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University of Alberta

Astro 101: Black Holes

University of Alberta via Coursera


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What is a black hole? Do they really exist? How do they form? How are they related to stars? What would happen if you fell into one? How do you see a black hole if they emit no light? What’s the difference between a black hole and a really dark star? Could a particle accelerator create a black hole? Can a black hole also be a worm hole or a time machine? In Astro 101: Black Holes, you will explore the concepts behind black holes. Using the theme of black holes, you will learn the basic ideas of astronomy, relativity, and quantum physics. After completing this course, you will be able to: • Describe the essential properties of black holes. • Explain recent black hole research using plain language and appropriate analogies. • Compare black holes in popular culture to modern physics to distinguish science fact from science fiction. • Describe the application of fundamental physical concepts including gravity, special and general relativity, and quantum mechanics to reported scientific observations. • Recognize different types of stars and distinguish which stars can potentially become black holes. • Differentiate types of black holes and classify each type as observed or theoretical. • Characterize formation theories associated with each type of black hole. • Identify different ways of detecting black holes, and appropriate technologies associated with each detection method. • Summarize the puzzles facing black hole researchers in modern science.


  • Introduction to Black Holes
    • Hello and welcome to the first module of Astro 101! In this module, you will become familiar with the basic structure of a black hole, learn the terminology used to describe them, and explore the history of black hole physics.
  • Life and Death of a Star
    • Stars are the progenitors of black holes. In this module the student will learn about the lifecycle of stars, how stars produce energy, and how they radiate away energy. We will explore the death of stars, and what is produced by the death of stars, on all scales ; from the building blocks of life (carbon) to black holes.
  • The Structure of Spacetime
    • What happens if you travel close to the speed of light? What happens to the passage of time as you fall towards a black hole? This module will explore relativity. We look at the many ways black holes affect the universe around them from discussions of reference frames through to the change in the passage of time as you approach a black hole.
  • Sizing Up Black Holes
    • So far discussion has focussed on either the general case for black holes, of the stellar mass variety (endpoint of a star's life). In this module students will explore the various sizes of black holes and their measurable properties. Students will learn that there are four major types of astrophysical black holes (primordial/mini black hole’s, stellar mass, intermediate mass and supermassive black holes), and discover current theories on their formation, and what might feed them. Students will also gain an knowledge of ‘no-hair’ theorem and gravitational lensing. We will also explore the formation of supermassive black holes, intermediate mass black holes, and mini black holes in particle accelerators.
  • Approaching a Black Hole
    • What would you see as you approached a black hole, using a black hole binary as a vehicle to explore black holes? In this module students will follow material as it is transferred from a companion star to a black hole via Roche lobe overflow or wind fed accretion. They will then follow that material down through the accretion disc to explore tidal forces to learn about the ways in which black holes can rip apart surrounding material. This material will then pass through the innermost stable orbit of the disc, before falling in. Students will also get the opportunity to look at jets - the outflow of material from the innermost regions of this structure. Module Objective: Introduce properties of black holes from the outside in, through the context of a journey into the event horizon of a black hole. What would we see as we are far away? What will we see and experience as we get closer? What is a disc? What is a jet?
  • Crossing the Event Horizon
    • Module Description: What would happen if you fell into a black hole? In this module students continue on their journey through a black hole binary system, from the innermost stable orbit of the accretion disc to the singularity itself. Students will learn about the structure of a basic black hole, as well as rotating black holes. Students will explore the concept of wormholes and singularities. Module Objectives: Students will learn about the innermost region around a black hole, about its lack of surface and about the presence and definition of an event horizon. Students will also explore the impact that spin can have on this region, and how it is measured. Finally they will look inside the event horizon to discover the basic concepts of singularities and wormholes.
  • Inside a Black Hole
    • What is in a black hole? This module will start to explore the theoretical side of black hole physics. You will receive a basic introduction to relevant topics of Quantum Mechanics and thermodynamics with the aim of understanding current black hole debates among the giants of the field.
  • Hunting for Black Holes
    • If black holes absorb all light, how do we see them? In this module, you will explore how astronomers observe real black holes, from studies of accretion discs and jets to the study of material orbiting a black hole.
  • Our Eyes in the Skies
    • Black holes change over time. This module will focus on how and why black holes change as well as how we look for these changes.
  • Riding the Gravity Wave
    • How do you study a black hole that has no visible companion? In this module the student will be introduced to gravitational radiation. With the 2016 LIGO discovery of gravitational waves, a whole new branch of astronomy has been opened.

Taught by

Sharon Morsink


4.7 rating, based on 9 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 1060 ratings

Start your review of Astro 101: Black Holes

  • This is another extraordinary class from the University of Alberta. I have become a big fan of the University of Alberta! All classes from the University of Alberta that I have taken are of very high quality and also very engaging. I took this…
  • I didn't know the real science behind black holes and getting deeper into the research that's been done in this field is just amazing. The course provides all the theory and basic formulas to understand this massive astronomical objects without being too complicated, so it's easy to follow the videos even if you don't have previous knowledge in physics (actually, this is a good starting course on physics as well). I'm a big fan of University of Alberta and their professors! I can't emphasize enough how worthwhile is taking this course to get a better understanding of this ever growing research field.
  • Well made course with animations to help explanations of general and special relativity, gravitational waves and other tricky concepts. Some formulae were explained, but were generally not needed for the quizzes.
    The quizzes were excellent, with challenging questions that tested how much we understood of the course material each week.
  • Arnaud Dion
    This is an easy course to begin in astronomy. There is no computation or complex formulas. The notions are clearly explain in plain languages with funny animations. Taking this course, you won't become an astronomer or astrophysicist, that's obviously not the objective. But you'll understand a bit more what is around us.
  • I'm a huge fan of Uni of Alberta courses, since they are always so cleverly designed, along with great videos and course materials. This was no exception. It's a new course, but it deals with the currently hottest topic since the picture of a black hole. You'll learn the basics, and slowly go over more complicated maths and physics, but I believe everybody with high school mathematics should be able to follow most of it, there is no calculus so far, or difficult calculations. But theoretical concepts are advanced, even though they are lectured clearly and concisely, with nice expert interviews as well. It's a big course, but worth your while.
  • Anonymous
    Great graphics, excellent science fiction references and comparisons, and appropriate instructors. All 4 of instructors in the videos are extremely enthusiastic nerds, but I wouldn't want it any other way. Content has just the right amount of Math.

    I liked the guest interviews.
  • Anonymous
    Fantastic Course! It was very interested and presented very well. This is a very well constructed course and I would recommend it to anyone looking to know about Black Holes!
  • Anonymous
    This course is the course about the black holes and if you are a tad bit interested about knowing on a high level this is the way to go.
  • Anonymous
    Very interesting and well designed. The videos are high quality, and if you watch all of them and pay attention, the questions are very achievable.

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