Unimaginable yet true by Bill Kirton

Amongst all the tedium of enforced incarceration and the mind-bending incompetence - not to say criminality - of leaders in the UK and USA, I prefer to consider alternative perspectives on reality. For example, Simona Giacintucci, of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC, and some colleagues there and in other places, have told us all about the biggest cosmic explosion ever detected. Apparently, according to the Guardian’s report of it, this was ‘an event so powerful that it punched a dent the size of 15 Milky Ways in the surrounding space’.


Now, first – to break off from the report for a moment – how can you ‘punch a dent’ in space? I’m not being flippant but to my tiny mind ‘space’ means emptiness. Nothing. So the concept of there being another type of space, i.e. a hole in something that’s already nothing, is, to put it simply, elusive.

But that’s not all. This all began at ‘a supermassive black hole in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster’ and, for those, like me, who have no idea what ‘galaxy clusters’ are, they’re ‘among the largest structures in the universe, containing thousands of individual galaxies, dark matter and hot gas’.

And there’s more…

In the middle of this Ophiuchus cluster there’s ‘a large galaxy that contains a supermassive black hole with a mass equivalent to 10m suns’, and we all know that even baby black holes are pretty ferocious things.

These ‘truths’ accrete…

The Ophiuchus cluster is about 390 million light years from Earth (which, to translate again into terms I can almost understand is 390 times 6 trillion miles).

We’ll skip the bit about plasma gathering around the black hole and some of it escaping in jets blasted out in beams close to the speed of light…

…and jump instead to Maxim Markevitch, of Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center who, to keep us lesser mortals informed, says it’s like ‘a stream of air travelling down a drinking straw and then turning into a bubble at the end of the straw’.

Needless to say, this all happened a long time ago. The first we saw anything of it from here was in 2016 but, back then, we didn’t think it could be an explosion because of the levels of power needed to create such a thing.

Today, though, a blink of an eye later, the combined observations of several advanced optical and radio devices around the world have confirmed that it did happen, unleashing a level of energy five times greater than the previous record holder and hundreds and thousands of times greater than typical clusters.

No need to panic, though, because it all happened several hundred million years ago, and nothing dramatic’s going on there at the moment.

But what led me to write this blog is not my apparent trivialisation of the event for entertainment purposes, nor, indeed, the enormity of it all. No, what impressed me most was that it was all observed, interpreted, even explained by some of our fellow humans. The unimaginable distances, forces, elements, substances involved were processed and made accessible to us by the minds of people. So our species does have some remarkable, and potentially miraculous qualities.

Why, then, do we continue to perpetrate such horrendous crimes against this tiny habitat we share with many others, and why on earth do we elect such ‘leaders’?


Umberto Tosi said…
Well, that puts things in perspective, Bill - a welcome relief from the drumbeat of dour political news. Thank you!
And WOW! "A dent the size of 15 galaxies."
Let's hope that Ophiuchus has good insurance!
Jan Needle said…
Sorry to go back to Umberto's drumbeat of dour political news, Bill, but 'we all know that even baby black holes are pretty ferocious things.
These ‘truths’ accrete…'

I can't help thinking, as a fully paid-up pessimist, of the baby black hole that's running our show now.

I'll get me coat.
Bill Kirton said…
Thanks, both. And, Jan, don't get your coat, we need you (to finish your Shakespeare volume if nothing else.)
Sandra Horn said…
Oh 'eck. That's blown the black hole in my brain to smithereens - or can't a black hole be blown to smithereens, being already -um - a black hole? I can't cope. (Goes off muttering and mumbling and shaking head as if to dislodge smithereens)ps I failed physics at achool...
Jan Needle said…
Bill, I fear WS is in deadly danger. Lear's Fool has just stolen his motorbike on a beach in Dover. Whatever next for the poor young wight?
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Bill, what timing! I just read today the European Southern Observatory announced astronomers have discovered the closest-known black hole to Earth, roughly 1,000 light-years away.

It's part of a star system known as HR 6819, and the gravity pull is so strong that the black hole is invisible, which I thought was an odd statement -- as how can you see a hole unless it is surrounded by something to define the space ... similar to your "how can you ‘punch a dent’ in space?"

Agree with Jan , maybe these black holes are metaphors for the current political state of the world, heh.


Bill Kirton said…
So, basically, Sandra, it's your fault.
And Jan, to resolve that conundrum, may I suggest a thorough exegesis of the only play in the canon set in Minnesota.
Bill Kirton said…
Hi Eden. thanks for your contribution. Yes, I saw the report you mention. Serendipity, eh?
Jan Needle said…
Bill - you wha'?!!!
julia jones said…
but doesn't the poor quality of elected 'leaders' also say something about the people who elect them and the unappealing nature of the job - which no sensible person would want to do anyway? And also just the plain ineffectiveness and inefficiency of the administrators. I am far more angry with Public Health England than with Matt Hancock who merely looks like the fall guy.

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