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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Scary, but beautiful

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash May 24, 2022

When I was younger, my mother told me how she finds it crazy that many people don’t know the stars and constellations although we see them every night. That resonated with me, and it lingered in my mind, making me want to read the night sky like my ancestors did. Since I was a child, I’ve found deep space to be equally fascinating and terrifying.

I watched the launch and unfolding of the James Webb Space Telescope earlier this year with tears in my eyes; it’s about the size of a tennis court and has a light-collecting area of 25 square metres. The project was years in the making and hasn’t disappointed astronomy fans. 

The largest telescope to be launched into space is now starting to send back some of the clearest images of the cosmos. With its infrared captors, it will be able to collect data from proto-galaxies for us to be able to study some of the earliest moments of the universe. We’re in for 20 years of awe-inspiring views of space and that’s incredibly exciting.

Back in 2019, the team behind the Event Horizon Telescope project gave us the very first image of a supermassive black hole. Well, technically, what’s visible is the friction created by the accretion of gas and dust around the black hole, but you get what I mean.

Recently, they’ve done it again and shared with us an image of Sagittarius A, the black hole at the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Even though I find supermassive black holes to be really cool, knowing that some of them move through the universe while ejecting deadly gamma rays keeps me in a constant state of anxiety.

But Sagittarius A was described to us as a “gentle giant” despite it being 4.3 million times the mass of our Sun. It’s in a relatively quiet state; the head scientists of the project compared Sag A to a human who would eat only a grain of rice every million of years. That was enough to alleviate the sheer terror I was feeling looking through their presentation and to be at peace with what’s hanging around the centre of the Milky Way and every other galaxy.

Our Cree ancestors would refer to the Milky Way as cîpay meskeno, the ghost trail, theorizing that the part of our galaxy visible from Earth was the physical proof of all the departed souls going back to the stars. This belief somehow makes me feel at peace with not only death but also the fact that I’m a mere cluster of particles orbiting around a supermassive black hole in this vast universe. Being alive at a time where traditional beliefs and astrophysical discoveries can coexist is mind -blowing.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.