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The Asahi Shimbun/2019/4/15 14:10

1st black hole image shows benefits of global cooperation

A black patch of nothingness inside a bright ring of red and orange--the first image of a black hole captured by humankind was little different from what scientists had imagined it to be on the basis of available fragmentary information.
A team of more than 200 researchers from 17 nations and regions of the world, including Japan, European countries and the United States, has successfully produced an image of a black hole, a unique sort of heavenly body with such a strong gravitational pull that it sucks all matter and light from its surroundings.
The scientists combined eight radio telescopes around the globe to create a gigantic virtual telescope, which allowed them to achieve a resolution that is tantamount to recognizing a golf ball on the moon’s surface from Earth.
It is so significant that the feat was announced simultaneously in six cities of the world, including Tokyo.
As illustrated by the discovery of the Higgs boson and the measurement of gravitational waves, many of the studies that were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in recent years are premised on the availability of cross-border cooperation.
That sort of international collaboration is helpful for realizing world peace. Japan should remain positive about participating in similar projects and continue to have its presence felt in them.
The ALMA telescope in Chile played a central role in the latest study. The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) has been playing a major part in the operation of the telescope, which began observations in 2011.
When eyes are turned to domestic circumstances, however, we realize that some facilities are running short of sufficient budgeting, even as Japan is pushing a plan to build a large telescope.
Pursuit of the leading edge should go hand in hand with efforts to maintain the breadth of the base of astronomical research. That is yet another touchstone for how the government will design its own science policy.
The existence of black holes had been considered almost a certainty on the basis of different attempts made so far at observing them. That does not, however, diminish the significance of the latest finding, which aroused curiosity and interest in people’s minds by means of a plain image that was presented.
Some of the children who were excited as they learned about the news will grow into the scientists of tomorrow.
The universe remains riddled with mysteries despite the long history of astronomical research. It has yet to be established how black holes were born and what role they played in the evolution of the cosmos.
In the first place, it is believed all celestial bodies and stars combined, including black holes, account for only about 5 percent of all the mass and energy in the universe. The rest, tentatively called dark matter or dark energy, remains unidentified.
Astronomical discoveries do not necessarily enrich human livelihoods or bring profits immediately. They should nevertheless be valued as the common property of humankind, all the more because nobody can tell what they will evolve into.
One century has passed since the theory of relativity predicted the existence of black holes.
“A final piece has been put into a jigsaw puzzle that we had been trying for 100 years to solve,” NAOJ professor Mareki Honma told a news conference.
We have already set out on the next leg of our journey that will take another 100 years.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 13




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