Origin of Black Hole Term
My students are researching the origins of various astronomical
theories and we have hit a snag with the concept of black holes. Where was
this concept first coined? Any history of the theory of how black holes
developed would be greatly appreciated.
Two centuries ago, the English geologist John Michell realized that it would
be theoretically possible for gravity to be so overwhelmingly strong that
nothing -- not even light traveling at 186,000 miles an hour -- could escape.
To generate such gravity, an object would have to be very massive and
unimaginably dense. At the time, the necessary conditions for "dark stars"
(as Michell called them) seemed physically impossible. His ideas were published
by the French mathematician and philosopher Pierre Simon Laplace in two
successive editions of an astronomy guide, but were dropped from the third
In 1916, the concept was revived when German astrophysicist Karl Schwarzschild
decided to compute the gravitational fields of stars using Einstein's new field
equation. Schwarzschild limited the complexity of the problem by assuming the
star was perfectly spherical, gravitationally collapsed, and did not rotate.
His calculations yielded a solution aptly called a Schwarzschild singularity.
Scientists theorize that a singularity lies at the center of a black hole, a
catchy term physicist John Wheeler coined in the 1960s. Since then, black holes
have caught the public imagination.
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Update: June 2012