Black Hole Image
"Something into which stuff goes and never returns."—Professor Avery Broderick - April 10, 2019
On April 10th, 2019, the University of Waterloo revealed the first image of a black hole. In what was the culmination of two decades of work by a global team, working in collaboration to interpret the images from Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Professor Avery Broderick of the University of Waterloo and associate faculty member at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, said “This first image is beautiful and a profound moment in science – it’s the first time we’ve seen the unseeable.”
In a short video released as part of a press release, Broderick described the black hole as "quite literally what you would think of when you hear the word[s] "black hole": the ultimate cosmic prison. "Something into which stuff goes and never returns."
The image relaunched an existing trope of using black holes as a superlative metaphor for people, events or ideas which are energy, money, attention or resource hungry, such that they swallow everything in their path; that are so complex and confusing as to be impenetrable (like black holes themselves); that are shrouded in obscurity, secrecy or uncertainty; or which tend towards inescapable oblivion.
- Awesome McCoolname: the massive region of space was given the name "Powehi," a Hawaiian phrase that refers to an “embellished dark source of unending creation", by Larry Kimura, a Hawaiian language professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo who was asked to name it.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: people immediately thought Powehi looks like the Eye of Sauron, the Big Bad from the Tolkien's epic fantasy tale Lord of the Rings.
- Moe Anthropomorphism: The Internet created drawings of Black Hole-chan, using the black hole's orange core as eyes.
- Political Cartoons: quick to jump on this trope were political cartoonists such as The Buffalo News cartoonist Adam Zyglis.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Averted by xkcd (of course) in this strip.
- Why We Can't Have Nice Things:
- Because of the internet, Powehi Twitter Photo Search became an instant classic. The timing and location of the release of the image coincided with ongoing Brexit discussions, leading to comparisons with the "ultimate cosmic prison".
- A "peculiar" (in an educated way of saying) group went on flames because the team that produced the image was lead by a woman. They tried to say the credit should go to a particular male because he wrote 850,000 lines of code for the 900,000-line tool that was used to process the image, despite 1) astronomy at this level is always a group effort; 2) more than one tool was used; and 3) he only wrote 68,000 lines anyway.