May 20, 2022

What Do Black Hole Revelations Mean? No Excuses!

If your homework disappears down one, they may be able to find it

By Ed Goldman

Some of the mystery, romance and nefarious usefulness of black holes may be about to wane.

Scientists, astronomers and possibly even a few consulting oracles are ecstatic about seeing their first pictures of what the New York Times calls, in a rare display of enthusiasm, “a supermassive black hole, a trapdoor in space-time through which the equivalent of four million suns have been dispatched to eternity, leaving behind only their gravity and violently spent space-time.” 

Edgy Cartoon

Who’s Not a Good Boy

After reading that bit of purple prose I had to look at the top of the page to remind myself I was reading this in a newspaper whose no-nonsense slogan for 125 years has been “All the news that’s fit to print”—and not in either “Space Boy and the Space Pirate” or “Legends of Zita the Spacegirl.” (Both are real books and available in the guest bathroom at Jeff Bezos’s house.)

I’m sure you can appreciate why I think some shrinkage will occur regarding the mystery and romance of black holes. What you may be wondering—and God love you for your insatiable curiosity, which will keep you young all your life though won’t prevent the likely outcome of your defenestrating from your 12th-story corner office, which your survivors will deem “untimely”—is this: Why have black holes had a “nefarious usefulness” until now?

You may also be wondering why I wrote such a depressing digression about falling out of a high window. I’m just a little grumpy today. And natch, I blame Joe Biden.

To answer the somewhat saner question, Into what are we going to say things disappeared when science appears to be poised to go into black holes and ferret out the following?

  • The homework, business report or legal brief you fail to produce on time and claim was eaten by your pet dog—until the most rudimentary of investigations by your school, employer or opposing counsel establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that you do not have, and have never had, a pet dog?
  • The medical test results that come back late Friday afternoon, prompting a courtesy voicemail from your  doctor’s office saying, “We have your results,” which you rapidly telephone to get but are met with a recording indicating “The office is now closed until Monday. Have a nice weekend!”

So you begin calling every 10 minutes on Monday starting at 7 a.m. and keep getting put on hold with a recorded voice informing you, “There are 18 calls ahead if yours.” (What time did all these people get up today? you’re bound to wonder.) 

Finally, when you get through to an arguably real person, he or she says, “There’s no record of your results. They must’ve slipped through the cracks.” Yeah, right. The cracks of a black hole.

“The Free Dictionary,” a diverting website, defines black holes like so:

“1. A theoretical object in space, the mass of which is so great and dense that nothing, not even light, can escape its gravitational pull.

“2. Any place, region, or thing in which things seem to disappear or become irretrievably lost.

“3. A prison cell or area of confinement, especially that which is in notoriously poor or hostile condition. Refers specifically to the so-called “Black Hole of Calcutta,” a prison in West Bengal where, in 1756, 146 Europeans were said to have been imprisoned and all but 23 suffocated overnight.”

Ugh. And you thought I was being morbid about someone tumbling out of an office window? 

Well, thank you for joining me today for some of what the New York Times might call “violently spent space-time.” 

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).