Black holes and a clever trick

Over a year ago, last April, astronomers made history (as they always do, of course) when they managed to take the first ever photo of a black hole. Not just any black hole, but the supermassive black hole located at the center of Messier 87, a massive elliptical galaxy located in the Virgo Cluster over 50 million light years away. This link, which I will post at the end of my spiel, goes over just how exactly we pulled off such an astonishing feat.

In short, we linked together telescopes from all over the world, essentially creating a telescope the size of the earth, all synchronized towards one particular object, in this case, the black hole at the center of M87. This technique is known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry, or VLBI for short. Yes, astronomers aren’t very creative with their naming scheme.

The supermassive black hole located at the center of M87 is over a thousand times the mass of the black hole at the center of our own galaxy, Sagitarrius A*, which is 4 million solar masses, versus the 6 billion solar masses of M87’s supermassive black hole. M87 was chosen both for its size, and for the fact that it is an active black hole, unlike our own.

The odds of successfully pulling this off were incredibly low, but we succeeded, almost as if it was an act of divine providence that we would actually pull this off. I’ll leave the question of whether it was or not to the theologians, of course. Besides setting history for taking the first photo of an actual black hole ever, this event is also important cause it further confirms Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Those looking for answers regarding quantum gravity and how to successfully reconcile the disagreements between the Standard Model and relativity will have to wait their turn for now, alas.

As promised, here’s the link:

https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/news/2019/4/19/how-scientists-captured-the-first-image-of-a-black-hole/

“Why is there anything at all?”

I must admit I’ve been bothered by the fact that we ultimately cannot find a satisfactory answer for why something like existence itself, well, exists. We now know the Big Bang (probably) wasn’t the origin of everything, and that the current stage of the universe we find ourselves in is just the latest stage of an eternally evolving universe that may very well be part of a larger multiverse, but where did that come from?

“Everything must have a cause” according to Leibniz’s “Principle of Sufficient Reason,” and yet all the causes offered up so far, from God to random quantum fluctuations, don’t give a satisfactory answer. It’s been suggested that this ultimate question of metaphysics is the philosophical equivalent of attempting to square the circle, but I cannot find myself accepting that. There has to be some sort of answer, and this is the territory that allows theism (or at the very least deism) to subtly creep back in, the ultimate god of the gaps that may very well never be shaken out of its hiding spot.

The idea that there exists things humanity will never even hope to comprehend is something far more suitable for Lovecraft’s universe than the scientifically enlightened (for a given value of “enlightened”) one we find ourselves in, and the fact this may very well be true is what disturbs me on a fundamental level. I am afraid I cannot give a satisfactory answer to this, and nor can anyone else. I am sorry.

Gravity

Gravity, what is it? No one knows exactly *what* gravity is. We can predict its behaviors but not much else, because even relativity’s only an incomplete view. We don’t know exactly what the essence of gravity is, nor the answer to other conundrums like why gravity is so weak compared to the other three forces, and to be frank, speculation aside, we may never know the answer to this haunting riddle, the riddle that has haunted scientists since the days of Galileo and Newton, what is gravity?

This video by the excellent as always John Michael Godier elaborates more on this subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MA7jLKnQ4c

I highly recommend it.