2133: EHT Black Hole Picture

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EHT Black Hole Picture
[five years later] Ok, it seems we were accidentally zoomed in slightly too far. But imagine there's a cool-looking twisted accretion disc just outside this black square!
Title text: [five years later] Ok, it seems we were accidentally zoomed in slightly too far. But imagine there's a cool-looking twisted accretion disc just outside this black square!


This comic references the Event Horizon Telescope, an international project dedicated to imaging black holes Sagittarius A* and M87* with angular resolution comparable in size to their event horizons. The first image of M87 was released to the public on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, five days after this comic's release, and appeared on the same day in the comic 2135: M87 Black Hole Size Comparison.

The image was produced from data gathered since 2006, collected by over a dozen radio telescopes around the world and combined through a process called interferometry. Normally, a telescope's resolution is limited by the size of its aperture, but by recording radio signals at multiple sites, the minute differences between the signals can be digitally processed into an image with much higher resolution. The telescopes used for the EHT are in Hawaii, North and South America, Europe, and Antarctica, and so the effective diameter of the collective EHT is almost the size of the Earth itself. As each telescope recorded observations of the black holes, the results were written to hard drives and mailed to observatories at MIT and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy for processing. Astronomical recordings can involve astronomical amounts of data, so the raw, original, feed from a telescope may never be stored if it is too dense -- it is instead processed live by computers to capture the information of interest, and the processed result is stored.

The first image released by the EHT was expected to be in April 2017, but unforeseen events delayed it by two years, to April 2019. Randall predicts this trend will continue, and makes a joke by analogy to real-world difficult experiences capturing important moments.

Luckily this comic was not in any way prophetic, and five days after this comic was released the EHT team released a black hole picture for the world to enjoy.

The comic shows Cueball giving a press conference on the recent photographing of a black hole. However, the photograph is a disappointment, caused by the spectacular failure of several systems:

  • You cannot download the picture.

Obviously, it would be quite impractical to fail to reliably provide this in an astronomical system. Cueball describes the system as being like Pinterest, where JavaScript prevents you from right-clicking on an image so that you could save it (or at least attempts to, there are many workarounds).

  • You cannot screenshot the picture.

Cueball states that they then tried to take a screenshot, but the key combination to make a screenshot instead turned off the monitor where the picture was being displayed whenever they tried to use it, requiring extra time and effort each attempt in order to return to the view of the black hole. This could reference the fact that many mobile devices incorporate the power button in their screen shot combination and the power button can also turn off the screen. Laptops and operating systems may also have undocumented key combinations that blank the screen, which users can accidentally press when in a hurry and create further stress for themselves. Content under DRM may also prevent screenshots, and attempting to screenshot a protected video will result in a black image.

  • The viewing period ends before a physical camera can be used.

As a last act of desperation, Cueball took out his phone and attempted to take a photo of the screen showing the black hole, but by that time, the observation had ended, and the photo was lost.

In reality, none of this should be an issue as the picture would be immediately saved by the system and would not need to be downloaded from the site, but NASA especially knows that developers of a system can never predict the obscure happenstances that can combine to create failure at the end.

Cueball then states that they would try to take a picture of a black hole again next year.

The title text explains that (after presumably five years of annual tries), the picture failed again as the telescope was too zoomed in and only captured a featureless square. Since a black hole by definition returns no light sent to it, the photograph would be entirely black. Researchers however are primarily presumably trying to obtain images of the more interesting edge known as an accretion disc, which could actually be meaningfully photographed. The joke is that the black hole could only be photographed once a year, and in each year some incidental set of mistakes combined to prevent the photograph from actually being shared with anybody. This could be a reference to the cosmic censorship hypothesis, which states that a "naked" singularity cannot be viewed from outside an event horizon, where in this case the censor is some kind of "butterfly of doom" that bedevils astronomers who attempt to image one anyway, similar to some interpretations of the Novikov self-consistency principle (a possible resolution to various time travel paradoxes which asserts that any event which would lead to a paradox must have probability zero).


[Cueball is standing behind a lectern, with "Press Conference" and the EHT logo displayed on a projector screen behind him.]
Cueball: We linked up our observatories, got everything aligned, and there it was:
Cueball: The first image of a black hole!
[Zoom in on Cueball. A question is asked from off panel.]
Off-panel question: Can you share the picture?
Cueball: Well, here's the thing...
[Cueball lifts his arm holding his hand with its palm up.]
Cueball: Turns out our telescope feed is like Pinterest, where you can't right-click to save an image.
Cueball: So we tried to take a screenshot, but the key combination kept turning off the display instead.
[Zoom back out to show that the image on the projector screen has changed to show a blurry picture of a white computer screen against a black background. The EHT logo remains at the bottom of the projector screen.]
Cueball: I grabbed my phone and tried to take a picture of the screen, but I was too slow. The observation had ended.
Cueball: We're planning to try again next year, and we'll definitely record the screen this time.

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...someone edited the page to describe the EHT as "This comic references the non-existent "Event Horizon Telescope", an international project dedicated to deceiving the masses into thinking that black holes are real, in accordance with the whims of the Zionist conspiracy." wot? 9yz (talk) 17:43, 5 April 2019 (UTC)

Seems like there are a lot of vandals nowadays... I don't think I would be against requiring registration to edit pages. Linker (talk) 19:19, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
I totally agree. It doesn't really detract from the ability to edit a page, it's still easy, but it just adds an extra step for vandals. 9yz (talk) 19:27, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
I am also in favor of a registration requirement. I don't see a great proportion of helpful edits from users who aren't logged in. Requiring registration to edit seems like it could potentially be more effective & easier to implement than other moderation tactics. ProphetZarquon (talk) 20:26, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
I can edit without making an account? Oh, this changes things.
As someone who has made a half dozen or so edits (including once writing the first draft of a description of a comic) and probably two dozen comments over the past 5 years without ever creating an account I won’t say you are wrong, but there will be fewer people editing and making comments if registration is required. Will registering keep vandals from vandalism? I very much doubt it. Who will enforce the termination of accounts?and what’s to stop vandals from creating multiple accounts? Again, I’m not saying you are wrong, but I will suggest that registration isn’t the panacea you might hope it to be... 04:31, 6 April 2019 (UTC)
I'm honestly surprised it isn't a requirement already...--Jlc (talk) 21:55, 6 April 2019 (UTC)
I will echo the sentiment of - registration would mean that I would not edit pages when the fancy strikes me 08:10, 8 April 2019 (UTC)
I was an unregistered lurker, making occasional comments (I didn't make edits, I doubted I'd be able to and felt it would be inappropriate) for quite a while before I registered, and I concur that required registration would discourage participation. The anonymity is attractive, makes this feel like a safe place. Also vandalism is fixed easily enough. Required registration for edits only (can still comment anonymously) might not be TOO bad, I guess. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:32, 12 April 2019 (UTC)
I probably wouldn't register but I do like to make the occasional comment.
Most sites that allow comments require you to log on. This also means others can recognise you and your comments, and read them knowing what you are like. RIIW - Ponder it (talk) 18:22, 8 April 2019 (UTC) 11:47, 6 April 2019 (UTC)

It's true, and you know that it's true, fucking shill. -- (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I know that it exists, and I'm not going to argue it. Oh, also not signing a post doesn't hide your IP. You can literally see the IPs of anyone who edits the page, Mr. 9yz (talk) 17:49, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
The IPs are irrelevant anyway, they're CloudFlare's -- 18:23, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
"Shill" implies that someone's paying us to correct these fallacious & bigoted statements. Do you really think any of us get paid to remove these blatantly offensive & frankly ridiculous assertions that space exploration is somehow a worldwide Jewish deception? Personally, I just enjoy accuracy. ProphetZarquon (talk) 20:26, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
Couldn't "shill" also mean somebody acting as if they weren't part of the group, to test that somebody was loyal and obedient?
"Fetch me an idiot, son, and there's a shilling in it if you're fast enough!" 11:28, 8 April 2019 (UTC) 22:28, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
It seems like many of these vandals are using IPs associated with generally good-willed editors in the past, e.g. Special:Contributions/ Are they just connecting from places with public wifi? --Youforgotthisthing (talk) 02:25, 7 April 2019 (UTC)
Those are Cloudflare's IPs, so not necessarily. Herobrine (talk) 06:32, 9 April 2019 (UTC)

In the transcript, Cueball is described as standing behind a podium. He may be standing /on/ a podium, but he is standing /behind/ a lectern. Seezee (talk) 17:47, 5 April 2019 (UTC)

Arent podiums and lecterns the same thing? 9yz (talk) 17:49, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
No - https://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-lectern-and-vs-podium/
No. Podium (from the Latin root meaning "foot") is the thing you stand on, a raised platform or dais. Lectern (from Latin "to read") is the stand that provides a place for notes or other written prompts, from which a speaker may read during a lecture or presentation. It's not uncommon for people to conflate them. Seezee (talk) 18:02, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
If enough people conflate them, it's not a mistake any more, it becomes another definition. And lexicographers often use written uses as confirmation, so anyone who wants to see podium get this sense should forward this URL to all the dictionary publishers.Barmar (talk) 18:15, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
What's the threshold for "enough people" (itself a grammatically incorrect phrase; see https://grammarist.com/usage/amount-number/)? In any case, I'm not getting into a debate about prescriptive vs. descriptive lexicography as it's off-topic and trollish. Besides, the transcript has been updated. Seezee (talk) 18:23, 5 April 2019 (UTC)

"Enough people" is fine grammatically because "enough" can refer to either an amount or a number; it the case of "enough people" it's referring to a number of people. 02:42, 6 April 2019 (UTC)

1661: Podium That's right, Jacky720 just signed this (talk | contribs) 19:15, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
Heh. I'd forgotten that. Thanks, Jacky720! Seezee (talk) 19:27, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
Totally forgot! Awesome 9yz (talk) 20:21, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
Thank goodness someone corrected that. A million people using the wrong word doesn't mean it's the right word (especially when the root words have obviously different meanings); It just means a million people are using unclear\inaccurate language. Common usage ≠ correct usage. It's utility that matters: In this case, if a lectern is also a podium, what is the thing you stand on??? Podium is a common error, but it's still an error. Popularity doesn't equal truth. ProphetZarquon (talk) 20:26, 5 April 2019 (UTC)
That is very incorrect. Language is not a natural resource; it can't be measured or described outside of how it is used. If podium commonly used and understood to mean the thing you stand behind, and it's been used that way by many people for a long tome, the thing you stand behind is a podium. You can disagree with that usage all you like, it isn't any less correct. HisHighestMinion (talk) 13:26, 6 April 2019 (UTC)
On the other hand, if podium and lectern are changed to mean the same thing, how would we differentiate between the thing one stands on and one stands behind? 16:15, 11 April 2019 (UTC)
One stands on a stage. :) All this talk about podium vs. lectern, where's the talk about the difference between a podium and a stage? I am unaware of any difference (other than "If it has a lectern, it's a podium"). I never hear "lectern" (outside of such discussions) and feel like at least 90% of the times I encounter "podium", it's to mean "lectern". English is a living language, it changes, it develops, and this word has developed to mean "the thing you stand behind". If one person says "podium" and the listener knows what they're referring to, that's what matters. Communication has successfully occurred. That's the job of language. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:32, 12 April 2019 (UTC)
Podium doesn't mean just "stage" (or better said, "platform"! Stage might imply a theatrical performance.), one can also stand on one of those podiums for 1st-place [in the middle], 2nd-place, and 3rd-place, as can be seen in the Olympics or other such competitions. See the dictionary definition: "for the conductor of an orchestra, a public speaker, the recipient of a sports medal, etc.". :-B -- 17:45, 3 May 2019 (UTC)
PS When a word "evolves" to become ambiguous, I don't consider that as successful communication, since i no longer understand what the speaker meant. And no, context rarely helps. Having a "lectern" meaning in the dictionary entry for "podium" is just another testament to our species' laziness... :-| -- 17:45, 3 May 2019 (UTC)
HisHighestMinion, English (all varieties) is unusual in being user led, rather than being controlled by an Academy. RIIW - Ponder it (talk) 18:22, 8 April 2019 (UTC)
In my opinion the reason for the podium vs lectern comes from the person speaking not having to stand to read notes of operate their presentation. Thus they can now speak from the podium, rather than at at the lectern. Also a lot of podiums* are stages. *anti-pedant point... When a word is adopted into English, English plural rules apply. RIIW - Ponder it (talk) 18:22, 8 April 2019 (UTC)
I would call that a stool. Also, FWIW, words have different meanings from their roots all the time. Incredible originally meant unreliabe. 14:16, 7 April 2019 (UTC)

Is there really anything else we need to add to the explanation? It seems complete.9yz (talk) 19:02, 5 April 2019 (UTC)

Ah, Pinterest. That website where you have to create an account to view pictures. And then once you do that and get to the post you want, you discover the original “pinner” literally just posted a photo from somewhere with zero indication of where it came from or how to find it so now you’re back to square one but have wasted a bunch of time, been spammed to death by emails and sold your soul to Pinterest. Herobrine (talk) 06:50, 6 April 2019 (UTC)

Tha's why whenever I do a Google search I add -pinterest . . . . 11:47, 6 April 2019 (UTC)
It's the only resonable thing one can do. I hate pinterest with a passion. 09:39, 10 April 2019 (UTC)

I don't know if these are appropriate for the explanation, but NSF and ESO have been being coy on Twitter. 23:11, 7 April 2019 (UTC)

I don't think we understand this joke at all. This image was supposed to be released on April 2017 and is now being released on April 2019. This must be relevant. Is the black hole only visible once a year due to our orbit? Sounds relevant if so. Why couldn't they release it in _2018_ if 2017 didn't work? 00:04, 8 April 2019 (UTC)

Well obviously, the picture from the first year was blurry, and the second time they put the flash on the wrong setting. 11:28, 8 April 2019 (UTC)

1. Are you serious with the “needs more explanation”? It needs tweaked explanation for sure, but not longer. 2. VANDALS!!! (Imagine me shaking my fist in the air and saying “Vandals” like “Curse you Perry the Platypus”) 3. Not the Podium vs. Lecturn thing again...... “That Guy from the Netherlands” (talk) 14:24, 8 April 2019 (UTC)

[1] om nom nom 08:54, 9 April 2019 (UTC)