On Thursday, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration released images of the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way, Sagittarius A*. It is a direct discovery of one of the most elusive types of astronomical objects and the culmination of more than a century of theoretical and experimental astronomical studies. The results are also a fascinating display of the possibilities created by coordinated human action on an international and scientific basis.
More than 300 astronomers, hundreds of engineers, and support staff from 60 institutions in 20 countries and regions on seven continents have performed the observations, processed data, and maintained the technical infrastructure needed for such a gigantic undertaking. Après la réalisation des observations de Sgr A* en 2017, des milliers de téraoctets de données ont été acheminés à l’Observatoire Haystack du MIT et à l’Institut d’études Max Planck pour être traits et sur analys des superesés plus From the world. Five years of work has proven essential to identifying and understanding results.
The immediate result is the fruit of more than two decades of collaborative planning, which was launched in 2009 with the primary goal of observing the two largest black holes in the sky as seen from Earth, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*) and from the black hole to the center of the Messier 87 galaxy. To do this, the collaboration has combined radio telescopes from around the world and combined their observing capabilities to see astronomical objects never before seen directly before.
Telescopes involved in capturing the data needed to produce the final drawing include the Atacama Large Millimeter Array and the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment in Chile, the Heinrich Hertz Telescope in Arizona, the IRAM 30-meter Telescope in Spain, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and the Partial Measurement Array. in Hawaii, and finally the Large Millimeter Telescope in Mexico and the Antarctic Telescope in Antarctica.
The graphic produced is also a sledgehammer against all forms of irrational thought, be it mysticism, religious obscurantism, or postmodernism and its assertion that all “narratives” are equal. In fact, there is objective and material reality, which is governed by physical and known laws.
Other more in-depth findings should follow in the coming months and years. The EHT completed its latest observational campaign in March, which included three new telescopes that provide better images. Now that data on the two main goals of the collaboration has been collected and published, the collaboration will explore other, more mystical regions of the universe: in particular, the galactic-wide energetic jets produced by supermassive black holes when large amounts of gas and dust erupt in them.
Like any scientific discovery, the EHT array is the product of more than a century of pioneering work in theoretical astrophysics and advanced engineering. Einstein’s general theory of relativity, on which the modern understanding of black holes is based, was developed in 1915. The first detection of radio waves from the galactic nucleus occurred in the 1930s. The astronomical techniques needed to detect matter spiraling toward a black hole were: Developed in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Sgr A* was assumed to be a black hole. Observations from the 1990s and 2000s ruled out the vast majority of other possibilities.
At the same time, the production of such images is an international process in nature. In order to achieve the resolution needed to view the black hole (actually the super-hot gas surrounding the invisible object), radio telescopes must be built and maintained at opposite ends of the globe, transforming the Earth itself into a radio antenna. Giant is capable of detecting very weak signals.
These broad scientific undertakings are increasingly common. The Large Hadron Collider, the gravitational wave detection, and the IceCube neutrino detection experiment, as well as nearly all space missions, require an international effort to succeed. As a negative example, the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission, which was scheduled to launch this year, won’t launch until at least 2028. Russia withdrew its participation in the mission after the sanctions imposed on the country after the provocations of the United States and forced NATO to go to war with Ukraine.
Xavier Barcons, Director General of the European Southern Observatory, stressed the need for international cooperation. He said at the press conference dedicated to announcing the results: “This extraordinary result cannot be achieved by a single facility or even by the national astronomical community of one country. There was a need for eight radio observatories around the world, and this network has already grown to 11 today, many of which have been built, funded, operated and supported by international organizations in many countries around the world.”
Barconn then felt the need to note that this discovery “shows what we can achieve when we collaborate, when we work together. It is very important to remember that in the times we live in, the world is not going in that direction, unfortunately.”
In fact, this is not the case. Supposedly Barcons was referring to the escalating conflict between NATO and Russia, which threatens humanity with nuclear annihilation. Or perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed an estimated 20 million people worldwide, for which rich countries have earmarked vaccines and other treatments.
Barcons could also have referred to the ongoing and accelerating climate catastrophe that the world’s governments have done nothing about and that threatens to inundate coasts around the world by the end of the century. And despite more than half a century of warnings of impending doom, nations still refuse to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the name of their national capital interests.
This situation is the product of well-defined social and political relations and objective economic processes. It is the division of the world into competing nation-states competing in a global capitalist market that produces such atrocities, not to mention the crushing inequality and poverty that billions of people face every day.
Serious scientific collaboration includes some conscious effort on the part of the participants to reject the chauvinistic and nationalist talismans propagated by every government: governments that would rather see these scientists produce more horrific weapons of mass destruction, rather than work together to understand nature and our place in it.
These same governments have overseen an astronomical redistribution of wealth during the pandemic, distributing trillions of dollars to Wall Street and other financial markets, while forcing workers back to work amid the pandemic to pay for the bailout. The war in Ukraine has led to shortages of basic necessities, food and infant formula, while inflation is rising, plunging a growing proportion of the world’s population into misery.
But great scientific achievements such as the A* images hint at another basis for social organization. If the principles of scientific planning and international cooperation that enabled this victory over contemporary society are applied, it will be possible to end war, poverty, preventable diseases and all other forms of social misery.
The capitalist class has demonstrated that it is only bent on the continuous accumulation of private profits, regardless of the consequences to the Earth’s environment or the cost in human lives. Thus, it is up to the working class, the revolutionary and global social force in society, to overthrow capitalism as a whole, and pave the way for a new and superior social order, which is socialism.
(Article published in English on May 14, 2022)