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Max-Planck's Cartoon Capers - an Hilarious Black Hole Tale


It would be funny if it wasn't so serious. Somewhere in the halls of Max-Planck lurks an artist who was actually paid to give us this cartoon. I laughed out loud when I first saw it on spacedaily, as has everyone I've shown it to. And who wouldn't...

*cough* Artist's concept of a black hole ejected from a galaxy *cough*

Artist's conception of a black hole ejected from a galaxy. Image Credit: Illustration: MPE, optical image: HST

The cartoon was accompanied by a supposedly serious story about how a black hole was expelled by a galaxy. More on the story in a minute. First I'll share some comments received from colleagues:

  • I'll have two black holes over easy with rye toast.

  • Oh man. I got a good laugh from this one, Dave. ...

  • Thanks, Dave for humor to start the day, ...

  • The picture is hysterical - it looks like some 1950's B-movie flying saucer!

  • "Shortly after the Big Bang, the universe contained an uneven landscape of dark matter. Hydrogen gas became trapped in puddles of the invisible material and began spinning rapidly in dark matter's gravitational whirlpool, forming stars at a furious rate."


    Shortly after wizzile farked the flabam, the expansion of the chixel spun the hydrodrizzle into yarn filaments. Furiously of course....

    But that still doesnt explain where the first ripple came from....

  • Just incredible. You can see it surrounded by its event horizon, which it is carrying along with it!

  • This story renders the word "conjecture" useless. We will need a much stronger word if this is going to be a trend in "science". (Still smiling when thinking of the discomforting questions this raises..... okay just one: "what will happen to the poor galaxy that had its indispensable black hole ejected?") LOL

And by the way, these comments didn't come from the boys at the local after one too many, but from a group which includes professionals and scientists from a number of disciplines. As a couple of them commented on the story itself, let's have a look at it.

The picture is accompanied by this in large print, the introductory paragraph:

By an enormous burst of gravitational waves that accompanies the merger of two black holes the newly formed black hole was ejected from its galaxy. This extreme ejection event, which had been predicted by theorists, has now been observed in nature for the first time. The team led by Stefanie Komossa from the Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) thereby opened a new window into observational astrophysics.

At the very least, this is somewhat misleading, especially when you consider our kids are likely reading these stories without adult supervision, so the wild conjecture which is presented as though it is established fact may be taken literally by them. It goes on:

The discovery will have far-reaching consequences for our understanding of galaxy formation and evolution in the early Universe, and also provides observational confirmation of a key prediction from the General Theory of Relativity (Astrophysical Journal Letters, May 10, 2008).

Notice that within these first two paragraphs, the term " observed" or a derivative is used three times, which gives the false impression that these things have actually been seen. Then such drivel is followed by more, as an "explanation " is given of just how this can happen...

When two black holes merge, waves of gravitational radiation ripple outward through the galaxy at the speed of light. Because the waves are emitted mainly in one direction, the black hole itself is pushed in the opposite direction, much like the recoil that accompanies the firing of a rifle or the launching of a rocket. The black hole is booted from its normal location in the nucleus of the galaxy. If the kick velocity is high enough, the black hole can escape the galaxy completely.

Then they have the audacity to call this a "discovery" which "verifies" computer simulations.

The MPE team's discovery verifies, for the first time, that these extreme events actually occur; up to now they had only been simulated in supercomputers. The recoiling black hole caught the astrophysicists' attention by its high speed - 2650 km/s - which was measured via the broad emission lines of gas around the black hole.

And this goes on for several more paragraphs. One could think that maybe spacedaily have used a little artistic license in interpreting the results, until you find that the whole "news article" was lifted word for word from the Max-Planck site press release. After posing a bunch of highly speculative questions, they finish with again the implication that they've actually observed the events in question:

In a close interplay between theory and observation, the astrophysicists prepare to answer these questions. Various detectors on earth and in space, for example the space interferometer LISA, will be set on the track of gravitational waves. The discovery of the MPE team will provide new impetus for theorists to develop more detailed models of the superkicks and their consequences for the evolution of black holes and galaxies.

Getting back to the cartoon which spawned this Thunderblog, we must remember that someone within Max-Planck was actually paid to draw such a simplistic representation. I think my own effort at illustrating a black hole in an earlier Thunderblog (which convincingly refutes black holes and the big bang with mathematics), is much closer to reality than the Max-Planck version:

Black Hole - Artist's impression

Artist's impression of a black hole. CREDIT: Dave Smith and

Dave Smith.

*** No tax dollars were squandered for the writing of this article ***


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Dave Smith (davesmith_au) is an independent researcher and Managing Editor of the Thunderblog.

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