Lava Floors and Black Holes

Remember when the floor was lava?  When, as a kid, you’d hop from one couch cushion to another which you had carefully positioned like lily pads on the family room floor to escape the burning inferno underneath you.

It was always a very Indiana Jones scene. But, you knew how to escape. You knew how to even though you had never seen lava in real life, had no idea how hot it actually was, had any concept for how it moves, where it comes from, what it’s made of or any of those mildly critical details.

You just knew the floor was covered in an icky, slow, thick fire – in theory. You didn’t know lava, but you knew it.

lava beach
Finally feeling the lava, after it cooled off.

That’s what I thought of when I heard about the first photograph this week of a black hole. Its level of incredible-ness (I know that’s not a word, but it fits here) can not be understated. And it’s not even the photograph itself that got me, although it was badass and represented an example where politics and borders aside, we humans can actually work together for the greater good.

What was incredible to me is that I don’t remember a time I didn’t know about black holes. Because they’ve always been there, like lava on the family room floor, in theory. And I’m just a schmo.

I’ve always known that black holes exist. Right? Didn’t you? They just were…out there, somewhere. It’s something we knew. And they’d swallow you, and anything else within reach, right up. They were like this real myth. And that was okay because I am just a person, not a scientist.

That’s what gets me. That’s the magical part of this whole black hole glamor shot moment.

For a profession that is rooted in evidenced-based practice, believing something exists because a theory said so, without proof, had to be a really wild thing for scientists all these years. And beyond that, the fact that scientists knew about black holes eons ago (I don’t know how many years exactly at this moment) without the luxury of the technology we have today is…mind-blowing.

It also makes me wonder if Einstein had friends. To think this one photograph of a black hole serves as proof for his theory of relativity, one he put together a century ago, is so difficult to comprehend.

He had to have friends, I know, but friends who were smart enough to carry conversation with him? Doubtful. Friends who could play “the floor is lava?” No doubt.