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No. 68: Mar-Apr 1990

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Wanted: a bona fide black hole

Don't you get tired of all those science books, newspaper articles, TV documentaries, and commentators gushing at length about black holes as if they were well-verified denizens of the universe? Black holes are popularly presented as "fact"; no doubts permitted; here the Book of Science is closed! It was like a breath of fresh air to read this sentence in Sky and Telescope:

"Scientists are still unable to confirm the existence of even a single black hole, despite a widespread belief that such things should, and indeed must, exist."

This single sentence won't change anything, because everyone is comfortable with black holes. They are part of the (often false) reality that the media smothers us with.

Actually, there are two places where black holes "might" dwell, based upon the anomalous behavior of matter around these regions: (1) at the centers of some galaxies, including our own Milky Way; and (2) as unseen components of some close double stars, where the mass of the unseen companion is too great for it to be an ordinary neutron star. W. Kundt and D. Fischer, at Bonn University, have recently concluded that the second possibility is better explained without resorting to black holes. For example, a neutron star with a massive accretion disk might suffice. As for black holes at the centers of galaxies, with masses of several million suns, gravitationally sucking in surrounding matter and careless spaceships - well, they are possible. Unfortunately, galac-tic centers are too far away and obscured by dust for us to be certain what lies at their cores. Black holes are really only surmise; although they make good copy!

(Anonymous; "No Black Holes?" Sky and Telescope, 78:572, 1989.)

From Science Frontiers #68, MAR-APR 1990. 1990-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987