Newton Blog

« Need Extraordinary Materials? Look to Nature | Blog Home Page | Female Genitalia Are Cool, Too! »

A Sci-Fi Perspective on 'Monster' Black Holes

The universe as we know it just got a little bit denser.

Two new black holes were recently discovered by astronomers at the University of California, Berkely, and they're big. No, they're bigger than big. Wait, no, they're gargantuan. Whatever... you get the idea.

Each black hole is ten billion times the size of our Sun, with more than 9.7 billion times the mass. These mind-boggling attributes prompt amazement, surprise, and a question. If they're so big, how the heck could they have remained in concealment for so long?

This surprise can be quickly tempered after hearing a quote from the British science fiction comedy Red Dwarf:

"Well, the thing about a black hole - its main distinguishing feature -

is it's black. And the thing about space, the colour of space, your

basic space colour, is it's black. So how are you supposed to see them?"

Of course! In order to find the black holes, the Berkeley scientists didn't simply point them out through a telescope. They measured the stellar velocities of nearby objects that they could see - stars!

entirehubbleultradeepfield.jpg"The Universe is big. I mean really big."

With the discovery of these supermassive black holes, do humans need to develop a new perspective on size? Not if you ponder the finding with a "total perspective."

In Douglas Adams' acclaimed Hitchhiker's Trilogy, the Total Perspective Vortex is the most nightmarish torture to which any sentient life form can be subjected. Conveniently created using a piece of fairy cake, the Vortex is frightening in its simplicity:

When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary

glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere

in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which

says, "You are here."  

In this context, consider: These black holes are big, but when compared to the size of the ever-expanding universe, they may be no more than a pile of flotsam in a vast ocean. (This is just an estimation. It's difficult to know for sure.)

Of course - in that ocean - one of us would be no more than "a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot."