Sun 22 September 2019

Katie Bouman, the woman who created the algorithm to prove Einstein’s theorem, has given Otto English a breath of Brexit relief

There was excitement this week, as scientists belonging to the Event Horizon Telescope project released the first recorded image of a black hole. Sitting at the heart of the Messier 87 galaxy 55 million light years from Earth – the phenomenon – one of the most perplexing mysteries of our universe was located using a network of eight giant telescopes spanning the planet.

The picture, taken over five days of observation in April 2017 is the first ever taken of a black hole. Scientists had long known they were out there, but actually finding and photographing one proved extremely difficult.

The reason for that is perhaps self-evident.

One of the inherent problems with looking for black holes is that they are – ‘black holes’ and thus nearly impossible to detect. As they neither reflect, nor gather light searching for them has been compared to trying to photograph an orange on the moon – with a smartphone. Or searching for a golf ball at the bottom of the sea.

The lacklustre political ferrets trying to deliver Leave have created their own mini event horizon.

But science prevailed. Thanks to funding from the European Research Agency and the pooled efforts of experts, researchers, observatories and an algorithm created by scientist Katie Bouman – we have seen what Einstein could only theorise.

Black holes – foreboding, enigmatic, beautiful – exist and in all probability sit at the centre of every galaxy – sucking light and matter into the vortex – as they toy with the very nature of time.

Too Much F*cking Perspective

Meanwhile, on a cluster of rocks, on a planet circling a mid-sized star on the outer reaches of a spiral arm of the Milky Way a group of beings, living out their fleeting moment in time are engaged in an on-going quarrel over whether their passports should be blue and who owns the fish that swim nearby.

No one nation or observatory could have found the black hole in Messier 87

There’s a moment in the wonderful faux rockumentary Spinal Tap, where the band – standing in front of Elvis Presley’s grave conclude that his death ‘puts perspective on things’.

“Too much f*cking perspective” one of the characters fires back.

And as I read about black holes and the process of obtaining this incredible picture while the Brexit catastrophe played out in the background, that is precisely how I felt.

Human beings are capable of such extraordinary feats. Our species has developed the means to look beyond our planet into the vast chasm of space in the search for mysteries we know are there – but cannot see. Others are able to create the means to search them out – despite their near invisibility.

No one nation or observatory could have found the black hole in Messier 87. To take the picture we had to turn our entire planet into one enormous telescope – a giant collective eye that could look beyond the confines of our Earth – through time and space.

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That photograph – grainy as it might be – is the very best of our species.

The diminutive state of British politics sits at the other end of human endeavour – but if that depresses you – be comforted. For there are at least similarities with the black hole. After all, the lacklustre political ferrets trying to deliver Leave have created their own mini event horizon. The country has in time – frozen on the limits of the Brexit black hole. As all of the important stuff of life, politics, the needs of the people and the very nation itself swirls about, Britain risks plunging into the vortex.

Perhaps those engaged in this on-going political squabble would do well to look up occasionally – and give it some f*cking perspective.

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