Some black holes are the remnants of massive stars whose fuel ran out and collapsed in on themselves, their own weight crushing them into a single point of infinite mass. Some black holes are the microscopic remnants of perturbations in the early Universe following the Big Bang. At its heart, every galaxy has a super-massive monster of a black hole with a mass equal to between hundreds and billions of solar masses. When our universe grinds slowly to its death, the last sentinels standing watch will be black holes, slowly disintegrating over many billions of years as they lose mass due to Hawking radiation until there is nothing left but a cold radioactive haze.
As powerful a force as black holes are in our Universe, they weren't even imagined by humans until 1916, when Karl Schwarzschild first described one in terms of general relativity. It wasn't until 1958 that David Finkelstein asserted that such an object would be inescapable by anything, even light. For many years, these objects were considered to be nothing more than mathematical curiosities. We still haven't observed a black hole directly, and it is unlikely that we ever will, as they absorb all light that passes their way, making them just a little difficult to see. But we can observe the apparent effects of black holes as they rip nearby objects apart. Once something goes into a black hole, its information is destroyed forever - the mass that enters a black hole is eventually expelled as Hawking radiation, but everything except for the fact that it is mass will have been erased. Black holes consume and destroy everything they touch, making them the true monsters of the cosmos.
But that has made them fodder for numerous science fiction stories. Larry Niven has written several stories featuring black holes. Poul Anderson, Frederik Pohl, David Brin, Arthur C. Clarke, Roger Zelazny, and Gregory Benford have all written stories in which black holes played a role. And, of course, there was the movie The Black Hole, which was kind of silly, but undeniably featured a black hole. Black holes, as the ultimate destructive force in our universe, are terrifying and fascinating at the same time.
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