(TMU) — Scientists believe there is a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy named Sagittarius A*. This black hole is 26,000 light-years from the Earth and approximately 4 million times the mass of the Sun.
While Sgr A* has always been thought of as a quiet, relatively modest black hole, new observations show a recent burst of unprecedented activity suggesting it is on a sudden feeding frenzy.
The observations comes from a research team at the UCLA Galactic Center Group, which published their work in Astrophysical Journal Letters. Using the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, the team gathered 13,000 images of the accretion disk area of the black hole.
The accretion disk is where enormous amounts of gas, dust, and radiation accumulate and orbit outside the “point of no return”—or the event horizon. According to their observations, there has been a sudden and “unprecedented” increase in brightness from the Sgr A* accretion disk.
The paper’s co-author, Andrea Ghez, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, stated:
“We have never seen anything like this in the 24 years we have studied the supermassive black hole. It’s usually a pretty quiet, wimpy black hole on a diet. We don’t know what is driving this big feast.”
Scientists say the increase in brightness means the black hole is consuming more interstellar material, including stars, planets, dust, gas, and asteroids. One of the research team’s lead authors originally believed the glow was a star because Sagittarius A* had never been observed at that level of brightness.
The advanced techniques used to gather this information is perhaps one of the most noteworthy aspects of this story. The researchers employed speckle holography to extract and analyze distant information from Sgr A* during the last 24 years. Another technique, called adaptive optics, eliminates distortion from Earth’s atmosphere. Combined, researchers were able to conclude that this is the largest amount of radiation detected from our galaxy’s black hole in nearly a quarter of a century.
Mark Morris, another co-author and UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, speculated on the cause of the increase:
“The big question is whether the black hole is entering a new phase—for example if the spigot has been turned up and the rate of gas falling down the black hole ‘drain’ has increased for an extended period—or whether we have just seen the fireworks from a few unusual blobs of gas falling in.”
Scientists believe that by recording and analyzing such increases in black hole activity, they can get a better understanding of how black holes evolve and impact the development of galaxies.
Awesome New Infrared Goggles Could Help Blind People ‘See’ Surroundings
People who are blind or deal with low vision face a unique number of challenges in their daily lives, ranging from accessing published material to holding a job or living on one’s own.
However, emerging infrared technology under research could help the blind and visually impaired navigate the world around them using a pair of innovative goggles.
In new research recently published and yet to be peer-reviewed, Manuel Zahn and Armaghan Ahmad Khan at Germany’s Technical University of Munich explored how their 3D camera and haptic feedback armband can assist people with low vision.
“Even in the present era, visually impaired people face a constant challenge of navigation,” the pair wrote. “The most common tool available to them is the cane. Although the cane allows good detection of objects in the user’s immediate vicinity, it lacks the ability to detect obstacles further away.”
The two students’ design deploys two infrared cameras placed in a 3D-printed goggles prototype to get a stereoscopic view that is transformed by a small computer into a map of the user’s surroundings. The infrared gear also works in the dark. The armband then uses 25 actuators arranged in a grid that vibrates when users come close to objects while also assisting them in their orientation. As users walk near obstacles, the vibration intensity of the actuators increases.
In tests, subjects enjoyed roughly 98 percent accuracy while getting through obstacle pathways, with all five participants completing the course in their first run. After two additional runs, the volunteers were able to navigate the obstacles more rapidly.
Zahn and Khan frequently cited Microsoft’s Kinect motion detection system for the Xbox in their study, but the pair are confident that their own setup will be far smaller, cheaper and less conspicuous than the gaming device.
The new headset could offer an interesting opportunity for blind and partially sighted people to clear the myriad obstacles they face when performing regular tasks or navigating the world around them.
NASA Finds “Unusual” Signs of Life on Mars
New research unveiled on Sunday by NASA could point to the existence of life on the Red Planet, as well as a range of other exciting possibilities.
On Sunday, the space agency generated buzz with a statement about the latest find by its Curiosity rover: rocks that contain organic carbon, which may indicate the existence of ancient bacteria or any other diverse examples of “complex organic molecules formed by life.”
While analyzing rocks and other sediment collected by the rover across the Red Planet, researchers found an ancient carbon cycle that could have a “biological basis” and resembles the types of fossilized remains of microbial life discovered in parts of our own planet that date back some 2.7 billion years.
A tell-tale sign could be found in the two stable isotopes – 12 and 13 – that were found in the Martian carbon.
While the find offers tantalizing hope that life may have existed on Mars, the researchers are holding out hope that they can find other indicators of what caused these carbon signatures.
“On Earth, processes that would produce the carbon signal we’re detecting on Mars are biological,” said Prof. Christopher House at Penn State University, the lead author of the study. “We have to understand whether the same explanation works for Mars, or if there are other explanations, because Mars is very different.”
Indeed, a complex range of different factors may make biological processes radically different on Mars than on Earth. The Red Planet, for example, is far smaller, colder, and has weaker gravity as well as different gases in its atmosphere. Likewise, Martian carbon could be circulating in the absence of any life, unlike here on Earth.
“There’s a huge chunk of the carbon cycle on Earth that involves life, and because of life, there is a chunk of the carbon cycle on Earth we can’t understand, because everywhere we look there is life,” noted Curiosity researcher Andrew Steele from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.
Researchers are looking into the widespread existence of the simple organic molecule methane as a potential telltale sign of microbial life, with the focus of exploration lying near the Gale Crater – a deep lake that is 3.5 billion years old and is said to store complex organic molecules and many of the key ingredients for the existence of ife.
“Defining the carbon cycle on Mars is absolutely key to trying to understand how life could fit into that cycle,” Steele noted. “We have done that really successfully on Earth, but we are just beginning to define that cycle for Mars.”
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