We marvelled at the first image of an event horizon 55m light years away, but struggled to grasp its majesty and dimensions
A few years ago, during a period of insomnia, I briefly got into the habit of contributing to the online project Galaxy Zoo. I would log on to a website that presented, one after another, singular images of tens of thousands of galaxies observed by the Hubble telescope, each billions of light years away. There were so many of these images that cosmologists had opened them up to thousands of amateur volunteers to help narrow down the field of those galaxies that warranted closer study.
Peering at my dimmed computer screen in the early hours, at catherine wheels of stars that perhaps no human eye had ever seen, I ticked the relevant boxes that would assist in classifying them – “elliptical or spiral?”; “smooth or fuzzy?” – and then paused for a while over the open-ended final question: “Is there anything odd in this image?” (An inquiry that always seemed to beg the reply: “You mean, beyond the fact that it is a rotating mass of incalculable solar systems that likely expired untold millions of years ago?”)