Space telescope probes 'black hole' Confirmation of theory is close, scientists say.

April 09, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope say they have made a significant advance toward confirming the existence of black holes -- massively heavy, super-condensed galactic centers that are so strong that even light cannot travel fast enough to escape their pull.

The Hubble findings, announced in Washington yesterday, also show that black holes may be more common than was formerly believed.

A black hole, by its very nature, cannot be seen. But the Hubble images show that stars in a nearby galaxy, M32, become extremely concentrated toward the center. Some strong -- and invisible -- force is apparently exerting enough gravity to suck the stars toward the black hole.

The astronomers have calculated that the apparent black hole weighs about 3 million times more than the sun, though it occupies about the same space.

The new Hubble results are "certainly the strongest evidence yet of a very massive black hole," said Ed Weiler, program scientist for the orbiting telescope.

"We've got the feathers and the feet to show it's a duck, but we haven't got the quack," Mr. Weiler said. The main reason for the lack of a "quack" is the Hubble's flawed mirror, which sends blurry images back to Earth.

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