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Astronomers Are About to Unveil the First-Ever Photo of a Black Hole




Photograph Black Hole

The consensus among the scientific community is that black holes are real. However, we have never actually seen one. Their existence was predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity and subsequent measurements concerning the speed of orbiting stars and gravitational waves have provided strong corroboration. Astronomers may finally be on the cusp of getting their first photographic glimpse of a black hole—a direct view of the space-time crushing monster from the heart of galaxy M87.

On Wednesday, astronomers across the globe will hold “six major press conferences” simultaneously to announce the first results of the Event Horizon Telescope, when they are expected to unveil the first-ever photograph of a black hole.

The effort conscripted a team of astronomers from around the world and an interconnected web of telescopes known as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). These telescopes collectively have the strength to peer far enough into the core of the Milky Way to collect visual data from Sagittarius A, which has the mass of four million suns. With a five night window of viewing earlier this month—which was dependent on weather conditions—the Event Horizon Telescope observed the millimeter radio waves emanating from Sagittarius A.

Once the images are received, scientists will have to aggregate an enormous amount of data—which is likely happening at this very moment—using a technique called interferometry, equivalent to using about ten thousand laptops, to combine radio waves.

Since black holes emit no light, they can’t directly be seen, but astronomers expect the resulting image to basically be the shadow of a black hole reflected off its super-heated accretion disk—which should look something like an asymmetrical halo of light surrounded by a dark circle.

While the image will be haunting and incredible in its own right, the knowledge gained may be more important. A direct visual observation of a black hole, even though it’s only the shadow, could help answer the question of whether general relativity breaks down close to a black hole. If the image suggests as much, it could provide evidence for alternative theories of gravity and potentially progress toward resolving some of the contradictions between relativity and quantum theory.

The image—which astronomers have been attempting to capture for a decade—could also help answer whether or not pulsars orbit black holes and how their accretion disks eject vast jets of subatomic particles.

Astrophysicist Thomas Krichbaum of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy says understanding the nature of black holes will have crucial ramifications. “It is important to understanding the evolution of galaxies, from the early formation of black holes to the formation of stars and later to the formation of life,” he says. “This is a big, big story. We are just contributing with our studies of black hole jets a little bit to the bigger puzzle.”

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NASA Astronomers Shocked After Discovering Solar System with Six ‘Suns’

Elias Marat



Scientists at NASA have found a solar system that completely defies our understanding of the universe, where six stars similar to our sun exist in close proximity as three binary systems, orbiting one another in a massive cluster.

While scientists have been aware of the existence of some other sextuplet star systems, the triple-binary arrangement of the new system – dubbed TIC 168789840 – is wholly unique, and challenges researchers’ understandings of how sun-like stars form close to one another at their inception.

“The system exists against the odds,” said Brian Powell, a data scientist at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center, in an interview with the New York Times.

The scientists learned about the anomalous star system through its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which launched and began scouring outer space after launching in 2018.

The planet-hunting satellite detected starlight located some 1,900 light-years away that was mysteriously brightening and dimming before they discovered the system of binary stars: three distinct stellar couplets that revolved around three separate centers of mass, with the entire trio remaining bound to one another gravitationally and circling a galactic center as one unified star system.

Additionally, what makes this star system distinct from other six-star systems is the fact that the stars pass in front of and behind one another, eclipsing other members of the “stellar dance troupe” in a process that has played out in the sight of the TESS satellite. As NYT notes, this means that “scientists have found a sextuply eclipsing sextuple star system.”

“Just the fact that it exists blows my mind,” said Powell. “I’d love to just be in a spaceship, park next to this thing and see it in person.”

However, beyond the technical constraints of our still-underdeveloped capabilities to travel through space, the conditions in this star system are so fierce that exoplanets simply can’t form. Four of the six sun-like bodies orbit so close to one another that any planet forming near them would be immediately engulfed and annihilated by two of the binaries.

Yet the remaining two stars are at such a distance that it still remains technically possible that some undiscovered worlds could be orbiting them at a safe distance from the other two binary systems, according to research that was recently accepted for publication by The Astronomical Journal.

As co-author and astronomer Tamás Borkovits of the Baja Astronomical Observatory in Hungary notes, the vision of the night sky from these planets would be entirely unlike anything we know here on earth, as one “could see two suns, just like Luke Skywalker on Tatooine,” along with the four other bright stars making their way around the huge sky.

Scientists are still trying to figure out how exactly the sextuple system formed, but there is a suspicion that the first three stars formed in concert before each successive one grew its own binary companion after passing through a dense clump of cosmic gas. This led to disks forming around the original trio of stars before it eventually resulted in the birth of smaller, accompanying stars.

However, the researchers won’t know how exactly this star system formed without finding a similar system to double check.

Either way, the discovery of TIC 168789840 – along with the exploding comets and star-destroying black holes witnessed by the TESS satellite – are just the latest reminders that we still have plenty of science-fiction-like discoveries to make in the final frontier known as space.

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Physicists Suggest All Matter Could Be Made Up of Energy ‘Fragments’




Matter is what makes up the Universe, but what makes up matter? This question has long been tricky for those who think about it – especially for the physicists.

Reflecting recent trends in physics, my colleague Jeffrey Eischen and I have described an updated way to think about matter. We propose that matter is not made of particles or waves, as was long thought, but – more fundamentally – that matter is made of fragments of energy.

From Five to One

The ancient Greeks conceived of five building blocks of matter – from bottom to top: earth, water, air, fire and aether. Aether was the matter that filled the heavens and explained the rotation of the stars, as observed from the Earth vantage point.

These were the first most basic elements from which one could build up a world. Their conceptions of the physical elements did not change dramatically for nearly 2,000 years.

Then, about 300 years ago, Sir Isaac Newton introduced the idea that all matter exists at points called particles. One hundred fifty years after that, James Clerk Maxwell introduced the electromagnetic wave – the underlying and often invisible form of magnetism, electricity and light.

The particle served as the building block for mechanics and the wave for electromagnetism – and the public settled on the particle and the wave as the two building blocks of matter. Together, the particles and waves became the building blocks of all kinds of matter.

This was a vast improvement over the ancient Greeks’ five elements but was still flawed. In a famous series of experiments, known as the double-slit experiments, light sometimes acts like a particle and at other times acts like a wave. And while the theories and math of waves and particles allow scientists to make incredibly accurate predictions about the Universe, the rules break down at the largest and tiniest scales.

Einstein proposed a remedy in his theory of general relativity. Using the mathematical tools available to him at the time, Einstein was able to better explain certain physical phenomena and also resolve a longstanding paradox relating to inertia and gravity.

But instead of improving on particles or waves, he eliminated them as he proposed the warping of space and time.

Using newer mathematical tools, my colleague and I have demonstrated a new theory that may accurately describe the Universe. Instead of basing the theory on the warping of space and time, we considered that there could be a building block that is more fundamental than the particle and the wave.

Scientists understand that particles and waves are existential opposites: A particle is a source of matter that exists at a single point, and waves exist everywhere except at the points that create them.

My colleague and I thought it made logical sense for there to be an underlying connection between them.

Flow and Fragments of Energy

Our theory begins with a new fundamental idea – that energy always “flows” through regions of space and time.

Think of energy as made up of lines that fill up a region of space and time, flowing into and out of that region, never beginning, never ending and never crossing one another.

Working from the idea of a universe of flowing energy lines, we looked for a single building block for the flowing energy. If we could find and define such a thing, we hoped we could use it to accurately make predictions about the Universe at the largest and tiniest scales.

There were many building blocks to choose from mathematically, but we sought one that had the features of both the particle and wave – concentrated like the particle but also spread out over space and time like the wave.

The answer was a building block that looks like a concentration of energy – kind of like a star – having energy that is highest at the center, and that gets smaller farther away from the center.

Much to our surprise, we discovered that there were only a limited number of ways to describe a concentration of energy that flows. Of those, we found just one that works in accordance with our mathematical definition of flow.

We named it a fragment of energy. For the math and physics aficionados, it is defined as A = -⍺/r where ⍺ is intensity and r is the distance function.

Using the fragment of energy as a building block of matter, we then constructed the math necessary to solve physics problems. The final step was to test it out.

Back to Einstein, Adding Universality

More than 100 ago, Einstein had turned to two legendary problems in physics to validate general relativity: the ever-so-slight yearly shift – or precession – in Mercury’s orbit, and the tiny bending of light as it passes the Sun.

These problems were at the two extremes of the size spectrum. Neither wave nor particle theories of matter could solve them, but general relativity did.

The theory of general relativity warped space and time in such way as to cause the trajectory of Mercury to shift and light to bend in precisely the amounts seen in astronomical observations.

If our new theory was to have a chance at replacing the particle and the wave with the presumably more fundamental fragment, we would have to be able to solve these problems with our theory, too.

For the precession-of-Mercury problem, we modeled the Sun as an enormous stationary fragment of energy and Mercury as a smaller but still enormous slow-moving fragment of energy. For the bending-of-light problem, the Sun was modeled the same way, but the photon was modeled as a minuscule fragment of energy moving at the speed of light.

In both problems, we calculated the trajectories of the moving fragments and got the same answers as those predicted by the theory of general relativity. We were stunned.

Our initial work demonstrated how a new building block is capable of accurately modeling bodies from the enormous to the minuscule. Where particles and waves break down, the fragment of energy building block held strong.

The fragment could be a single potentially universal building block from which to model reality mathematically – and update the way people think about the building blocks of the Universe.

Republished from under Creative Commons

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Exotic “Blue Jet” Lightning Shooting From Electrical Storm Captured by Space Station

Elias Marat



State-of-the-art equipment on the International Space Station (ISS) has captured a brilliant view of a thunderstorm from above, including a clear view of a strange type of lightning known as a blue jet.

The footage could help us better understand how lighting originates and even how storms distribute greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, offering important pointers on weather systems in general.

However, the footage also offers a damned cool perspective of electrical storms that we’ve never enjoyed until now.

In video released by the European Space Agency that was captured in February 2019, blue-colored lightning bolts can be seen shooting upwards from storm clouds over the Pacific island of Nauru into the highest reaches of the stratosphere.

Blue jets are types of lightning that shoot upwards from thunderclouds into the stratosphere, striking altitudes exceeding 30 miles (50 km) in under a second. While our typical lightning interacts with a mixture of gases in the lower atmosphere to create glowing white bolts, blue jets excite stratospheric nitrogen to create a luminous blue hue.

While the phenomenon has long been observed from aircraft and ground-level vantage points, the European Space Agency’s Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) at the ISS, which is about 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth, have enabled researchers to get the best glimpse yet of a blue jet arising from a sudden burst of electricity emanating from the top of a thundercloud, according to research published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature.

“Elves,” or rapidly-expanding rings of optical and UV emissions, were also generated by the flash. The emissions, which took place at the bottom of the ionosphere, were a result of the interaction between electrons, radio waves, and the atmosphere.

Blue jets and elves, like other upper-atmospheric phenomena such as mythological-sounding sprites, are important to our understanding of how radio waves travel through the air, with potential ramifications on our communications technologies as well as the more fundamental questions of how lightning is initiated in our clouds and how greenhouse gases are concentrated in the atmosphere.

However, spotting these brilliant light shows has been difficult for earthbound observers. Yet the highly sensitive tools installed on the Space Station in 2018 – including photometers, optical cameras, and an X- and gamma-ray detector –were able to capture the elusive phenomena.

The knowledge gleaned from the footage could prove crucial to researchers finally making sense of the processes unfolding in the upper atmosphere.

“This paper is an impressive highlight of the many new phenomena ASIM is observing above thunderstorms and shows that we still have so much to discover and learn about our Universe,” said Astrid Orr, the Physical Sciences Coordinator for human and robotic spaceflight at the European Space Agency.

“Congratulations to all the scientists and university teams that made this happen as well as the engineers that built the observatory and the support teams on ground operating ASIM—a true international collaboration that has led to amazing discoveries,” Orr added.

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