Getting a snap of a black hole
Photographing Sagittarius A in the Milky Way is no simple job — and two South Africans played a role
The first pictures ever taken of Sagittarius A, the so-called black hole lying 27,000 light years from Earth at the centre of the Milky Way, provide the lowest of low-hanging fruit for lazy comedians and satirists everywhere.
A black hole, according to the Oxford English dictionary, is a region in space which has a gravitational field of such intensity that no matter or radiation can escape it. In slang terms it is a great abyss or void into which vast sums of money are poured, never to be seen again.
In reality, the phenomenon is not a hole but rather the single point, known as the singularity, where all the matter of a collapsing star is concentrated.
The pictures would not have been possible without using an event horizon telescope comprising, in this case, eight existing radio observatories around the world. In astrophysics, an event horizon is the point at the edge of the void where the gravitational forces are so intense that no physical or mechanical forces can overcome it.
“Anything that passes this point will be swallowed by the void and forever vanish from our known universe,” says scitechdaily.com.
SA, of course, manages to disprove the laws of physics. Take SAA for example. The airline long ago flew over its own event horizon, sucking in billions of rand in bailouts, handouts and the odd down-and-out executive after it. Yet it has not vanished from the known universe. It’s a miracle that the 300 researchers from 80 of the world’s leading research institutes would be unable to explain.
Other SA state-owned entities appear to be at the edge of their own personal event horizons. Prasa is one and Denel is another.
If that seems too depressingly earthbound, then take solace in the fact that in the same week that we hear that our weather service is on the brink of collapse, there are two SA astrophysicists on the team that brought the Sagittarius A discovery to us, Dr Iniyan Natarajan and Prof Roger Deane. And that is what matters.
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