Connecting Spirituality with Reason: How Science and Spirituality Align
Seeing the Unseeable.
When I got up on April 10th, 2019, the first thing on my news feed was a live press conference from the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC, where the very first photograph ever of a black hole was being released to the public. This gathering was one of six events held simultaneously around the planet.
The director of the project, astronomer Shep Doeleman, announced, “We have seen what we thought was unseeable” — a picture of a black hole from the center of a galaxy in the Virgo constellation called M87.
When we look at this object located some 55 million light-years away, we are looking back in time — that’s 55 million years ago — at something that was (is?) larger than our entire solar system, an object which before now was only theoretical.
This wondrous image was the result of the years-long international collaboration of 200 scientists working with eight radio telescopes placed around the globe — all linked together to comprise The Event Horizon Telescope, a telescope the size of the Earth itself.
The one week in April 2017 when the weather was perfect at all eight locations and everything went just right, synchronized by atomic clocks, the billions of gigabytes of data collected could finally be assembled into this remarkable picture.
The existence of black holes was first put forth in the 18th century by British clergyman and natural philosopher John Michell, who called them “dark stars.” But his idea wasn’t considered as anything more than a mathematical curiosity until the 20th century, well after Albert Einstein formulated his theory of relativity. The term black hole was coined in 1968 by American physicist John Wheeler.
It often takes a very long time for big ideas to take hold in the human imagination. For instance, our eyes tell us that the world is flat, but even 2,500 years ago the mystic mathematician Pythagoras suspected it was round. Seafarers of antiquity also deduced its globular nature. A couple of hundred years later, Greek mathematician Eratosthenes proved it, and he even determined a way to measure the Earth’s circumference. But Earth’s true spherical shape didn’t really sink in…