There’s no center to the universe, but there are edges. Black holes are literally a place where the fabric of spacetime is bent to the point of breaking, and they also break our models of how the universe works.
Because black holes are the absolute boundary between what we know and what we don’t, this is a problem that cannot be solved by astronomers, physicists, or mathematicians alone.
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It also requires philosophers and people who can bring a fresh perspective to these challenges - people who can push researchers to think differently. This interdisciplinary approach forces the brightest minds in cosmology to re-examine all of their assumptions.
Join us as we sit down with Avi Loeb, Chair of Harvard's Department of Astronomy and one of the founders of the Black Hole Initiative, to learn everything we know about black holes.
Black Holes Bring Together Brilliant Minds
Modern physics is dominated by two major theories - general relativity and quantum mechanics. By and large, these theories don’t conflict with each other. But according to general relativity, black holes create a singularity - a point in spacetime with infinite density that is completely inescapable.
And according to quantum mechanics, that’s impossible. Black holes may hold the secret to reconciling these two theories and creating a unified understanding of physics.
AVI LOEBCHAIR OF HARVARD'S DEPARTMENT OF ASTRONOMY
“Physicists are able to forecast everything that happens in the universe - outside of black holes.”
The first image of black hole M87 was a milestone in many ways.
The now-famous image was created by the Event Horizon Telescope - a group of eight radio observatories across our planet that collected radio waves for understanding the black hole’s structure.
After its collection, 5 petabytes of data, the information was physically transported to central locations - MIT Haystack Observatory in Massachusetts and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany.
Rendering the final image took more collaboration - this time, between humans and computers.
The data collected from the Event Horizon Telescope is often referred to as a song played on a piano with missing keys. We can still infer the melody because we understand music.
However this time, scientists and researchers had to make sure there was no bias in their computer’s algorithms that would skew the collected data to fulfill expectations of what black holes should look like.
More Than a 5-Petabyte Image
Black holes represent a moment when our universe ends and folds back upon itself - literally a margin of spacetime - where relativity and quantum physics collide, where our models and theories all break in their own single understanding.
Back here on earth, black holes do something similar - they bring people together from different disciplines to create collisions of thought.
Avi LoebChair of Harvard's Department of Astronomy
“Perhaps the collaboration of people from different disciplines will allow us to resolve some of these puzzles.”
Cross-disciplinary dialogue isn’t always easy, but the Black Hole Initiative has led to a number of collaborations - not the least of these is the image itself.
Creating the first black hole image was an important milestone. But in many ways, the true value of the project lies in how it created an opportunity for researchers to change the way they explore the world as individuals and enabled them to work together to find the unlimited possibility of collaboration.