• Humble Pie? Scientists Say It Can’t Be … But There It Is!

    Surge Summary: The discovery of a “monster” black hole has got astrophysical experts reconsidering their previous thinking about the phenomenon. It’s a development that seems to occur among the various sciences on a regular basis – because human beings really don’t know it all.

    Try to imagine: a cosmic black hole, 70 times the mass of earth’s sun.

    Experts have said previously that imagining is the best you’ll be able to do, because such a phenomenon is unlikely — and yet, in a jarring example of reality careening into cherished theories, there it is.

    Neal Colgrass/Newser writes:

    A group of Chinese-led scientists have spotted this “monster” black hole some 15,000 light-years away and dubbed it LB-1, the Washington Post reports. “Black holes of such mass should not even exist in our galaxy, according to most of the current models of stellar evolution,” lead scientist Liu Jifeng says in a press release. “…Now theorists will have to take up the challenge of explaining its formation.”

    The contemporary understanding of how black holes are formed in the first place is the source of that challenge: NASA explains the mysterious regions are formed

    when big stars expire in a supernova blast that collapses under the force of gravity. The gravitational pull gets so strong that nothing can escape, even light.

    That said, here’s the problem with this latest discovery:

    LB-1 seems too massive to be created by a single star—after all, our galaxy’s other stellar black holes have just five to 20 times the sun’s mass. (That’s unlike supermassive black holes, usually at the heart of galaxies, which are way, way, heavier.) Maybe LB-1 was created by two black holes that later captured a star? Or by a “fallback supernova”—a thus-far theoretical notion—in which a dying star ejects only some matter, which falls back in, making a heavier black hole? Both seem possible.

    The author mentions a “theoretical notion”. Doesn’t that point to an even broader difficulty? Seems like, as time marches onward, human beings are regularly reminded that so much of the “experts’” reasoning turns out to be mere theory – often shot down as new information arises. Nothing wrong with theorizing, mind you – until that theorizing forms the basis of absolutist insistences which out “betters” want to arrogantly impose on everyone else, reordering our society, overthrowing long-held and valued ideals.

    Another exciting element is that LB-1 was detected with telescopes, a fairly new way of spotting black holes. All told, a scientist says, the find helps point “towards a renaissance in our understanding of black hole astrophysics.”

    (Meanwhile, there might be an invisible “fifth force” in nature.)

    Yes, a “renaissance in our understanding”. It’s periodically needed, it seems, because we don’t have all the answers, our knowledge is ever growing and, as Ronald Reagan quipped a few decades past, we “know so much that isn’t so.

    So by all means we must keep searching, theorizing, correcting errant notions and developing new ones, expanding our information base. And please, through it all, keeping in mind that science, while extraordinarily valuable, has its limits, because people have their limits.

    As National Review’s Kevin Williamson penned recently, “[E]ach of us, possessed of the knowledge of his own nearly boundless ignorance (how many things do you really know about?), ought to have a little modesty and a little humility.”

    To be sure, through all our searchings and findings, a dose of humility; please.

    If we forget that last suggestion, there are always discoveries out there — like this mega-black hole — ready to crash our know-it-all party and urge us reconsider.

    H/T: Neal Colgrass/Newser

    Image: By NASA/CXC/M.Weiss – http://www.sun.org/images/black-hole-cygnus-x-1, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27481945

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