Why care about space — Part 3
Dealing with our own fallacies
As evolved as we are, as sophisticated we think we are, as special as we want to be, we humans suffer from basic fallacies about ourselves.
Ego — For the longest time we put ourselves at the center of all celestial motion. Even when observations refuted this belief, we took a long time to accept it. We now know that our Sun is just one of many stars in the galaxy. We then thought our Milky Way was special — it turned out to be just one of many galaxies. Astronomy gives us a unique perspective of our place and the scale of the universe.
Biases — Evidence-based reasoning gives us the ability to inspect our biases. Like the color of our skin doesn’t make us more or less smart. For example, 30% of US Nobel laureates in the sciences are immigrants. We are also subject to confirmation bias. Like thinking the moon only rises at night because we’re so used to looking once Sun sets. Or believing Astrologers can predict our destiny because they got it right once. Modern Astronomy shows us that the star alignment is purely random and changes over time.
Physical Limits —Human senses, though important, are quite limited. We only see a tiny portion of the light, aptly named the visible light. Yet, our Universe provides us with spectacular events — like powerful Gamma Ray bursts, redshifted light from distant galaxies, regions of gas that obscure almost everything, supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies and gravitational waves that can stretch & squeeze us.
In order to understand the Universe we need an array of telescopes that can look beyond our limits.
Advancement of our knowledge 📚
On a cosmological scale, we only recently started investigating the Universe. Until 1929, we didn’t know that there were other galaxies than our Milky Way. Not only that, soon we saw their redshift and figured out that they were moving away from each other at unimaginable speeds. By the 1960’s, we had accepted the Big Bang model of Universe’s creation.
Impressive progress in a short time. Yet, there is plenty our current laws can’t explain — like what is the mysterious force that’s causing the expansion of the Universe? Or how could a whole Universe grow out of a Singularity?
Next Frontier of Collaboration 🙌
Space exploration is an ambitious challenge for humankind. It requires experts from every field to collaborate towards a common goal. Luckily, scientists already know how to collaborate across boundaries.
In 2016, Earth received the news of the merger of two distant Neutron stars. Every major astronomical instrument participated in capturing it. Starting with the awakening of Gravitational Wave detectors, that was followed by the powerful Gamma Rays detected by Fermi Space Telescope. These were followed by visible light & infrared detectors days later. In all, this one event brought together the collaboration of 70 different observatories spread across the globe and included over 1000 scientists.
In 2019, a collaboration between smaller radio telescopes spread across the planet, called Event Horizon Telescope, zoomed into the heart of a neighboring galaxy named M87. When data from these sites was cleaned up and combined together, astronomers essentially created an Earth-sized super telescope. This collaboration resulted in the first direct evidence of a supermassive black hole at the heart of a galaxy. In 2022, EHT showed us a picture of black hole at the center of our galaxy.