Black Hole Bliss: A Model of Cooperation

The news last week was filled with the beautiful image of a supermassive black hole, the first picture ever taken on one. In order to do this, it took 200 scientists, 60 institutes, and 18 countries from 6 continents in an amazing feat of cooperation for the glory of science.

Some cool facts

A few cool facts about the black hole in the Messier 87 galaxy:

It is slightly larger than our solar system. In fact, it is 100 billion kilometers wide and 6.5 billion times more massive than our sun.1

Closer black holes exist, such as the one in our own galaxy, but we didn’t choose to image them. The reason for this is that they are smaller. Although Messier 87 is outside our galaxy and inside another, its size made it easier to image. 1

We are not seeing the “black hole” because gravity is so strong at that point that not even light can escape. What we see is the light in orbit around it, the ergosphere.

At the center of the black hole everything is crushed into the smallest conceivable space, the singularity. Science doesn’t really know what goes on there, but I like call it the universe’s trash compactor.

According to Wikipedia, the galaxy that contains this black hole is no slouch on size. It is referred to as a supergiant elliptical galaxy in Virgo and one of the most massive galaxies in the universe. This makes sense when you are talking about such a massive black hole at its core.2

Messier 87 galaxy

Messier 87 galaxy

The achievement is due to the Event Horizon Telescope project using an array of observatories scattered from Hawaii to the South Pole. The information took up a petabyte of storage. I can’t even picture a terabyte in my computer so have no clue how big a petabyte is.3

The “picture,” which was formed from radio waves, was taken in April 2017. It took two years of working with the data to create the image.3

According to my “in-house” expert, this black whole contains almost all the mass of all the stars in our Milky Way galaxy, scrunched down into a volume somewhat equal to our solar system. That’s a lot more crowded than a Japanese subway during rush hour.

Science as a model of cooperation.

As cool as all these facts are, the one that I’m impressed with is that 60 institutes in 18 different countries cut through all the fame-seeking and political crap that weigh down countries themselves to pull together and create something nearly magical in its enormity. Given the current climate of isolationism and hate-mongering in America now, hearing how people reached past that for a common goal is pretty inspiring.

Fermi Telescope

Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope

Having said that, I know science, particularly physics and astronomy, has turned to big collaborations and projects because it takes massiveness to see in the depths of space or the smallest particle. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN is a fine example of a large collaboration, as was Hubble, and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

Still, science can also have competition as researchers race each other for Noble prizes and other highly sought awards. Yet scientists can come together for the greater good. People can learn to look beyond their differences and personal goals to achieve something magnificent. Countries can unite in the search of information and new frontiers in an atmosphere of the greater good.

Don’t you wish politicians could do the same?

 

 

All the information above came from these articles.

1Cooper, Brenda. (14 April 2019) “The first black hole image: what can we really see.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/apr/14/the-new-black-hole-what-can-we-really-see. Viewed 4/14/2019.

2Wikipedia (14 April 2019) “Messier 87”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messier_87 Viewed 4/14/2019.

3Drake, Nadia (10 April 2019) “First-ever picture of a black hole unveiled.” National Geographic.com. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/04/first-picture-black-hole-revealed-m87-event-horizon-telescope-astrophysics/ Viewed 4/14/2019.

 

World Building Basics

Whenever a writer creates a story, no matter if it is romance, thriller, science-fiction, fantasy, or even historical nonfiction, they engage in world building. For some genres, the world is 80% to 90% already fixed in place. After all, if the author produces a thriller about an out-of-control president trying to become dictator in 2017 America, most of the “world” is already known and accepted by the readers. The writer doesn’t worry about what the outer buildings look like, how the city/state/country operates, or even what currency is used.

However, the author still must build a “world” in terms of the president’s inner sanctum, his personal taste in clothing, his support people, and what objects, rooms, or architectures have deeper meaning in this novel. For instance, does the White House really have a Kennedy Rumpus Room (as in Mars Attacks) or a secret tunnel for sneaking out? I love watching the old show, West Wing, but figure the workrooms of the White House probably don’t really look like the show’s depiction, which were created for easy filming.

indoor fairy house side view

World building on a small craft scale. My fairy garden.

The world-building phenomenon doesn’t stop with the written word. Any avid role-playing gamer, video game developer, or even architect understands the importance of planning the big picture and the many details that go into a given place and time.

Incredulity in the Setting

Of course, the farther the story stretches away from reality and the here-and-now, the more the author must create the setting. Historical texts, science fiction, and fantasy all must include a clear and defined world that not only engages the reader but also makes sense. Sometimes making sense is the hardest part.

Readers and TV/movie viewers all have a disbelief point (called my bullshit line) where they inherently know something in a setting doesn’t work. For instance, using poultry for financial exchanges may work in a fantasy novel, but trading chickens for ship parts looks stupid in science fiction. Plus, carrying baby chicks around in space suits while experiencing zero-g is difficult and silly. The movie, Life, (reviewed in a previous blog) is a great example of crossing the bullshit line.

Common Rules of World Building

The disbelief point comes from breaking concrete rules of all worlds. Bypass those rules and the story becomes stupid/silly/terrible very quickly. Here are a few overarching principles that should never be crossed or ignored.

Science

Science is true and usually unbreakable everywhere and every when. Therefore, living things should die/freeze in space, people can’t fly without assistance, and bullets, gasoline, poisons, and magic should all work in predictable ways. This includes NOT standing near a pool of gasoline and igniting a match unless you want to lose all your body hair. The vapor is more ignitable than the pool.

Common Sense

People must wear clothes that make sense. Going around naked causes sunburns. Wearing diaphanous material in a winter wonderland is dumb even indoors. Heating costs and buildings always leak. People must also eat food and drink water daily, so going for days without any sustenance should create horrible effects.

Magic

Magic must make sense for the situation. It should have an effort cost and not act like a gun with a never-ending supply of bullets (a fault of many television shows). Don’t use it for the answer to everything. Magic should also follow scientific principles. For instance, if you put a cream pie into a “bag of constant falling,” you will decapitate yourself (or someone else) when you open the bag again since the cream pie is going at a tremendous speed. This idea came from a Dungeons and Dragons adventure with physicists (fun folks who like to get creative with their weaponry).

High Tech

Although I agree with the idea that high tech advancements become indistinguishable from magic to a primitive race, high tech must also make sense. One machine doesn’t do it all. Personally, I don’t believe in the machine-turns-to-god idea. High tech should also have a cost for using it and a possibility of breakdown.

Consistency of the Story

Any established rule of the story’s world must not be broken later, at least not without a tremendous cost. If an angry mob storms the palace because of a class system of cruelty and poverty, one man giving a speech isn’t going to stop the bloodshed. Stopping to sleep in ancient ruins should include nasty things like bugs, snakes, or mice in the overgrown areas. They don’t have to attack the characters, but the place isn’t going to be a pristine wonderland either.

Conclusion

This blog only represents the highlights of a deep and complex part of writing great stories. World building is both fascinating and daunting in its depths but critically important in that the writer must understand of the grand ideas and minutiae details of his or her world. In the coming weeks, I’ll post a number of blogs on world-building specifics along with some thoughts based on my own novels. Please feel free to add your input, ideas, or stories of the complexities of your worlds.