Black holes are strange, at the best of times. They are also baffling and quite possibly changing the way we see the observable universe.
Observations and theories about black holes vary wildly.
Astronomers recently discovered five dozen black holes in a distant, chaotic galaxy, where – according to current thinking – there should be just one. And these mini black holes are making stars dance in very unpredictable ways.
Black holes are also being discovered in places that scientists believed there were none. One such is huge and, in galactic terms, right next door to our solar system.
Even within our solar system, scientists are still arguing about whether the elusive Planet Nine is a planet or a black hole the size of a grapefruit. Both would pull planets and space debris about in much the same way.
At the same time, astronomers are finding black holes are missing from galaxies and areas of space where the theory says they should be. There is one that should be in the middle of a massive galaxy (every galaxy should have a black hole, says the theory) and should be anywhere between three and a hundred billion times the mass of our Sun.
But it is not there.
Theories about black holes are not limited to where they are, where they are meant to be and what they actually do. Some scientists have put forward theories that we could somehow harvest them for energy. The particles and plasma around a black hole could be a source of energy for the time when we need to survive in deep space.
Perhaps we should concentrate on one Olympian feat at a time.
And, of course, there are theories about black holes being gateways to the other side of the universe, holes that can transport us faster than the speed of light. Much faster.
In fact, according to another observation, the Universe is expanding much faster than the speed of light. If scientists are correct that the Universe is 13.8 billion years old, how come we can see 46 billion light years in every direction.
The truth is that we don’t know so much that we have no idea what we don’t know.
The question is whether the James Webb telescope will help us get a clearer view of black holes and other phenomena. Perhaps it will give us a better answer about the real age of the Universe. Assuming it actually gets launched.
Whether the successor to Hubble will give us more answers or more questions remains to be seen. In the meantime, black holes are certain to keep bending the minds of scientists for the foreseeable future.