The first time I wrote about black holes was in 2010. This and many other thoughts went through my mind when I read yesterday about a major, seemingly inconceivable breakthrough regarding the first photo of a black hole. The author of this MIT Technology Review story said something remarkable which I will comment on at the end of that piece I’d written called More Mysteries of the Universe.
More Mysteries of the Universe
When I wrote about A Unified Theory of Everything, I mentioned that I’ve been listening to The Compleat Idiot’s Guide to String Theory. If nothing else, books like this are a good reminder of how little we know about the universe we inhabit. It’s humbling. But the mental stimulation is fun, too.
For example, what if at its basic essence the universe is digital and everything is simply binary code? And what if this code were being stored on a hard drive somewhere, and backup copies of the code were being stored on backup drives? And what if we were living in a universe that had been stored on a backup with a corrupted drive? This might explain why so many things seem so messed up. This could also explain the feeling that there are parallel universes.
No, that wasn’t in the book. But there are a lot of things here that are hard to get your head around. Like black holes. Or the idea that the universe is expanding and actually has an outer edge. This concept is just too much.
Einstein’s efforts to explain everything kept running into mysteries like black holes. And what is dark matter?
How do scientists come up with this stuff? Here’s an explanation from the superstring theory website:
According to estimates of how much mass would actually be needed to keep the average galaxy from flying apart, it is now widely believed by physicists and astronomers that most of the matter in the Universe is invisible. This matter is called dark matter, and it’s important for cosmology.
If there is dark matter, then what could it be made of? If it were made of quarks like ordinary matter, then in the early Universe, more helium and deuterium would have been produced than could exist in the Universe today.
It amazes me how scientists can talk so authoritatively about such esoteric knowledge.
One section of the book was throwing around numbers about the size of the Universe. This in itself escapes comprehension. If light travels 186,000 miles per second, think how far it goes in a year? Now imagine 47 billion light years. Sounds pretty far out, doesn’t it? If you traveled halfway to the end of everything, you might start feeling pretty lonely out there.
The Milky Way alone is but one whirling galaxy of 100 billion or more stars and there are more galaxies out beyond this than we can count. Current estimates hover around 10 Catiline, or 10 trillion billion, give or take a few. And all of it is in motion, even though those stars we see can seem pretty fixed from where we sit, moving so fast away from one another that every one of them is exceeding the speed limit.
Mix in questions about quantum gravity, 6-dimensional Calabi-Yau space, brane collisions, Ekpyrotic Theory and the Big Splat, spacetime, event horizons and supersymmetry and what is going on here?
SO THEY’VE CAPTURED A PHOTO of a Black Hole. It’s located in a galaxy 53 million lights years from earth. To capture it required a new kind of telescope that is as big as the earth. To get a sense of what this event horizon telescope is, you will have to read the article.
What struck me, however was the following statement by Michael Kramer of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy: “History books will be divided into the time before the image and after the image.”
Really? As I read this, I couldn’t help but stop and say to myself, “What kind of event would it take to be so disruptive as to have all history perceive this as a Before and After event?”
Naturally my mind flew to the beginning of Christianity.
We’ve all growth up with a historical time demarcation of B.C. and A.D. but how much thought have we given to it? For the record, A.D. does not mean “After Death.” Its origin is the Latin phrase “Anno Domini,” which means “in the year of our Lord.” In other words, it is referencing the birth of Christ, once a central feature of Western Civilization.
Can a photo of a Black Hole be so significant that we change the way we denote time?
I will quickly add that I do find these findings of modern science to be quite astonishing… Black Holes, Dark Matter and the like. And then there is us? Ultimately one must ask, what does it all mean? And how do I fit into this picture?
If you didn’t jump over to the article when I linked to it above, you really should go check out the photo. Definitely a first for astronomy. As for what it all means, I will leave that for you to decide.