Sadly I don’t have any superpowers yet
“Small black holes are deadlier to us than big black holes, because those spaghettify you.” Heino Falcke, the researcher who, along with his team, took the first photograph of a black hole chuckles at his own choice of words. Nevertheless, this explanation at his Big Idea Talk is why I understand what he means. Contrary to my expectations, by the way. Because black holes… that’s a subject for smart people who like to solve complex mathematic formulas on blackboards. I even struggle with the average sudoku.
Falcke knows how to tell an interesting story. I don’t pretend understand everything, especially when skips a few steps every now and then, but I get the gist of it. Apparently black holes are less complicated than human beings. After all, there are only two components: mass and escape velocity. Even the core of an atom is more complex, at least in Falcke’s eyes.
For someone who just a few months ago made headlines worldwide and inadvertently created a whole new category of memes, Falcke is remarkably modest. He emphasizes that the famous photograph was the result of teamwork and that they were fortunate to get the right conditions. The only time he shows any pride is while showing a film clip for which his son composed the music.
Nevertheless, the notion of black holes remains abstract. How will something so far away ever influence my daily life? Wouldn’t it be better if we used those researchers’ talents to preserve life on earth? Falcke empathizes with that point of view, but points out that his photograph couldn’t have been taken without two centuries of scientific research. If we were to stop exploring the universe, we would rob our children of the resources with which to solve the problems of the future.
That leaves only the question of what black holes have to do with genetics. Quite a lot, because over the course of the evening we will be hit by a million space particles from black holes that can result in mutations. Of course I checked, but sadly I don’t have any superpowers yet.
Text: Regina Behoekooe
Photo: Almicheal Fraay