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Supermassive blooper found at the BBC


By Hamish Johnston

Imagine my surprise when I turned on the radio this morning to be told by the BBC that astronomers have “found” a supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way…

Didn’t we know this already, I thought?

A quick trawl through the archives revealed that yes, we have long known about this black hole, roughly where it is, its mass, and that it is probably spinning.

I pointed this out to the BBC, which has since changed the headline from “Black hole found in Milky Way” to ” Black hole confirmed in Milky Way”. However, the home page still carries a supermassive banner using the word “found”.

I find it slightly worrying that one of the world’s most respected news outlets has decided that the most important thing we should know about today, is something that has been accepted by many physicists and astronomers for some years.

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  1. Well, at least you have to give them credit for sharing an interesting scientific fact with the world, which most people probably didn’t know.

  2. I find it hard to get experts to give a definitve answer on this. There is still some discussion out there, mainly because
    (i)the presence and properties of a super-massive BH are inferred from its gravitational effect, rather like that of Dark Matter
    (ii) there has been quite a lot of dispute concerning the underlying quantum physics of BHs

  3. If nothing else, repetition is mother of wisdom…;-)

  4. I have also seen that black hole yesterday on TV, appearing really as a “news black hole” in the BBC World news programme. Unfortunately it had nothing scientifically “inspiring” as hoped in some comments here. Instead it was close to a broadcast artefact appearing suddenly, among absolutely unrelated, mostly economic news, for a very short time, like indeed a very strange object! (Maybe it was a fine artistic idea of BBC news editors?!) One certainly could not understand from a few-second info whether it’s something new or “confirmed”, but more or less regular TV and internet users could certainly remember this information coming some time ago and should remain puzzled about its new appearance. But even apart from this temporal inconsistency, what is the quality of (and real interest in) science news in major world media if a meaningful scientific information full of further questions and associations passes as only an externally “catchy”, few-second animation formally labelled “black hole”, without any intelligible explanation, among arbitrary other news? There are so many intriguing problems around black holes whose very existence as such and true physical origin (apart from a mathematical model singularity) remain in reality unclear (in relation to “burning” fundamental problems of gravity, cosmology and quantum mechanics). And instead of anything like that, one is hastily “fed up” with that pseudo-scientific, off-hand “pulp fiction”, on a major, world-wide British channel. Something is wrong with that “British quality”, especially as far as science is involved. Maybe it’s time to honestly recognise that science as we used to know it is now without interest to people, at least in its modern state (full of stagnation and moral degradation itself, one should recognise). Sad, but it’s rather a major tendency and there seems to be no genuine interest indeed, only “traditional” emphasis on “something scientific” in this period of the year, after sex and pizza in summer months. But summer programme goes much better, apparently, all the year round…

  5. Robert H. Bloom

    If repetition is mother of wisdom,
    then note too that falsehoods are wisdom’s miscarriage. ?:-o)

  6. AW

    In defense of the BBC: At least the underlying message behind the headline was correct. once ran an article stating that astronomers had discovered a star older than the universe.

  7. Joe Ruyle

    Anyone who has been paying even scant attention to the media should understand that they have little interest in either accuracy or news. Their goals are generating sales and advancing a political agenda. Since Black Holes are fairly tough to politicize, and all the general public knows about them is that they “suck up” everything they get close to, then the persistent headline is clearly intended to frighten people into buying a paper.

  8. Randy Johnson

    I first read about this in the popular press some time ago in my home town newspaper, ‘The Olympian’ (Olympia, Washington, USA), under a headline that read, “Giant Black Hole Discovered In Center Of Universe.” The article was brief, but it did make the front page. However, I would have thought that the discovery of the location of the center of the Universe would have been the bigger story!


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