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The Black Hole at the Center of Our Galaxy

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Overview

Could Einstein have possibly anticipated directly testing the most captivating prediction of general relativity, that there exist isolated pockets of spacetime shielded completely from our own? Now, almost a century after that theory emerged, one of the world's leading astrophysicists presents a wealth of recent evidence that just such an entity, with a mass of about three million suns, is indeed lurking at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way--in the form of a supermassive ''black hole''!

With this superbly illustrated, elegantly written, nontechnical account of the most enigmatic astronomical object yet observed, Fulvio Melia captures all the excitement of the growing realization that we are on the verge of actually seeing this exotic object within the next few years.

Melia traces our intellectual pilgrimage to the ''brooding behemoth'' at the heart of the Milky Way. He describes the dizzying technological advances that have recently brought us to the point of seeing through all the cosmic dust to a dark spot in a clouded cluster of stars in the constellation Sagittarius. Carefully assembling the compelling circumstantial evidence for its black hole status, he shows that it is primed to reveal itself as a glorious panorama of activity within this decade--through revolutionary images of its ''event horizon'' against the bright backdrop of nearby, radiating gas.

Uniquely, this book brings together a specific and fascinating astronomical subject--black holes--with a top researcher to provide both amateur and armchair astronomers, but also professional scientists seeking a concise overview of the topic, a real sense of the palpable thrill in the scientific community when an important discovery is imminent.

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Editorial Reviews

Astronomy
A delightful book containing wonderful images and illustrations portraying the center of our galaxy as a region with a personality and character worthy of great study. The sort of book you would read on a cold rainy night by the fireside—with your imagination marveling at the journey the author takes you on. . . . You generally come away feeling you have learned some fresh physics and are compelled to agree that supermassive black holes are a reality.
— Kevin Long
Science
Space enthusiasts, and people interested in the nature of our universe, who want some light reading material will enjoy Melia's little book about a huge discovery in astrophysics.
— Linda Rowan
New Scientist
Astronomers call it Sagittarius A*, but that hardly paints a vivid picture of the star-swallowing, light-bending, time-slowing monstrosity lurking a mere 28,000 light years from your front door.
— Marcus Chown
Choice
Interested in black holes? This is the book for you! . . . Melia takes readers on a tour unlike any other—to the very heart of our galaxy, the Milky Way. . . . He also provides an excellent primer on basic gravitational theory, particle physics, and relativity—not a mean feat for a book aimed at the layperson.
Sky & Telescope
Melia is a gifted astrophysicist and a compelling storyteller who mixes beautiful language with the jargon of astrophysics to tell a riveting tale of discovery and exploration at the heart of the Milky Way. . . . [This is] a gripping, well-told tale by a scientist whose work is at the forefront of black-hole research. What Melia has crafted here is nothing short of a scientific detective story. . . . If you're in the mood for a good astronomical detective tale to read on a dark and stormy night, this well-written, nicely illustrated work will keep you riveted to the page.
— Carolyn Collins Peterson
Mercury
The Black Hole at the Center of Our Galaxy is the story of the discovery of an astonishing object that has presented yet another new challenge to our understanding of astronomy, specifically galactic evolution.
— Terrell Kent Holmes
Physics Today
The mind- and spacetime-bending subject of this timely book is bound to have a broad appeal, and Melia amplifies that appeal with a carefully crafted lyrical writing style and a striking collection of handsome color images. . . . Fortunately, Melia is an excellent wordsmith. His book is aimed at the lay public and is ideally suited as a supplemental reading for students in a general education course in physics or astronomy.
— Mark R. Morris
The Christian Science Monitor
Professional and armchair astronomers alike will delight in [Melia's] scientific erudition, lucid style, and sophisticated charm. . . . After all, anyone who can quote St. Augustine on the quixotic nature of time while simultaneously explaining how event horizons and singularity in black holes eliminate time must be a master teacher.
— Jim Bencivenga
Astronomy - Kevin Long
A delightful book containing wonderful images and illustrations portraying the center of our galaxy as a region with a personality and character worthy of great study. The sort of book you would read on a cold rainy night by the fireside—with your imagination marveling at the journey the author takes you on. . . . You generally come away feeling you have learned some fresh physics and are compelled to agree that supermassive black holes are a reality.
The Christian Science Monitor - Jim Bencivenga
Professional and armchair astronomers alike will delight in [Melia's] scientific erudition, lucid style, and sophisticated charm. . . . After all, anyone who can quote St. Augustine on the quixotic nature of time while simultaneously explaining how event horizons and singularity in black holes eliminate time must be a master teacher.
Science - Linda Rowan
Space enthusiasts, and people interested in the nature of our universe, who want some light reading material will enjoy Melia's little book about a huge discovery in astrophysics.
New Scientist - Marcus Chown
Astronomers call it Sagittarius A*, but that hardly paints a vivid picture of the star-swallowing, light-bending, time-slowing monstrosity lurking a mere 28,000 light years from your front door.
Sky & Telescope - Carolyn Collins Peterson
Melia is a gifted astrophysicist and a compelling storyteller who mixes beautiful language with the jargon of astrophysics to tell a riveting tale of discovery and exploration at the heart of the Milky Way. . . . [This is] a gripping, well-told tale by a scientist whose work is at the forefront of black-hole research. What Melia has crafted here is nothing short of a scientific detective story. . . . If you're in the mood for a good astronomical detective tale to read on a dark and stormy night, this well-written, nicely illustrated work will keep you riveted to the page.
Mercury - Terrell Kent Holmes
The Black Hole at the Center of Our Galaxy is the story of the discovery of an astonishing object that has presented yet another new challenge to our understanding of astronomy, specifically galactic evolution.
Physics Today - Mark R. Morris
The mind- and spacetime-bending subject of this timely book is bound to have a broad appeal, and Melia amplifies that appeal with a carefully crafted lyrical writing style and a striking collection of handsome color images. . . . Fortunately, Melia is an excellent wordsmith. His book is aimed at the lay public and is ideally suited as a supplemental reading for students in a general education course in physics or astronomy.
From the Publisher

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2003

"A delightful book containing wonderful images and illustrations portraying the center of our galaxy as a region with a personality and character worthy of great study. The sort of book you would read on a cold rainy night by the fireside--with your imagination marveling at the journey the author takes you on. . . . You generally come away feeling you have learned some fresh physics and are compelled to agree that supermassive black holes are a reality."--Kevin Long, Astronomy

"Astronomy buffs will find this account both engrossing and informative."--Publishers Weekly

"Professional and armchair astronomers alike will delight in [Melia's] scientific erudition, lucid style, and sophisticated charm. . . . After all, anyone who can quote St. Augustine on the quixotic nature of time while simultaneously explaining how event horizons and singularity in black holes eliminate time must be a master teacher."--Jim Bencivenga, The Christian Science Monitor

"Space enthusiasts, and people interested in the nature of our universe, who want some light reading material will enjoy Melia's little book about a huge discovery in astrophysics."--Linda Rowan, Science

"Astronomers call it Sagittarius A*, but that hardly paints a vivid picture of the star-swallowing, light-bending, time-slowing monstrosity lurking a mere 28,000 light years from your front door."--Marcus Chown, New Scientist

"Interested in black holes? This is the book for you! . . . Melia takes readers on a tour unlike any other--to the very heart of our galaxy, the Milky Way. . . . He also provides an excellent primer on basic gravitational theory, particle physics, and relativity--not a mean feat for a book aimed at the layperson."--Choice

"Melia is a gifted astrophysicist and a compelling storyteller who mixes beautiful language with the jargon of astrophysics to tell a riveting tale of discovery and exploration at the heart of the Milky Way. . . . [This is] a gripping, well-told tale by a scientist whose work is at the forefront of black-hole research. What Melia has crafted here is nothing short of a scientific detective story. . . . If you're in the mood for a good astronomical detective tale to read on a dark and stormy night, this well-written, nicely illustrated work will keep you riveted to the page."--Carolyn Collins Peterson, Sky & Telescope

"The Black Hole at the Center of Our Galaxy is the story of the discovery of an astonishing object that has presented yet another new challenge to our understanding of astronomy, specifically galactic evolution."--Terrell Kent Holmes, Mercury

"The mind- and spacetime-bending subject of this timely book is bound to have a broad appeal, and Melia amplifies that appeal with a carefully crafted lyrical writing style and a striking collection of handsome color images. . . . Fortunately, Melia is an excellent wordsmith. His book is aimed at the lay public and is ideally suited as a supplemental reading for students in a general education course in physics or astronomy."--Mark R. Morris, Physics Today

Publishers Weekly
At the center of the Milky Way galaxy, 28,000 light-years from Earth, lies a true heart of darkness, a supermassive black hole containing the equivalent of almost three million suns in an area smaller than the orbit of Mars. Lying between the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpio, this black hole, labeled by scientists Sagittarius A*, cannot be seen with the largest visible-light telescopes because dark dust clouds hide it from our view. In recent years, however, with the advancement of radio and X-ray imaging, scientists are breathtakingly close to "seeing" a black hole. Astrophysicist Melia sys that most galaxies with a central bulge, like the Milky Way, have such a black hole at their center; he also says such black holes are scattered throughout galaxies as well, but unless we someday discover one wandering through space close to Earth-not a comforting thought-Sagittarius A* remains our best bet for exploring this mysterious phenomenon. If a star makes a wrong turn into the neighborhood of a black hole, Melia explains, it is not necessarily doomed to be captured by the latter's gravitational handcuff and dragged to oblivion. Melia uses well-chosen earthbound metaphors to explain these arcane concepts, and he lays out the theoretical underpinnings with mathematics simple enough for readers with basic college algebra or physics to follow. Astronomy buffs will find this account both engrossing and informative. 40 color, 2 b&w illus. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691095059
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 4/21/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 204
  • Sales rank: 528,926
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Table of Contents


PREFACE vii
1. THE GALACTIC CENTER 1
1.1 The Hidden Realm 3
1.2 Removing the Dusty Veils 10
1.3 The Principal Constituents 18
1.4 Exploration from Space 27
2. CONDENSATION OF DARK MATTER 35
2.1 A Swarm of Stars 37
2.2 The Motion of Stars and Gas 39
2.3 The Missing Mass 44
2.4 A Super-Heavy Central Object 47
3. THE THEORY OF GRAVITY 51
3.1 What Is Mass? 51
3.2 Development of a Gravity Theory 61
3.3 Everything Is Relative 69
3.4 The Principle of Equivalence 77
3.5 The Key Predictions of General Relativity 83
3.6 Black Holes and Their Event Horizons 94
4. A STAR IN SAGITTARIUS 105
4.1 Hawking Radiation 106
4.2 Energy Extraction according to Penrose 111
4.3 Cosmic Fireworks 114
4.4 Shape and Size of Sagittarius A* 117
4.5 The Glow of Matter Falling In 122
5. THE EVENT HORIZON 129
5.1 The Environment near the Precipice 131
5.2 How the Dark Shadow Forms 134
5.3 An Image of the Black Hole within This Decade 143
5.4 An X-Ray Image of the Dark Shadow from Space 146
5.5 Impact on the General Theory of Relativity 149
6. QUASARS AND GALACTIC NUCLEI 153
6.1 The Host Galaxies of Quasars 157
6.2 The Active Nuclei of Other Galaxies 161
6.3 Superluminal Motion 168
6.4 The Supermassive Black Hole Menagerie 174
6.5 Future Horizons 177
REFERENCES 179
INDEX 183
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Recipe

"By concentrating on one point in spacetime, Fulvio Melia brings a welcome focus and clarity to this popular exploration of our galaxy's center. Graced by reliable and readable excursions into relativity and other relevant fields, this book is obviously that of an author out to do his best possible work."—Timothy Ferris, author of Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth From Interplanetary Peril

"Many readers, especially amateur astronomers, will enjoy this accessible book. Fulvio Melia has contributed significantly to astrophysics and has had a sustained and substantial interest in the Galactic Center. Here, he presents the story of the black hole that has been suspected for over thirty years to exist there, but for which the evidence has dramatically firmed up in the last five years."—Martin Rees, Cambridge University, Astronomer Royal of Great Britain, author of Our Cosmic Habitat

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great Reading

    I have gradually gotten interested in learning more about black holes
    and have been looking for an introductory (but not trivial!) book that
    covers the essentials of this topic for a beginner like me. This book
    by Melia meets my requirements very well. It is written for the
    non-technical reader, but is far from trivial or superficial. In fact,
    some of my friends who have already studied relativity tell me that
    they finally understood the basic concepts of Einstein's work after
    reading chapter 3 in this book. So it's clearly not a superficial text.
    But Melia writes with such eloquence and clarity that even difficult
    topics are accessible. I highly recommend this book!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2004

    Great Show!

    Last week I was fortunate to hear Prof. Melia speak on the subject of his two new books, this title, and 'The Edge of Infinity,' and was so impressed I rushed out to get copies of both. I was not disappointed. Both books are very well written, and beautifully produced, with color images throughout. His style is similar to that with which he presented the subject at our amateur astronomy meeting---clear, lively, and thoughtful. I am recommending these to all my friends and relatives. They're the best astronomy books I've read in years, and am looking forward to reading more from him in the years to come!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2003

    Science Writing At Its Best

    Take an exciting and exotic topic like 'black holes' and a gifted writer like Fulvio Melia, and what do you get? A surprisingly and satisfyingly accessible book like 'The Black Hole at the Center of Our Galaxy.' At times it reads like a science fiction novel, until you realize that all of the contents are factual. It's amazing how far astronomers have come in unravelling the mystery behind arguably the most bizarre objects in the universe, and especially the supermassive black hole at the center of our own Galaxy. And Melia does a great job setting the stage and then explaining where things stand. I particularly liked chapter 3, in which he sets out in everyday terms what mass is, and how it is related to gravity. I read it twice before going on to the next. Several questions that have bothered me for years were finally answered. Read this and catch up on where science has gone in the past decade!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2003

    An Exceptional Book!

    This is Fulvio Melia's first book written for the layman and I am very impressed. It's the best book on the subject of black holes that I have ever read. I'm not an expert, but Prof. Melia made me feel like I could understand this subject like a professional scientist. In my opinion, he's the leader of a new generation of popularizers of science, in the tradition of Sagan and Hawking. This is a must read for anyone with an interest in astronomy.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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