What is a black hole? Could we survive a visit to one? Perhaps even venture inside? What would we find? Have we yet discovered any real black holes?
And what do black holes teach us about what physicist John Archibald Wheeler called “the deep, happy, mysteries of the universe”?
These are just a few of the tantalizing questions examined in this jargon-free review of one of the most fascinating topics in modern science. In search of the answers, we trace a star from its birth to its death throes, take a fabulous hypothetical journey to the border of a black hole and beyond, spend time with some of the world’s leading theoretical physicists and observational astronomers scanning the cosmos for evidence of real black holes, and take a whimsical look at some of the wild ideas black holes have inspired.
One can't mention black holes without mentioning Stephen Hawking and the rather baffling phenomenon of A Brief History of Time. Baffling because it's hard to believe that there were really that many trade book buyers who really understood it. If justice has not been eternally trapped within an event horizon, then those book buyers who were still bemused at the end of (or even the beginning of) A Brief History will buy this explanation by Ferguson, the British author of Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of Everything. Even if you've forgotten gravity, relativity, thermodynamics, let alone quantum mechanics and Heisenberg's slippery uncertainty principle, you will understand several of the more difficult notions in astrophysics. Through astute use of definitions, stories, illustrations and verbal imagery, Ferguson describes how gravity might overwhelm the exclusion principal of certain larger stars to create a black hole; what a visit to a black hole might turn up (with all due respect to the improbability of ever returning from such a trip); how black holes hide and what traces give them away; as well as major candidates and how they have been smoked out. The reader willing to apply a modicum of concentration and curiosity will be amply rewarded not only with knowledge, but also with the humor, fantasy, poetry and awe Ferguson brings to the subject.