Black holes and photons

Scientists are seeing things that have never seen before.  As the theme of my blog says,  we deal in the Very Large and the Very Small.

On the Very Large side, astronomers have found two black holes that are orbiting each other.  Actually, two galaxies with black holes at their center, are orbiting each other.   Now you can’t really “see” black holes, but a black hole causes radiation from nearby objects (that is to say, only light years away) to behave differently.   When two black holes orbit each other, they cause radiation from nearby objects to behave differently in a different way.  These two black holes are about 5 billion light years away from us, and take about 100 years to go round each other.  Their masses are about 20 million and one billion times the mass of our Sun.  The black hole at the center of our own galaxy is “only” 3.7 million times the mass of our Sun. Single black holes are hard to find,  and to detect a pair of orbiting black holes is major piece of news.

On the Very Small side, making experimental observations is a tricky business.  The mere act of measuring the position of a particle like an electron can affect it so much that you are not getting any useful answer.  It’s similar with radiation particles called photons.  It’s been thought that any measurement of a photon’s path would affect that path so much that the results were meaningless. It appeared to be a fundamental limitation, described by Hardy’s Paradox. However, physicists in Japan have carried out an experiment using what is called “weak measurement” that influences the path of a pair of photons less than the uncertainty of the measurement itself.  This is a breakthrough in the possible use of quantum mechanics for super-fast computing, although any application is still a long way off.

And that’s the news of the Very Large and Very Small.

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