What to Name a Bunch of Black Holes? You Had Some Ideas.


“Abyss,” “crush,” “haunting” and “chasm” came up frequently. So did (less grimly) “Hawking,” after the man who did so much to understand them, as well as “riddle,” “mystery,” “mass” and “binge.” Other favorites: a “scream” of black holes, an “oblivion” and a “mosh pit.”

Some readers, playing on the idea of a multiplicity of holes, proposed a “colander,” a “doily,” a “lace” and a “warren.” One, responding to Dr. Holley-Bockelmann’s giggle, nominated “loon.”

Another proposed Argus Panoptes, a primordial giant in Greek mythology, whose body was covered with eyes. A third reached into Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series to suggest a “thinny,” a weak spot in reality where the fabric between worlds has grown thin.

Inevitably, politics was on the minds of many. A suggestion to call a group of black holes a “Trump” was recommended by 125 other readers. “Congress” received multiple votes. (Presumably cooler heads will prevail among astronomers, who depend on federal funds to build their telescopes and conduct research.)

For what it’s worth, there is nothing official going on here. Nor will there be any prize for coming up with the winning name.

Raisa Stebbins, the 32-year-old daughter of one of the LISA scientists, Tuck Stebbins, raised the etymological issue initially, Dr. Holley-Bockelmann said. “It was Raisa’s question that turned our Very Serious Meeting About LISA into a fun distraction,” she said. Hundreds of ideas poured in from friends and the internet.

In all, two dozen astronomers took part in the process, Dr. Holley-Bockelmann said. After much spirited discussion brought the list down to 16 strong contenders, the astronomers voted on them using a proportional ranked-choice voting algorithm, RankIt.


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