CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA's new $1 billion X-ray telescope, has detected a powerful black hole in our galaxy -- and the dangerous star-eater is pulling Earth, the sun and our entire solar system toward it at more than a million miles per hour!
At its current velocity, our planet will be swallowed by the black hole on August 11, 2000 -- a date that could be Doomsday for all mankind, astronomers warn.
"Once we reach the event horizon, the edge of a zone surrounding the black hole, escape will be physically impossible," explained astrophysicist Dr. Gerard Holtschein. "Our world will be sucked in by enormous gravitational forces and crushed like an empty beer can."
Black holes are gravitational fields that gobble up everything in sight, making entire star systems vanish like water going down a drain. Scientists believe they are born when a star collapses.
"The star keeps on shrinking until it is just a point in space with an infinite density," Dr. Holtschein explained. "At that point, the gravitational attraction becomes so tremendous that even light can't escape, making it invisible to the naked eye -- which is why we call it a black hole."
Over the eons, as more and more surrounding matter is sucked into a black hole, its gravitational strength steadily increases. The ultra-dense black hole recently detected near the center of our galaxy has a mass estimated to be equal to 100 billion of our suns.
"That's because it has already swallowed a vast number of stars," said Dr. Holtschein.
Scientists have known since the 1960s that our solar system is on the move and in recent years many have theorized that the powerful tug of a black hole could be responsible. But it wasn't until this summer that NASA's recently launched orbiting telescope confirmed the existence of what's been dubbed "the mother of all black holes" in the vicinity of the star Cassiopeia A.
Chandra, the world's largest and most sensitive X-ray telescope, beamed back a detailed photo of clouds swirling about a black pit of darkness -- a photo that secretive NASA officials quickly labeled "highly classified."
"Although you can't see the black hole itself, you can clearly see how matter is being drawn rapidly in -- it's actually somewhat terrifying to observe," said Dr. Holtschein, who says he was given an advance copy of a NASA report on the Chandra photo by a space agency insider.
Even though Earth is zooming toward the black hole, we have no sensation of movement because our world, the sun, the moon and all the planets of our solar system are being dragged toward the black hole at the same rate, scientists say.
But the average earthling's period of blissful ignorance will draw to a close in the coming year. Scientists paint a gloomy picture of what will occur as Earth gets closer and closer to the hole.
"First we will begin to experience strange weather patterns as the black hole exerts a more direct gravitational influence on Earth -- in fact, this may be beginning already," said Dr. Holtschein.
"The effect will create a brutal winter, massive mile-high tidal waves, killer tornadoes, earthquakes, violent thunderstorms and other natural disasters on an unprecedented scale."
These weather changes will cause droughts in many areas, resulting in worldwide famine -- likely leading to widespread regional wars over food, the scientist pointed out.
"When governments are no longer able to keep the cause of the problem secret, panic will reign in the streets and we can expect social chaos," he said.
"By the time Earth reaches the event horizon and only weeks remain, scores of false messiahs will surface to give people hope.
"The mounting gravity will steadily distort normal space-time, eventually slowing time to a dead stop.
"Finally, everything in the solar system -- including our planet and everything on it -- will be sucked into the black hole and crushed down to the size of a single infinitely small particle."
NASA officials have refused to confirm or deny the authenticity of the startling photo and report.
But some Bible scholars, told of the hush-hush NASA findings, marvel at the similarities between scientific predictions about Earth's final days and End Times prophecies found in the Bible's Book of Revelation.
"No one really knows what happens when you are swallowed up by a black hole," noted a leading Catholic theologian in Boston. "I know that many physicists theorize that matter might disappear from this universe and materialize in another one, spit out intact.
"If so, those of us who believe in the Lord and have been faithful to His teachings have nothing to fear.
"When we get to the other side, we will find ourselves in Heaven, just as the Bible says.
"As for unbelievers, they will either be destroyed in the final calamity or find themselves in Hell."