What do you call a black hole? Anything you want, the old joke goes, as long as you don’t call it late for lunch. Black holes, after all, are nothing but food cravings.
But what do you call a collection of black holes? The question has taken a tumult among astronomers inspired by the recent news of dozens of black holes buzzing around the center of a nearby cluster of stars.
Over the past few years, instruments such as the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave detectors have recorded space-time vibrations of black hole collisions, making it clear beyond doubt that these monotonous concentrations of nothing exist only is ubiquitous. Astronomers predict that a large number of these Einsteinian creatures will be used when the next generation of gravitational wave antennas are in use. What will they call?
There are gaggles of geese, whale pods and crows kills. What term would do justice to the peculiarity of black holes? Mass? Colander? Scream?
Jocelyn Kelly Holley-Bockelmann, an astrophysicist at Vanderbilt University, and colleagues are developing an international project called Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, or LISA, that will be able to detect collisions between black holes of all sizes throughout the universe. She was trying to hold a Zoom meeting of the group recently “when one of the members said that his daughter was wondering what you call a collection of black holes – and then the meeting fell apart , with everyone trying to lift each other up, ”he said. by email. “Every time I saw a hint, I had to stop and giggle like a loon, which saddened us all the more.”
The question was crowds on Twitter recently as part of what NASA has begun to call black hole week (April 12-16). Among the large number of candidates so far: Crunch. A mosh pit. Silence. Brecknock. A hive. Enigma. Or my favorite for his association with my youth: the Albert Hall of black holes.
The number of known black holes will only increase. LISA will be able to detect so-called primordial black holes, if any, from the early moments of the Big Bang, as well as more recent ones, essentially introducing “black hole smorgasbord to researchers,” Dr. Holly -Bockelmann said. The antenna will not fly until 2034, he added, “so it’s time to find out the term if and when we need it!” The International Astronomical Union, which regulates cosmic names, has no rules on “co-ops,” he added, so it is up to the people to decide.
Dr. Holly-Bockelmann, among her personal choices, was a black hole “void”. ”My own candidate is a” disaster “of black holes, as the word disaster is rooted in Latin” astro “- star – and, later, the Italian term for” starless. “
The previous week of black holes was in the fall of 2019, when NASA replayed some of the cosmic news that sounds more terrifying, including black holes exploding, stargazing or preparing to eat their neighborhoods. Now, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, black holes offer respite and reminders of how small and fleeting our own troubles are in the grandest plan. Black holes have become cat videos of astronomy.
So last week, NASA introduced another smorgasbord of black hole news and public service announcements, such as this animated video from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
You can’t ride into a black hole, of course, but two years ago astronomers provided the next best thing: the first ever image of one. The supermassive black hole – worth 6.5 billion suns of mass has disappeared – is in the center of the galaxy Messier 87.
The image was taken by a global network of radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope in April 2017. Last month, the Event Horizon team refined that image to show the vortex of magnetic fields that stream gas and energy across the space is almost the speed of light.
But there’s more. While that first image of 2017 was taken, a further 19 space and ground-level observatories collectively studied this M87 energy jet. Their data has now been published along with video of the jet as seen in different types of light and at different scales, from the black hole’s closest dimensions to intergalactic space.
The results, say astronomers, would help explain how black holes work their violent magic, further test Einstein’s theory predictions of universal relativity and perhaps shed light on the origin of cosmic rays.
For its part, the Event Horizon team has just concluded a new series of observations of the black holes – in M87, in the center of our own galaxy and elsewhere – said Shep Doeleman, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and director set up the joint telescope.
“Every day we gather at 2 pm EDT to review all the weather and preparedness on the sites, then make the call,” said Dr. Doeleman in an email. “Sometimes it’s a piece of cake: good weather, everybody’s ready. Or, just as clearly, the weather at key sites is terrible or there is a major technical issue to bring to an end. Some of the time it is pure distress. ”
If you don’t have a rocket or telescope, there are new ones to read about black holes. Charles Hawife’s “Hawking Hawking: The Selling of a Scientific Celebrity,” is an unadorned look at cosmologist and black hole expert Stephen Hawking, who died in 2018. The book, full of reports for innovative developments Hawking and his life. (and written in chronological order to the contrary), trying to separate the man and his science from the Einstein-like aura that allowed him to envelop his public persona.
And “Black Hole Survival Guide,” by Janna Levin, an astrophysicist at Columbia University’s Barnard College, and illustrated by artist Lia Halloran, is a pocket-sized tone poem for this cosmic curiosity.
“Black holes are nothing,” the opening line reads. At the end, Dr. Levin considers the possibility that the Earth and whatever remains on it will eventually collapse into the black hole in the middle of the Milky Way.
“That’s where our data, our scrap of quantum information, could end up,” she writes. “Everything will wash down the central vortex, flashing spectacularly bright, the last desperate bursts of concentrated light in the cosmos, until it all disappears in a dark, dark storm in space.”
And we might as well call the whole universe a graveyard of black holes. Smorgasbord of screams – just another black hole week.