Leading Article: The black hole in our attention span

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The Independent Online
WHY ARE we not more excited? Last week, scientists announced the first conclusive proof of a massive black hole at the heart of a galaxy. (Please note that, unlike 'Massive fall in stock market' or 'Major faces massive Euro-election defeat', this is an instance of the correct use of that over-employed word.) Yet, somehow, the old frisson of agitation and alarm is missing.

Maybe it is because the galaxy is called, rather prosaically, M87; maybe it is because M87 is 50 million light years away; or perhaps it is because we, in our superficial, lazy way, are bored with black holes. We punters like our science and astronomy raw, threatening and easily comprehensible, massive (correct again) meteorite on collision course with Earth, that sort of thing. Once, black holes seemed extremely promising. Here were bits of yawning, threatening nothingness that ate stars and anything else available, giant cosmic plugholes to oblivion. There was talk of primordial black holes, and of the universe possibly collapsing back into its own black hole. Yes, black holes were big.

But. This is the kind of thing, along with the prophesies of Nostradamus, the state of the roof and the fate of the Prince of Wales's dog, that keeps us awake at night when there is nothing else to worry about. We had more time in the late Eighties, when we were richer. People were worried about the environment then, too, if you remember. Now we've got VAT on fuel to cope with and bugs that eat flesh rather closer to home than 50 million light years. And we're still here.

Scientists must learn that our attention span is massively (incorrect) short. They must come up with something new out there to attract our fickle attention. Or something nearer.

(Photograph omitted)