On April 10, 2019, an international team of scientists working on a project called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) released an image of a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy Messier 87 (M87). Several years in the making, the image was created from data compiled by a number of telescopes spaced across the planet.
The EHT team is a large and diverse group, including many early-career Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers from the U.S. and abroad. Rebekah Frumkin spoke to nine of those scientists, all in their twenties or early thirties, about what they like to read, how the black hole is like a work of art, and their advice for writers depicting black holes in their work.
What kind of fiction or poetry do you like to read, and how has it influenced your research?
Sara Issaoun: I like science fiction, the kind that either drifts toward realism or toward whimsy. I’m a big fan of Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series is probably a classic for most astronomers.
Daniel Palumbo: It is difficult for me to choose a particular genre of fiction, so I’ll just pick a recent favorite: Blood Meridian. I find insurmountably evil villains incredibly compelling, though the horror of this book is at times physically painful to read. In science, the situation is the opposite—astronomy is difficult not because of some malicious actor, but due to a cold, uncaring complexity with which humanity contends, largely for the joy of discovery.
Michael Janssen: I like to read science fiction novels, for example Isaac Asimov. I want to really understand how our world and the universe work, and what mankind is capable of through technological advancements.
Andrew Chael: I pretty consciously try to take Shevek, the main character of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, as my model for how to act as a physicist. While his physics are a little iffy—or maybe just beyond our current understanding—his approach to research, teaching, and discovery is fundamentally generous while still being influenced by his personal ambition to go further than others have gone. The Dispossessed also points out that all science, even physics, is shaped by its social and political context.