitational Lensing

    One way to observe black holes is through gravitational lensing. When light passes close to a black hole, it is bent by the black hole’s strong gravity, causing the light to follow a curved path. This effect can magnify and distort the images of distant objects behind the black hole, making them appear brighter and larger than they would otherwise. By studying these distorted images, astronomers can infer the presence of a black hole.

    Accretion Disks

    Another way to observe black holes is by studying the accretion disks that form around them. When matter falls into a black hole, it forms a disk around the black hole’s event horizon. The disk can get incredibly hot and emit radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, including x-rays. By studying the properties of the radiation emitted by the accretion disk, astronomers can learn about the size, mass, and spin of the black hole.

    X-Ray Emissions

    Black holes can also be observed through their x-ray emissions. When matter falls into a black hole’s accretion disk, it gets compressed and heated to millions of degrees, causing it to emit x-rays. By detecting these x-rays, astronomers can study the properties of the accretion disk and infer the presence of a black hole. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is one of the instruments used to detect x-ray emissions from black holes.


    Black holes are fascinating and mysterious objects that have captured the imagination of scientists and the public alike. They are incredibly dense and have a gravitational pull so strong that not even light can escape. Despite their invisible nature, scientists have been able to study them indirectly by observing their effects on surrounding matter.

    While much is still unknown about black holes, we do know that they are not random objects wandering through the universe. They follow the laws of gravity like any other object in space. If a black hole were to replace the sun, Earth would not fall in unless the black hole’s orbit was very close to our solar system.

    Black holes are formed when a massive star collapses in on itself. As it collapses, it explodes into a supernova, expelling its outer material and leaving behind a dense core. If the core is massive enough, it will continue to collapse until it becomes a singularity, a point of infinite density where the laws of physics as we know them break down.

    While we have never directly observed a black hole, we have observed their effects on surrounding matter, such as the accretion disks of gas and dust that emit light across many wavelengths, including X-rays. We have also observed the gravitational lensing effect, where the gravity of a black hole bends and distorts the light of objects behind it.

    Overall, black holes remain one of the most fascinating and enigmatic objects in the universe. As we continue to study them and learn more about their properties, we may unlock even more mysteries of the cosmos. I hope you enjoyed this guide on how black holes work.

    Andy Morgan