Schwarzschild of Mine
I created this comic as part of my Science Education Aesthetics assignment. I got to choose a question to explore, and then create an art piece to represent it. I decided to explore a cosmic question: how do black holes work? During the course of my research, I wondered: how do you make thinking visible, and avoid being an intellectual black hole? Science communication needs a revolution. The myth of the all-knowing educator seems to be disappearing, but the myth of the all-knowing scientist needs to be cleared away.
Recently I have become interested in how comics can be used to make science education more accessible. I am particularly interested in webcomics, and I started my own webcomic in January: STEM Puns. In the interest of accessibility and sharing knowledge, I wanted to make my research process visible, so I curated it using Storify.
When I read about the Schwarzschild radius, I immediately thought of “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns N’ Roses. I have always loved writing parodies, so that is what I did. I then used Comic Life software to create the Rock Star cartoon, featuring this song. As I was assembling the story of the star singing to black holes in a part of space where starlight looks like musical notes, I puzzled over the ending. Encountering an event horizon seemed like the logical conclusion.
The Hole Story
When stars run out of light elements (such as hydrogen) to burn and fuse into heavier elements (such as iron), a source of outward pressure is lost (National Geographic Documentary, 2014). The star then starts shrinking (National Geographic Documentary, 2014). At this point, the star can be blown apart by matter knocking into its core, creating a shockwave, resulting in a supernova (National Geographic Documentary, 2014). The remainder of the molecules from the core collapse down to their nuclei, and come together as a neutron star (National Geographic Documentary, 2014). If there is more matter than the neutron star can withstand, they can be crushed down to nothing, forming a black hole (National Geographic Documentary, 2014).
A common misconception about black holes is that they “are giant vacuum cleaners that will pull in everything in the universe” (Seeds, 2008, p. 301). In reality, a black hole is “an object so dense that nothing can escape its gravitational pull, even light” (National Geographic Documentary, 2014). All of its mass is contained in a point called the singularity (National Geographic Documentary, 2014). The extremely dense point creates a deep puncture in space-time (National Geographic Documentary, 2014). The singularity is surrounded by a spherical event horizon, also known as “the point of no return,” because any matter to reach it disappears forever (National Geographic Documentary, 2014). The radius of the event horizon is called the Schwarzschild radius (Seeds, 2008, p. 301). Everything with mass has a Schwarzschild radius: “for example, Earth has a Schwarzschild radius of about 1cm, so it could become a black hole only if you squeezed it inside that radius” (Seeds, 2008, p. 301).
The nature of black holes leads to an important question: “How do you study something that by nature evades detection?” (National Geographic Documentary, 2014). Black holes cannot be directly observed with technology that detects x-rays, light, or other forms of electromagnetic radiation (NASA, 2015). They are detected by inference – by observing how nearby matter is affected (NASA, 2015). Black holes “draw matter inward in a process known as accretion” (NASA, 2015). Black holes can go into orbit, and one black hole can combine with another and grow larger (National Geographic Documentary, 2014).
It was once thought that black holes were rare, but here are billions of them in the universe (HubbleSite, n.d.; National Geographic Documentary, 2014). They have been found at the centre of nearly every large galaxy that has been discovered (National Geographic Documentary, 2014). Black hole size seems to be proportional to galaxy size, which is thought to be a clue that they have co-evolved (National Geographic Documentary, 2014). Contrary common misconceptions, black holes obey the laws of physics, and they do not last forever; they evaporate, returning their energy to the universe (HubbleSite, n.d.). Black holes are now seen as fundamental to how the universe works (National Geographic Documentary, 2014).
Aesthetics and Emotions in Science Education
I have been engaged in science education for a few years now, so it is important for me to find ways to keep things fresh and exciting for myself. This inquiry project re-invigorated my sense of wonder about natural phenomena, and increased my awareness of some of the thoughts and feelings that young learners have when examining a topic in-depth for the first time. This illustrates the importance of lifelong learning. Through this process, I felt the power of being given the opportunity to explore a topic that I was interested in learning more about. The universe is full of exciting mysteries, and we can use science to explore them. New discoveries are being made all the time.
It is important to honour learners’ sensory and emotional experiences. It is equally important to recognize your own experiences, and reflect on what sorts of biases you might bring. As educators, we must be cognizant that learners will not always have the words to express their experiences, so other means of expression should be available to them. We must facilitate their learning in a way that values the entirety of what they are experiencing. Through emotions and aesthetics, learners can gain a much deeper connection to what they are learning, which can be an incredible catalyst to exploration and discovery.
HubbleSite (n.d.). Black Holes: Gravity’s Relentless Pull. Retrieved from http://hubblesite.org/explore_astronomy/black_holes/home.html
Lemonick, M. (2015, Feb 25). Gigantic black hole discovered from the dawn of time. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/02/140225-black-hole-big-science-space/
NASA. (2015, Jan 21). Black Holes. Retrieved from http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/black-holes/
National Geographic Documentary (Official). (2014, Jul 18). Monster Black Holes-National Geographic . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRCFm1GVm88
Seeds, M. A. (2008). Foundations of astronomy (10th ed.). Canada: Thomson Brooks/Cole.