Oppenheimer- How the 'father of the atomic bomb' contributed to the discovery of black holes

Did you know that Oppenheimer, the man who developed the atom bomb dropped on Japan during the second World War, played a significant role in the discovery of black hole?

| Updated on: Jul 22 2023, 14:22 IST
Giant black hole blows 2 bubbles in gas surrounding Messier 84; NASA shares awesome photos
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1/5 A giant black hole which has blown two bubbles in the hot gas surrounding it in the M84 Galaxy. (NASA)
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2/5 The result is a structure in X-rays that looks like the Letter "H". (NASA)
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3/5 The "H" shows up in an image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. (NASA)
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4/5 Jets from the black hole pushed the hot gas aside to create this unusual outline. (NASA)
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5/5 NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory was employed by astronomers to produce a visual representation of the hot gas (pink in color) present in and around the galaxy M84. The map covers a distance of nearly 100 light-years from the central black hole of the galaxy. (NASA)
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Oppenheimer conducted research on black hole even before they were discovered. (NASA)

Today when people are excited about the Oppenheimer movie and can only imagine J. Robert Oppenheimer as the ‘father of the atom bomb', very few people know that the astrophysicist also played a stellar role in other discoveries too. He conducted research on black holes even before they were discovered. He played a significant role in the discovery of black holes and described how the collapse of a massive star can lead to the formation of black holes.

Prior to his work at Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1942, Oppenheimer was a prominent theoretical physicist focusing on quantum physics.

Research on Black hole

In collaboration with his colleague Hartland S. Snyder at the University of California, Berkeley, Oppenheimer published a research paper in 1939 titled "On Continued Gravitational Contraction." He showed how black holes could be born by using Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Oppenheimer's model described how a massive star could collapse under its own gravitational force, leading to the formation of a black hole. This work was the foundation to understand black hole as a dynamic astrophysical process and representing the final stage in the evolution of sufficiently massive stars. Notably, this model is still employed in modern astrophysical research.

Before starting the black hole research, Oppenheimer had already explored the topic of neutron stars in a 1938 paper. His interest in astrophysics continued with the incorporation of Einstein's general theory of relativity in a 1939. On September 1, 1939, Oppenheimer published another paper specifically dedicated to black holes. However, its significance was largely overshadowed as it coincided with the outbreak of World War II when Germany invaded Poland.

Despite his significant contributions to the field of black hole, Oppenheimer's legacy remains closely tied to his involvement in the development of the atomic bomb. His work on black holes and his pioneering collapse model, though often overlooked by the public, continues to influence and shape our understanding of the physical world.

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First Published Date: 22 Jul, 14:16 IST