In space, no one can hear you scream. Unless you’re a black hole, apparently.
File this one under “weird but true”: a few days ago, NASA released the sound of a black hole to the internet. More specifically, a low, unsettling moan that prompted one online listener to declare “Space is haunted.”
What in the name of George Lucas is going on here?
After all, most of us learned the same thing as kids: there’s no sound in space. Well, unless you live in the Star Wars universe, where fast things roar and big things rumble because it’s Just That Cool. I mean, what’s the point of a space battle if you can’t rock an entire movie theater with the blaster bolts and explosions, am I right?
But for a galaxy that’s not run by Industrial Light & Magic, we’re used to thinking of things as being spooky silent. No air to push. Therefore no sound waves. Right?
Well, it turns out we all should have paid better attention in science class. Because as often happens, what “everyone knows” isn’t quite the whole story.
This particular black hole, you see, is in the midst of the Perseus galaxy cluster. A star cluster has hot gas. Gas that can transmit sound. Not very much, not very well – NASA had to enhance this one like a 1980s rock concert, to present a sensation that’s normally 57 piano keyboards below our hearing range – but enough to make a faint impression.
I don’t know about you, but I find that weirdly hopeful.
Space gives a different perspective on things, both overwhelming and awe-inspiring. Earlier this year, when the first images came back from the Webb space telescope, it made some people feel small while others felt connected to something wonderful. (For the record, I’m in the latter camp.)
This touches something similar. Once again, it’s a wonder that most of us didn’t expect. Not a vast interstellar panorama but the smallest of whispers in a sea of silence. Waiting … but only if you know how to listen.
And sometimes that seems about as rare as a sound in space.
We’re not a patient people, by and large. So many of us feel the need to do something and do it now. One reason the early pandemic lockdowns were so unsettling, I suspect, is that for the first time a lot of us had to hold still … and had almost forgotten how to do it.
The thing is, it’s not hard to make an impression. Even a black hole in the middle of nowhere can do it. What’s harder is to step back and actually see beyond our own impressions and efforts. To experience and understand. To be.
How many things do we miss hearing because our head is filled with our own chatter?
How much do we ignore without knowing we’re missing something worthwhile? It might be as vast as a black hole … or as small as the person next to you.
Hear the silent. Listen for the impossible. Touch lightly. Once we’ve learned that, we’ll know that even a murmur can matter. That the acts we do take, however small they may seem, always leave something behind.
Give everything its space. Haunted or not.
That’s the hole lesson right there.