How does one become an astrophysicist?

Fascination black holes - astrophysicists: "I could survive in a black hole"

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It was a sensation: people around the world listened intently to the words of the scientists who presented the first image of a black hole to the public on April 10, 2019.

One of them was the astrophysicist Heino Falcke. Here he explains what we have in common with sneakers and why, as a scientist, sometimes only feeling helps.

Heino Falcke

Astrophysicist

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Heino Falcke was born in Cologne in 1966 and is Professor of Astrophysics in Nijmegen. He is a member of the Science Council of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). With the help of a worldwide network of radio telescopes, he succeeded in presenting the first image of a black hole.

SRF: How can you take a picture of something that is completely dark?

Heino Falcke: We don't see the black hole itself in the photo, but only its shadow or the lack of light. So in this case what we don't see is more important than what we see.

The fascinating thing about black holes is that we don't know what's going on inside. Why not?

A black hole is actually a lot of mass in an infinitely thin point. I cannot see what is happening in it, because the attraction is so strong and therefore no more light comes out. What falls into the area that we see as black shadows in our picture does not come out.

Physically, we are no different from the sneaker we wear.

Suppose you fell into a black hole, would you survive?

If I fall into a very large black hole: Yes. I could even take measurements in it, but wouldn't tell anyone about it because I wouldn't get out. This is what makes black holes so incredibly fascinating for us physicists, but also annoying. They show us the limits of our capacity for knowledge.

The subtitle of your book is "Black Holes, the Universe and Us". Who are we in this cosmos?

Physically, we are no different from the sneaker we wear. There are the same atoms, protons and electrons in it. Still, we believe, hope and love. That is something very valuable to me - even if we are only grains of dust in the greatness of space.

Bibliography

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Heino Falcke: «Light in the dark. Black holes, the universe and us ». Velcro-Cotta, 2020.

Shortly before his death, Stephen Hawking warned that the earth would be uninhabitable in 100 years. Will we then emigrate to another planet?

I do not believe that. The universe will - if at all - only be a possibility for a very small number of privileged people. Everything out there that could be accessible is much more uncomfortable than living here in a cave underground. Rather, we have to make sure that we get our problems under control and keep this earth in good shape.

Sometimes it just helps me to just feel.

Doesn't that make you as a physicist sometimes despair when you reach this limit of knowledge?

As a scientist, of course, I try to understand everything. At the same time, I know that this is not possible. Then it helps to fall back on simple beliefs and sometimes just to feel. That gives me a feeling of calm and security that science cannot give me and where I am childishly easy again.

I think that in view of the size and complexity of space we can only think in a childlike way in the end.

Does your faith help you here too?

In everyday life, when dealing with people and big questions, physics is actually of little use to me. The communal experience of faith, on the other hand, helps me a lot to get the right perspective on my life - and also to get a glimpse of the fact that there is more than what I can measure.

The interview is a shortened version of a conversation that was held on the program “Sternstunde Philosophie”. The interview was conducted by Barbara Bleisch.

SRF 1, Sternstunde Philosophie, November 1st, 2020, 11.00 a.m.; shk

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  • Commentary from Donat Kamber (Donat Kamber)
    What science does not explain to us is the fact that 5,000 years of celestial observation and astronomy are nowhere near enough to even begin to get a picture of celestial mechanics. Figuratively speaking, like if you trust yourself to make a reliable weather forecast, after which, let's be generous, you have watched the current weather events from one point on earth for an hour.
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
    1. answer from Julian Perrenoud (jpe)
      I disagree with this objection. Remember that distance means time. We see a galaxy 10 million light years away as it was 10M years ago. That is why we see not only 5000 years but 13 billion years of history of the universe.
      Agree agree to the comment
    2. Show answers
  • Comment from Matthias Fries (mfries)
    Thank you for this excellent show. The topic, as well as the guest, were very interesting. Once again it is refreshing to see exciting topics and personalities with depth in a calm format.
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
  • Comment from Guido Casellini (CAS)
    Mainly one believes in it ..... everything else is just a side dish ....
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
    1. answer from Sam Brenner (Sam Brenner)
      You have probably misunderstood something, this is about science, not about conspiracy theories.
      Agree agree to the comment
    2. answer from Beat Reuteler (br)
      Effectively it was about philosophy, Mr. Burner.
      Agree agree to the comment
    3. Show answers

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