Tag Archives: black hole facts

Hallowe’en in the heavens: The Haunted Black Hole

A long, long time ago, I read a wonderful series of books by Madeleine L’Engle, so powerfully imaginative and scientifically prescient, they changed my way of perceiving reality.

Newberry award-winning sci-fi fantasy. A must-read, not just for children
Newberry award-winning sci-fi fantasy. A must-read, not just for children

Now known as the Time Quintet,” the series began with the mesmerising story of Meg Murray, child of astrophysicist Jack, who has gone missing, while her mother, a scientist, can offer no explanation, but is astonishingly impervious to town gossip suggesting her husband has run off with another woman.

Sounds fairly dire, and then add where he’s disappeared to, which is another planet, while Earth is threatened with extinction as all the stars go out and darkness overtakes the universe, and you have the ingredients of a magically-compelling book for readers of any age.

In the desperate search to rescue her father, Meg Murray learns words like tesseract and begins to understand that life in the universe is much more complex than she knew, as she uncovers the secrets of thewrinkle in time,’ and discovers precisely why the stars are going out.

Not a black hole
Eerie and dark, amongst the coldest places in the heavens, an inky black cloud blots out the stars

This recent image of a molecular cloud, an inky black hole in the fabric of the universe, then, would come as no surprise to Meg and her scientific family.

Described by authors and editors of  NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day Archive Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell as “eerily dark,” cold and isolated, Molecular Cloud Barnard 68 is

a high concentration of dust and molecular gas [which] absorb[s] practically all the visible light emitted from background stars. The eerily dark surroundings help make the interiors of molecular clouds some of the coldest and most isolated places in the universe. One of the most notable of these dark absorption nebulae is a cloud toward the constellation Ophiuchus known as Barnard 68, pictured above.

That no stars are visible in the center indicates that Barnard 68 is relatively nearby, with measurements placing it about 500 light-years away and half a light-year across. It is not known exactly how molecular clouds like Barnard 68 form, but it is known that these clouds are themselves likely places for new stars to form. In fact, Barnard 68 itself has recently been found likely to collapse and form a new star system. It is possible to look right through the cloud in infrared light

So when you look up into the night sky, now you know there are places in the heavens that are just as spooky as any dark, creepy old house, with rooms containing nothing but looming cold darkness. Even the heavens get to have Hallow’en, it seems.