World first image of black hole revealed
What does it show about the master of the universe?
The first ever photo of a black hole has been released by scientists working with the Event Horizon Telescope. Yes, that’s a big, big, big deal.
Actually, it’s not a photo of a black hole itself. That would be impossible because the gravitational force of a black hole, created by a collapsing star, is so strong that it allows no light to escape.
The photo is of a supermassive black hole
But the image we have is nearly as amazing.
Yesterday’s announcement appeared in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, and the image is of a black hole event horizon. If you have seen the movie Interstellar you will remember that the event horizon is the edge of a black hole – the boundary where all matter and all light are sucked into the black hole by its incredible gravitational pull.
The image was seven years in the making and required the cooperation of telescopes around the world and a team of more than 200 researchers.
This particular black hole is at the centre of a “nearby” galaxy known as M87, which is 55 million light years from Earth. That is to say, it has taken the light in the photo 55 million years to cross the distance from the black hole to Earth.
The photo is of a supermassive black hole, which was likely formed by the merger of hundreds or even thousands of smaller black holes at the incredibly dense centre of its galaxy. It gives insight into the smaller supermassive black hole at the centre of our own Milky Way galaxy, Sagittarius A*, which is also a target of the Event Horizon Telescope. Many had expected it would be the focus of today’s announcement.
But the photo of the black hole, even though it is not Sagittarius A*, is big news. It was not all that long ago that the existence of black holes, first predicted by physicist Albert Einstein in 1916, was doubted. This came to an end with the discovery of the first actual black hole in 1971.
Many more have since been found but, until now, we were not able to see them. We were only able to detect them by the gravitational influence they had on nearby stars.
What does this mean for those who confess faith in God who created all things?
The Event Horizon Telescope image is also confirmation of much that we felt we knew about black holes, and the photo is strikingly similar to previous artists’ impressions (based upon the unfolding science of black holes).
As you gaze at this world-first image, your question might well be: What does this mean for those who confess faith in God who created all things?
For starters, it is a reminder of the amazing complexity of the universe that God created. The fact that black holes exist and that we cannot see inside them because no light escapes, reminds us there will always be mystery in God’s creation – and in God himself.
Also, it is worth pondering that the most powerful physical force known to exist – the gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole – is also sustained by the hand of God.
In the words of the popular worship song, what an awesome God!
Rev. Dr Mark Worthing is a fellow of ISCAST–Christians in Science. He is a Lutheran pastor and theologian, with doctorates in theology and the history and philosophy of science.
Rev. Dr Chris Mulherin is Executive Director of ISCAST –Christians in Science.