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Black holes are objects that are so massive and dense that their immense gravitational pull does not even let light escape. If the core left over after a supernova explosion has a mass of more than about five times that of the Sun, the force holding up the neutrons in the core is not large enough to balance the inward gravitational force. No outward force is large enough to resist the gravitational force. The core of the star continues to collapse. When the core's mass is sufficiently concentrated, the gravitational force of the core is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape it. The gravitational force is so strong that classical physics no longer applies, and astronomers use Einstein’s general theory of relativity to explain the behavior of light and matter under such strong gravitational forces. According to general relativity, space around the core becomes so warped that nothing can escape, creating a black hole. A star with a mass ten times the mass of the Sun would become a black hole if it were compressed to 90 km (60 mi) or less in diameter.

Astronomers have various ways of detecting black holes. When a black hole is in a binary system, matter from the companion star spirals into the black hole, forming a disk of gas around it. The disk becomes so hot that it gives off X rays that astronomers can detect from Earth. Astronomers use X-ray telescopes in space to find X-ray sources, and then they look for signs that an unseen object of more than about five times the mass of the Sun is causing gravitational tugs on a visible object.


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