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Black Holes: An Introductory Resource List

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by Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College)
Version 3; December 2009

copyright 2009 by Andrew Fraknoi. Permission to reproduce for any non-profit, educational purpose is hereby granted. To use for any other purpose, please contact the author at: fraknoi {at} fhda {dot} edu.

Among the most fascinating objects that astronomers today can study are the bizarre, collapsed corpses of massive stars that have come to be called black holes. Around these incredibly dense star-remnants, gravity becomes so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape. In the last few decades, new instruments in space have enabled astronomers to detect the presence of black holes for the first time. Being black and very small, these objects are hard to "see" directly, but we can sometimes find them by watching them "eat". Smaller black holes are found when they are caught having their companion stars for lunch. At the centers of large galaxies, much larger black holes are often seen consuming their "neighborhood", pulling in large quantities of gas, dust, and larger bodies. In the process, excess "food" is being spit out into vast jets extending in opposite directions, which can signal the presence of the central black hole to great distances.

Many general books and articles on astronomy include brief coverage of black holes these days. The list below is a selection of non-technical resources that you may find useful if you want to begin exploring the world of black holes in more detail.

Table of Contents:

1. Selected Introductory Books on Black Holes

2. A Few Introductory Readings on the General Theory of Relativity

3. Selected Nontechnical Articles on Stellar-mass Black Holes

4. Articles on the Super-massive Black Hole at the Center of the Milky Way Galaxy

5. Books and Articles on Super-massive Black Holes in General

6. A Few Readings on the Life and Work of Stephen Hawking

7. A Few Web Sites with Black Hole Information or Animations

8. Black Holes for Educators

9. Some Science Fiction Stories with Good Science about Black Holes

1. Selected Introductory Books on Black Holes

Al-Khalili, Jim Black Holes, Wormholes, and Time Machines. 1999, Institute of Physics Publishing. A British physicist gives a grand overview of some of the most far-out aspects of black-hole science.

Begelman, Mitchell & Rees, Martin Gravity's Fatal Attraction: Black Holes in the Universe. 1996, Scientific American Library. Nice book on the astronomical aspects of black holes. (A second edition is coming in 2010.)

Ferguson, Kitty Prisons of Light: Black Holes. 1996, Cambridge U. Press. A science writer provides a basic, non-threatening overview.

Greenstein, George Frozen Star. 1984, Freundlich Books. Eloquent introduction to the death of stars in general.

Kaufmann, William Cosmic Frontiers of General Relativity. 1977, Little Brown. For those who want more non-technical details about the different types of black holes; out of print, but well worth searching out.

Melia, Fulvio Cracking the Einstein Code: Relativity and the Birth of Black Hole Physics. 2009, U. of Chicago Press. A history of the study of black holes, and a biography of Roy Kerr, who first solved the equations that describe a rotating black hole.

Thorne, Kip Black Holes and Time Warps. 1994, W. W. Norton. The long, definitive introduction by one of the leading scientists in the field; a bit technical in places.

Wheeler, J. Craig Cosmic Catastrophes: Exploding Stars, Black Holes, and Mapping the Universe, 2nd ed. 2007, Cambridge U. Press. Well-written book has some good basic chapters on black holes.

NOTE: Former ASP President Alex Filippenko has a new DVD course entitled "Black Holes Explained" from the Teaching Company:

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