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Our cosmos has long been a source of fascination for artists, writers and theologians, and it’s not hard to see why — our sun is just one tiny point of light among the hundreds of billions of stars swirling around the Milky Way galaxy. So vast is the distance between the outer edges of the galaxy, it would take a vessel moving at the speed of light 100,000 years to cross it.

Our very own Milky Way has a black hole the size of 4 million solar masses at its core. It would take us 27,000 years to reach it travelling at the speed of light.

Einstein’s theory of singularity
In his general theory of relativity, Einstein conceived of stars and planets as massive spheres that stretch the fabric of space much like a bowling ball stretches a rubber sheet, causing it to sag, and drawing lighter bodies to the heavier object in the centre.

Basically, time appears to move more slowly near massive objects because the object’s gravitational force bends space-time, a phenomenon called gravitational time dilation.

Thus, gravity was not a ‘force’ as Isaac Newton had envisaged it, but the result of a distortion in the fabric of spacetime — a continuum that extends throughout the known universe.

Einstein’s equations further suggested the existence of a spatial entity that scientists now refer to as a ‘naked singularity’: the centre of a spherical gravitational field — a black hole — that sucked in everything — matter, information and light — that crossed its ‘event horizon,’ or the point of no return.

A couple of weeks ago, scientists released a breakthrough image of a black hole at the centre of Messier 87, a galaxy 55 million light years away from our own, finally proving Einstein’s theory correct. The golden ring of light shown in the image is that of the event horizon, the boundary encircling the black hole.

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The image of the black hole released by the Event Horizon Telescope team. 

Try to picture this: our sun is 330,000 times the mass of earth. Now visualise an entity 6.5 billion times more massive than our sun. That is the estimated size of the Virgo A black hole captured in the now iconic image.

Furthermore, the image we are looking at is 55 million years old, because that is how long it would take for light to travel from that region of space to our own.

Evidence in Hindu religion
When we consider that ours is just one out of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe, it is not difficult to see how contemplation of the cosmos can lead to feelings of religious awe and reverence.

There are many striking parallels between Eastern thought and modern astrophysics, especially in their imagining of space, time and the birth of the universe.

Another name for the Hindu god Shiva is Mahakala, the lord of time. He represents the void at the dissolution of the universe and has the power to subsume even time and space into himself.

Mahakala is typically visualised as black in colour. Just as all colours are absorbed and dissolved into black, all names and forms are said to merge into Mahakala — symbolising his all-encompassing nature.

Black can also represent total stillness or the complete absence of light, much like a black hole. Again, in this case, it signifies the nature of Mahakala as the primordial source of creation known as Bindu in Yogic terminology, conceptually identical to the singularity in astrophysics.

(Adapted from The Hindu)