NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse Collection


Black holes are the most enigmatic, mysterious, and exotic objects in the universe. But astrophysicists are realizing that they may actually be common and may be essential to understanding how our universe unfolded. In NOVA's two-hour Black Hole Apocalypse special, astrophysicist and author Janna Levin takes viewers on a mind-bending journey to the frontiers of black hole research.

In this collection, you’ll find media resources that examine black holes and related topics—from stellar life cycles to the basics of spacetime. These resources help educators explore black holes and gravity in detail with their students and provide an up-close look at some groundbreaking discoveries.

  • NOVA Black Holes App Educator Guide

    Learn about black holes in this iPad app from NOVA. Hurl your star across spacetime, hitting targets and avoiding celestial hazards in your quest to earn a star that's big and bright enough to go supernova. As you play through the game’s 50-plus levels, you’ll meet new cosmic objects like small but dense neutron stars and massive blue supergiant stars. Get gravitational assists from these and other objects to slingshot around the galaxy and hit your targets. Detect and avoid invisible black holes that will shred your star if it gets too close. Beat all the levels and watch your star become a supernova and collapse into a black hole. This resource is part of the NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse Collection.

    DOWNLOAD THE IPAD APP HERE.

    This educator guide includes two supporting materials. The Level Guide features tips for beating each level and the Celestial Objects Guide includes all the informational text for every celestial object that appears in the app.

    NOVA Black Holes Celestial Objects Guide | NOVA Black Holes Level Guide

    Grades: 6-12
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    Black Hole Apocalypse | The Discovery of Cygnus X-1

    Learn about Cygnus X-1, an x-ray source that was the first widely accepted example of a black hole, in this media gallery featuring video from NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse. The video describes how the advent of x-ray astronomy opened up a new world for astronomers to explore. Paul Murdin and colleagues discovered that Cygnus X-1 was likely a black hole by searching for signs of binary star systems, where one star was visible and the other an x-ray source. After analyzing data for a visible star that showed Doppler-shifted light, the researchers concluded that the mass of the x-ray companion was large enough for it to be a black hole. In addition, an animation combines a wide field image of Cygnus X-1 in visible light with an x-ray image of it; and an illustration depicts material from a massive companion star being pulled into a disk around Cygnus X-1. This resource is part of the NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
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    Black Hole Apocalypse | How to Detect Gravitational Waves

    Learn about gravitational waves and how they can be detected, in this video from NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse. According to Einstein's general theory of relativity, massive accelerating objects create ripples in spacetime. In the 1970s, Rainer "Rai" Weiss developed the idea to build a laser interferometer to detect this stretching and squeezing of spacetime—gravitational waves. Animations illustrate the basic principle behind the device: a beam of light travels through a splitter, toward two different mirrors, and then the reflected beams of light rejoin. If the distance the light travels along each arm is the same, the beams cancel each other out; however, if a gravitational wave changes the distances, the beams no longer cancel out and a photodetector senses light. This resource is part of the NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
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    Black Hole Apocalypse | Gravity and Spacetime

    Learn how gravity can be described by the curving of spacetime, in this video from NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse. According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, all objects curve spacetime around them; the more massive an object, the more it curves spacetime and influences other nearby objects. When objects fall, they travel along these curves in space. Computer animations illustrate the concept of warped spacetime and how objects “fall” along a curved path.

    Support materials include: Background Reading, Teaching Tips, and Discussion Questions. This resource was developed through WGBH’s Bringing the Universe to America’s Classrooms project, in collaboration with NASA. This resource is part of the NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
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    Black Hole Apocalypse | Stellar Life Cycles

    Learn how the life cycles of low-mass and high-mass stars differ, in this video from NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse. Although all stars start by fusing hydrogen into helium, high-mass stars subsequently fuse increasingly massive elements to create elements up to iron. Animations illustrate how the outward pressure from fusion in the star’s core balances the inward force of gravity. In a high-mass star, after it begins to fuse iron, there is not enough outward pressure to remain stable and the star collapses rapidly, creating a supernova. If the core is massive enough, it can collapse to become a black hole. This resource is part of the NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
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    Black Hole Apocalypse | Determining the Distance and Mass of Cygnus X-1

    Learn how astronomers used parallax to more accurately determine the distance to Cygnus X-1, a stellar black hole, in this video from NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse. People perceive depth using the principle of parallax—our two eyes see the world from slightly different vantage points. To calculate the distance to a celestial object, astronomers use Earth’s orbit to provide two vantage points. Astronomers measured the tiny parallax angle of Cygnus X-1 using an array of 10 radio telescopes across the world. They then determined that Cygnus X-1 is about 6,000 light-years away and calculated its mass to be about 15 solar masses. This resource is part of the NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
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    Black Hole Apocalypse | Modeling Galaxies

    Learn how computer modeling indicates that supermassive black holes may exist at the centers of all galaxies, in this video from NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse. Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers analyze the average motions of stars orbiting the center of a galaxy. They then create mathematical computer models of galaxies, making a library of thousands of variations with different values for factors such as stellar mass and velocity. Their goal is to find models that match Hubble data. They have found that, for almost all galaxies, a supermassive black hole must be present at the center of the galaxy for the model to match the observations. This resource is part of the NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse Collection.

    Grades: 6-8
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    Black Hole Apocalypse | Visit a Black Hole

    Imagine what it would be like to visit a black hole, and experience falling into one, in this video from NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse. Animations illustrate the gravitational effects of a black hole, including the distortion of distant starlight by gravitational lensing and time dilation. Theoretically, if a person were to fall into a black hole of about 10 solar masses, to an outside observer, she would appear to slow down and get stuck without ever actually passing the event horizon. However, to the falling person, time would seem to pass normally as she falls. She would be stretched—“spaghettified”—until she was torn apart and crushed into an infinitely small point. This resource is part of the NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
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    Black Hole Apocalypse | Observing the Center of the Milky Way

    Learn how astronomers determine whether a supermassive black hole lies at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, in this media gallery featuring a video from NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse and images from the European Southern Observatory and NASA. In the video, astronomer Andrea Ghez describes how the Keck Observatory, which integrates an adaptive optics system to adjust for atmospheric distortion, has provided the sharpest images ever obtained of stars orbiting closest to our galaxy’s center. The changing positions of the stars have been tracked since 1995 and have revealed stellar orbits of incredibly high speeds. These extremely fast orbits indicate that the stars are orbiting something with a mass 4 million times that of the Sun—a supermassive black hole. Graphics illustrate how adaptive optics technology works, and an animation shows the extremely fast stellar orbits around the galactic center. Additional images in the gallery provide context for the scale of the Milky Way and our solar system’s position within it. This resource is part of the NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse Collection.

    Grades: 9-12

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