Last week we suggested the enigmatic and strange way NASA was gearing up to make an announcement in our cosmic neighborhood but was refusing to give any details until the press conference. As the press conference was happening live via NASA’s website I took the opportunity and tuned in. What happened next as nervous but brilliant scientists cleared their throats and prepared to reveal their discovery to the world was -to say the least- unexpected.
For the first time in the history of the space program we are seeing a stellar object transition from a star to a black hole. The object, SN 1979C is estimated to be only thirty years old, but is already making huge changes in the stellar objects around it. Why is this a big deal? Black Holes are stellar objects that will eventually consume the entire known universe given enough time. By learning how they form, scientists will learn the process our own planet will go through when our own sun undergoes the transition and swallows Earth. Though it may sound fatalistic with our current level of technology, there is no telling what we may one day be able to accomplish given several hundred thousand or even millions of years.
Perhaps if we learn how black holes are formed, we can effectively learn the facts about how they work. And it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we could even tackle the problem of galaxy swallowing black holes if we are given sufficient time to study them. And while the discovery made by the Chandra X-Ray observatory is by no means a blueprint to designing a “black hole bomb,” it certainly is a step in the direction of understanding the basic principles of how the universe around us works. And at our current stage of development the principles involved are so far beyond our understanding it would be like asking a neanderthal to design a computerized robot capable of performing open heart surgery. Though it was once beyond the realm of possibility, who can honestly say what the future holds?
And the discovery of how black holes are formed also brings us one step closer to a concrete understanding of the physics of our universe including quite possibly the greatest enigma of our time – gravity. We understand the basics of gravity in a given model, as is seen every day by Newtonian physics. But as we ask increasingly more difficult questions about it scientists have repeatedly been left scratching their heads. Though we understand the principle [Gravitational force = (G * m1 * m2) / (d2)], where G is a gravitational constant and M’s 1 and 2 are correspondingly the amount of mass in a given object and d is the distance between them, there are still vast swaths of questions that leave much to the imagination of scientists. And there is no greater Titan in physics with regard to Gravity than a super massive black hole. Such objects are said to be so powerful even light itself cannot escape its pull. And now as we see this black hole being formed we can begin to see when, how, and why that happens.
A world where mankind has mastered the enigma of gravity is one where we can hop from planet to planet choosing when we are tethered by it. Though it isn’t getting much in the way of press, it’s easy to understand why scientists were apprehensive about sharing it.