Black hole "resembles Whiro, atua of darkness" - Māori astronomer

By Jessica Tyson

The first ever image of a black hole (Source: Event Horizon Telescope/ National Science Foundation).

Māori astronomer and professor Dr Rangi Matamua has weighed in on the first ever image of a black hole, saying it reminds him of Whiro, the god of darkness in Māori mythology.

Yesterday Event Horizon Telescope researchers unveiled the first direct visual evidence of the supermassive black hole located more than 50 million light-years away from Earth.

The image is the result of work carried out over a 10 year period and shows a black hole which is three million times the size of earth and 500 million trillion kilometres away.

From a Māori mythology perspective, Matamua says the hole is similar to the origins of Whiro, the atua of darkness and despair.

“He lives in a place called Taiwhetuki, which is a cave which is deep and dark, and it’s from that point where Whiro often attacks us and tries to make the world remain in perpetual darkness.”

Matamua says the home of Taiwhetuki is similar to a black hole, where nothing can escape from it.

“So from a Māori perspective I think maybe that’s Taiwhetuki, maybe that’s a place of darkness and destruction and is the origins of Te Kore.”

According to the National Science Foundation, the image reveals the black hole at the center of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster.

Black holes are regions of space with such strong gravitational force that nothing, not even light can escape.

The black hole has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun.

NSF director France Córdova says, “We're seeing the unseeable.  Black holes have sparked imaginations for decades, they have exotic properties and are mysterious to us.  Yet with more observations like this one they are yielding their secrets.”

Matamua, of Tūhoe, is a professor at the University of Waikato, and his research fields are Māori astronomy and star lore, as well as Māori culture and language development, research and revitalisation.

He travels extensively throughout Aotearoa giving public lectures about Matariki and Māori Astronomy.

Today he kicks off a roadshow travelling the country to deliver at least 20 presentations.