CWU News

Massive Stars and the Supermassive Black Holes that Devour Them

Black holes in space are where the gravitational pull is so tremendous, even light is unable to escape. The force is so strong that all matter contained within is extraordinarily compressed. According to NASA,  primordial black holes, which are as small as a single atom, have the mass of a large mountain. Supermassive black holes have masses greater than a million suns combined.

Feynman protégé and renowned physicist James Bardeen will present “Black Holes: Theory and Observation,” at 4:00 p.m. on June 5, in Lind 215 on the Central Washington University campus.

Bardeen will review theoretical ideas about how black holes developed. In the mid-1960s, there was an explosion of interest in applying general relativity to astrophysics, stimulated by the discovery of radio galaxies, quasars, and pulsars.

Black holes are formed by the collapse of massive stars, and there is now compelling evidence for supermassive black holes in the cores of most massive galaxies, including the Milky Way. In the near future, the Event Horizon Telescope will be able to resolve structures very close to the event horizon and the shadow of the black hole for two nearby supermassive black holes. Detection of gravitational waves from binary black hole mergers by the LIGO observatory at Hanford will allow very detailed tests of theoretical predictions.

Bardeen is professor emeritus of physics at the University of Washington. He graduated from Harvard in 1960 and received his PhD at Caltech, where his advisor was Richard Feynman.

Bardeen made significant contributions to general relativity during his research career, including formulating the laws of black hole mechanics and discovering an exact solution to the Einstein field equation, known as the Bardeen vacuum. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2012.  He is the son of John Bardeen, who won the Nobel prize in physics twice (in 1956 and 1972).

Photo: An artist's drawing of a black hole named Cygnus X-1. It formed when a large star caved in. This black hole pulls matter from blue star beside it. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Media Contact: Valerie Chapman-Stockwell, Public Affairs, 509-963-1518,