A black hole is a region of space in which the gravitational field is so powerful that nothing can escape after having fallen past the event horizon. The name comes from the fact that even electromagnetic radiation (e.g. light) is unable to escape, rendering the interior invisible. However, black holes can be detected if they interact with matter outside the event horizon, for example by drawing in gas from an orbiting star. The gas spirals inward, heating up to very high temperatures and emitting large amounts of radiation in the process.
While the idea of an object with gravity strong enough to prevent light from escaping was proposed in the 18th century, black holes as presently understood are described by Einstein's theory of general relativity, developed in 1916. This theory predicts that when a large enough amount of mass is present within a sufficiently small region of space, all paths through space are warped inwards towards the center of the volume, forcing all matter and radiation to fall inward.
While general relativity describes a black hole as a region of empty space with a pointlike singularity at the center and an event horizon at the outer edge, the description changes when the effects of quantum mechanics are taken into account. Research on this subject indicates that, rather than holding captured matter forever, black holes may slowly leak a form of thermal energy called Hawking radiation.
However, the final, correct description of black holes, requiring a theory of quantum gravity, is unknown