Finding Something Made of Nothing
One day we will be devoured by nothing. It will be as paradoxical as it sounds, and thankfully you and I will likely be dead by the time it happens.
I’m not being poetic. Nothing exists and it’s coming for us. Nothing is the largest structure humanity has ever discovered. We are calling it the supervoid, and it is the very essence of horror. Found by both the Pan-STARRS1 telescope in Hawaii, and NASA’s Wide Field Survey Explorer satellite (poetically acronymed WISE), the super is best described through the language of absence.
An article in the Telegraph describes the supervoid as “a curious empty section of space which is missing around 10,000 galaxies.” It is cold, large, and made of the absence of matter. The supervoid doesn’t fit into current models of the universe, winning it the classic horror adjective of unthinkable.
What’s more, the supervoid isn’t completely empty. The giant cold region in space is curiously characterized as being under-dense. There should be 10,000 galaxies there, but there aren’t. A few are there though, and I imagine they’re pretty lonely. The supervoid, therefore, isn’t so much nothing as it is nothing-ish. It has a border, where temperature changes, and some sort of incomprehensible stomach where it digests light and good dreams, but objects can pass through it and even exist in it. The supervoid is the astronomical equivalent of a malevolent fog, only bigger and less substantial.
The supervoid feeds on light and is expanding. It is 3 billion light years away from us, and our galaxy is being sucked in at a speed of 14 million miles per hour. We are hurling through space at incomprehensible speeds, propelled by an unknown force, and after a cosmic amount of deep time we will find ourselves devoured by nothing. Essentially, NASA discovered Azathoth, the Blind Idiot God of H.P. Lovecraft’s dream world.
Unthinkable, unknowable and indescribable are words of boundary, and while they can adequately paint a picture of the supervoid, they are most often used in supernatural horror. Most infamously, Lovecraft uses the un-words to dodge description of his multidimensional horrors, and even without the help of his legions of imitators and acolytes, unthinkable terrors began to fit into categories. Un-words became shorthand for sensory paradoxes that are actually quite fun to imitate in Lovecraftian parody:
“I wrote the unthinkable words, my fingers typing away at my mortal keyboard, but when I looked upon the text to proofread and perhaps analyze these eldritch thoughts made manifest on Google Drive, my eyes slipped down the letters (or did they slip up?) and I passed into a nightmare reverie of unknowable, unspeakable chaos.”
The paradox is, of course, that to call something indescribable to to describe an elusive quality. The very use of language implies some kind of comprehension, even if it's only vague. But that is not to say that weird fiction and cosmic horror are built on a shaky foundation of misapprehension and lies, rather, to use un-words like Lovecraft did is to make a terrifying statement through action: even nothing, the most unknowable of all possible nouns, exists. NASA found it on a map of the universe.
What’s at stake with the above, headache inducing thought, is our human subjectivity. Thanks to human gifts of empathy and compassion, we are capable, as individuals, to understand that there are aspects of existence that we are not a part of. Our subjectivity isolates us, but community helps remedy that with the humbling idea that our individual sensory experience is only part of an objective whole.
Expanding on that thought, however, brings us to a conclusion that there is a non-human objective reality. In the same way that light exists when my eyes are closed, so does it exist independent of all eyes. Were eyes to not exist in the universe, what we have identified as light would still cast shadows, but those shadows would be unseen.
The supervoid is real, and though reality can be horrific (adj.), horror (n.) is something we use as humans to get close to the borders of knowing. So, while NASA can’t win a Hugo award for its most unimaginable discovery, we can use horror to better understand the supervoid, and in turn understand how a giant un-massive structure 3 billion light years away affects our lives.
That the supervoid exists is evidence that absence is tangible. When life turns to death, for example, and leaves us in a room with a body instead of a friend, the absence of company is an unknowable structure. Maybe to some it's a ghost and maybe to others it's miasma or bad vibes. Maybe it’s the supervoid, stretching out to us though the power of living metaphor, filling our experience with the un-words that protect us from the vast emptiness of an indifferent universe.