Photo/IllutrationThis image released on April 10 by Event Horizon Telescope shows a black hole. (Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration/Maunakea Observatories via AP)

Italian Renaissance giant Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) once wrote: "Shadow is a more powerful agent than light, for it can impede and entirely deprive bodies of their light, while light can never entirely expel shadow from a body."

I can "feel" the weight and depth of shadows in Leonardo's paintings. In "St. John the Baptist," for instance, the subject appears to emerge from the background of darkness that blankets him, and even the cross he is holding seems to blend into it.

This work makes me even wonder if darkness was what Leonardo really wanted to paint, not John the Baptist.

The darkness of outer space was revealed to us on April 10. The first-ever photographed image of a black hole was inside a ring of light. There was something even akin to energy emanating from the picture, despite the commonly held image of a black hole as a cosmic "graveyard" from which there is no coming back.

As the existence of black holes has long been established by the theory of relativity, my frank feeling is that seeing one now doesn't really change anything. However, I can certainly appreciate the significance of this image from 55 million light-years away.

It was captured by telescopes installed at six locations around the world, and their combined vision was said to be about 3 million times sharper than 20/20 vision.

Come to think of it, advances in science represent quantum improvements in our vision since the 17th century, with Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) using his telescope for astronomical observations and Dutch microbiologist Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) peering into his microscope.

The human eye has since turned to outer space, under the sea and the microscopic world.

Back when the telescope had yet to be invented, the scientist in Leonardo made him state that our world is nothing more than stardust and no bigger than the tip of a needle in the universe.

The path of human progress will continue to entail the use of imagination, verification of hypotheses and unlocking of mysteries.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 12

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.