April 13, 2019
WE devote a great deal of our time and energy on these pages to inform, educate, and in some ways, provide viewpoints that we hope will guide the Filipino people and their leaders to cultivate the best interests of the country.
It can seem at times that news that is most important to our daily life is about conflict — conflict between political forces within the country, conflict with other nations’ interests, conflict between peace and order and crime and chaos, and conflict between ourselves and forces of nature that threaten our safety and livelihoods.
There are rare times, however, when we are reminded that for all our differences, mankind is capable of amazing displays of transcendent cooperation and astonishing achievement. Such a reminder came earlier this week when an international team of scientists revealed the first-ever photograph of a black hole.
Until now, a black hole was an idea, an object predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity more than a century ago, and a staple of science fiction stories. A black hole, according to Einstein, is a massive star that has collapsed so completely that it has become a “singularity” – an infinitely small point where the entire enormous mass of the star is concentrated, which creates gravity so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape it.
The reason why the idea of a “black hole” is important to our everyday lives is that it makes our current knowledge of the universe and how it works possible. Without Einstein’s theory, we would not understand how gravity works, and might not have been able to develop things we now take for granted, such as artificial satellites.
Scientists have long been confident that the theory is correct, but as long as it remained a theory, proved by mathematics and not real-life observation, there was always the chance of discovering that what we thought we knew was not correct at all. Actually seeing a black hole, however, seemed nearly impossible: From our tiny planet, how can we find what would appear to us to be a small black spot of nothingness in the vastness of space?
By stretching the limits of human ingenuity in a global team effort that ignores borders and political differences, that’s how. Using something called the Event Horizon Telescope and more computing power that has ever been assembled for a single purpose, a coordinated team of scientists from around the world — including scientists from our Asean neighbors Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia — photographed the enormous black hole that lies at the center of the M87 galaxy, 55 million light years from Earth.
To do this, they had to create a “camera” almost the size of our whole planet; the Event Horizon is actually eight massive radio telescope arrays located in Hawaii, Mexico, Arizona, Spain, Chile and Antarctica, all working together. If the Event Horizon Telescope was an actual camera, one would be able to use it to read a newspaper in New York from a sidewalk in Paris.
The lesson in all this is that when we, as people, set aside our differences and find a common goal, we can achieve incredible things. On Monday, our knowledge of the universe, of what we consider “reality,” was based on theory; by Tuesday afternoon, it was based on fact, and whole new realms of study and ways to improve our knowledge and our lives were opened to us.
In a world that so often seems at odds with itself, it is a message of encouragement that we need, and should all take a moment to appreciate.
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