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No. 94: Jul-Aug 1994

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First you don't see it; then you don't don't see it

Astronomers are always claiming that they have observational proof that other stars have planets circling them and that black holes truly exist. These claims always fade away or are refuted. Recently, the papers were full of still another claim that a black hole had been found. This time there was no doubt; this was it; a bona fide, undeniable black hole. The search was finally over! Later, though, this claim was muted to: "the best evidence yet for a black hole." [Remember that no light escapes a black hole; you cannot see it directly. It is detected only through its effects on nearby observable matter.]

Despite what the theorists fervently believe, black holes may not be lurking out there in space, unseen, but still able to gobble up matter and unwary alien spacecraft. For example, consider the following iconoclastic tidbit:

"A gigantic, exceptionally bright star that scientists thought could become a black hole is actually shedding mass at such an astonishing rate that it eventually will disappear, a discovery that casts doubt on theories of stellar evolution, a researcher reports.

"'If such massive stars are losing mass at such a prodigious rate, they will not form black holes but will peel off to virtually nothing,' Sally Heap, a NASA astronomer, said yesterday at a national meeting of the American Astronomical Society."

In other words, the accepted means of black hole production -- and, therefore, black holes themselves -- still seem to be in observational limbo.

(Anonymous; "Discovery Questions 'Black Hole' Theory," Baltimore Sun, May 31, 1994.)

From Science Frontiers #94, JUL-AUG 1994. 1994-2000 William R. Corliss