Pōwehi


We’ve recently been introduced to Pōwehi. Pōwehi is the name with which we’ve baptized the first Black Hole we’ve ever photographed. The object captured in the image – this being a historic moment and all – deserved a proper name over and above the generic term “black hole” which, truth be told, many scientists consider an unhappy choice for a name in the first place. Black holes weren’t, however, always called by this name.

Only five years before the beginning of French Revolution, an Anglican priest who had worked as a scientist all his life was the first to propose, basing himself on Newton’s theories, the possibility of “dark stars”. A distinctively intuitive name for the concept he was attempting to convey: something like a star (just like the Sun), but possessing the peculiar characteristic of not emitting light.

At the beginning of last century, such objects were named of “singularities”, since they were though of as areas in space where gravity couldn’t be defined according to Einstein’s equations. It was now this refusal to be defined by Einstein’s mathematics that was considered their particular characteristic. Only about 50 years ago did an American scientist name them “black holes”. This time, the idea the scientist wanted to convey was that of a region of space in which the strength of the gravitational field is such that anything coming close enough to it, light included, cannot escape it.

And now we’ve heard of “Pōwehi“, a word from Hawaiian culture. ” is a word indicating an origin, a cause at once both dark and fathomless. The suffix “-wehi“, on the other hand, refers to an adornment, to that which ornaments and beautifies.Pōwehi“, then, means something akin to “dark source adorned by endless creation

The name is directly linked to the image of Pōwehi, in which we behold a dark centre surrounded by an adorning collar of light. Yet the profundity and the real beauty of the image go well beyond what can be seen at first glance. The black hole () is not seen, but is revealed by that which adorns (-wehi) it. And there’s more. That wehi wouldn’t be there in the first place if there wasn’t the .

This is what Pōwehi teaches us about God. Just like Pōwehi, God cannot be seen, yet reveals himself through that which would not otherwise be but for Him.

Yet what renders the Black Hole beautiful and precious isn’t just the ring of superheated gas surrounding it, its adorning collar. And the recognition it merits doesn’t just lie in the fact that we’ve given it a name.

A group of people was able to take a photograph of the invisible at an unimaginable distance from us through a process of collaboration involving more than 200 scientists and engineers and about 100 institutions all over the world. These men and women solved the technical problems encountered with great creativity, working in an integrated fashion to obtain results greater than the sum of their individual contributions. All of this helps us recognize the value of that image and to discover a new beauty. One might even say that all of this was possible thanks to God.

(Originally published in Spanish on PastoralSJ)


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