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The Supermassive Black Hole at the Center of Our Galaxy Just Got Extremely Hungry

“We have never seen anything like this in the 24 years we have studied the supermassive black hole.”

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Supermassive Black Hole Hungry

(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.

By Jake Anderson | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

Bizarre

Study: 1,000 Potential Alien Star Systems Could Be Watching Us From Afar

Justin MacLachlan

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Motivated by the “Pale Blue Dot” NASA photo researchers are asking the question, could other planets be looking at us just like we’re looking at them? A study of Earth’s “solar neighborhood” has found that over 1,000 different systems have the perfect angle to view Earth.

The infamous “Pale Blue Dot” photograph was suggested by astronomer Carl Sagan who implored that the Voyager 1 space probe take a picture of Earth from nearly four billion miles away. The new study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, seeks to find out how many different exo-planet systems with alien life could be watching us. Ironically, the research comes from the Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute.

The studies co-author Lisa Kaltenegger stated their list focuses on main-sequence stars similar to our own sun. These solar systems may contain exoplanets, Earth-like worlds sitting in the habitable zone for life. All of the prospective systems are within 300 million light-years of Earth, close enough to see our world’s chemical traces according to the researchers.

“Let’s reverse the viewpoint to that of other stars and ask from which vantage point other observers could find Earth as a transiting planet,” Kaltenegger, the director of Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute said in a press release.

“If observers were out there searching, they would be able to see signs of a biosphere in the atmosphere of our Pale Blue Dot… and we can even see some of the brightest of these stars in our night sky without binoculars or telescopes.”

What makes this listing of 1,004 star systems novel and significant is they all sit in Earth’s elliptic orbit or the plane of the planets orbit around our Sun. Exoplanets traveling along this same path would be able to see the Earth according to the researchers.

To foreign observers, Earth would be a transiting planet that passes in front of its sun as the observer looks at distant stars. Theoretically, these exoplanets would be able to see Earth crossing the Sun, which sounds like a marvelous sight.

“Only a very small fraction of planets will just happen to be randomly aligned with our line of sight so we can see them transit,” co-author Joshua Pepper of Lehigh University says. “But all of the thousand stars we identified in our paper in the solar neighborhood could see our Earth transit the sun, calling their attention.”

“If we’re looking for intelligent life in the universe, that could find us and might want to get in touch,” Kaltenegger adds. “We’ve just created the star map of where we should look first.”

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Animals

Scientists Say Species Throughout Earth’s History Keep Inexplicably Evolving Into Crabs

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A paper from 2017 recently resurfaced online and has gone semi-viral because of its weird, and, according to some scientists, somewhat disturbing/amazing conclusion: that life on Earth seems to naturally evolve toward crab-like species.

Originally published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, the paper is titled “One hundred years of carcinization – the evolution of the crab-like habitus in Anomura.” It found a new life in mid-October on Boing Boing under the title “Animals have evolved into a crab-like-shape at least 5 separate times” and has since been the subject of articles on Popular Mechanics and several other websites.

So what are popular science writers – and their readers – so worked up about? The original paper discusses the curious and highly improbable sequence of instances involving convergent and parallel evolution of animals into crab-like species. These instances of carcinization – the scientific term for when a crustacean evolves from a non-crab-like form into a crab-like one – has happened at least five different times in completely different historical contexts.

In the paper, the researchers write:

“The fact that a crab-like habitus did not evolve solely in ‘true’ crabs but also several times independently in the Anomura makes this process ideal for evolutionary research.”

Parallel evolution is certainly no stranger to Earth’s history. For example, marsupials are commonly referred to in this context. Convergent evolution, which refers to species from independent epochs of time developing analogous morphological structures, is also well established by Darwinian principles. Species on separate evolutionary tracks of both habitat and time can end up arriving at the same traits and structures. However, the number of times it happens with the crab-like shape and features seems to baffle more than a few scientists.

Additionally, the researchers point out, the similarities are not just relegated to superficial appearances in shells and claws: the five evolutionary journeys toward carcinization include shared functional traits in neurological processes and circulatory systems.

“Curiously, not only did the crab-like habitus evolve independently from the ‘true’ crabs (Brachyura), it also evolved three times independently within anomurans. […] Although enormous morphological disparity is observed in the internal anatomy of the crab-like taxa, reflecting the fact that the evolution of the crab-like habitus was indeed convergent, various corresponding dependences are found across the different lineages between the external characters of a crab-like habitus/morphotype and inner structures. In other words, as a result of carcinization certain structural coherences led to the specific internal anatomical patterns found in crab-like forms.”

So, what does it all mean? Is life on Earth somehow predisposed to crabs? Does this mean that when we meet aliens someday they will be giant intelligent crabs? Or could there be some strategic evolutionary advantage in the crab-like habitus and internal structures?

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Consciousness

Neuroscientist Claims That Consciousness Itself Is Its Own Energy Field

Justin MacLachlan

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A neuroscientist has suggested in a new theory that our consciousness is derived from a field of electromagnetic waves given off by neurons.

The study published last month in the journal Neuroscience of Consciousness is entirely based off a theory absent of tangible evidence. However, the author of the research Johnjoe McFadden said that his hypothesis could offer a way forward for robots that think and feel emotions.

McFadden believes that neuron waves of electrical activity get sent out and as they propagate across the brain, they help compose our entire conscious experience.

Johnjoe McFadden, is a molecular geneticist and director of quantum biology at the University of Surrey. McFadden points to flaws in other models of consciousness as the reason that we don’t have sentient artificial intelligence or robots capable of achieving consciousness.

McFadden’s hypothesis swerves away from most traditional neuroscientists, who generally see consciousness as a narrative that our brain constructs out of our senses, perceptions, and actions. Instead, McFadden returns to a more empirical version of dualism — the idea that consciousness stems from something other than our brain matter.

McFadden’s theory adapts the idea of “dualism,” which is the belief that consciousness is a supernatural force. Dualism has long been rejected by scientists and ruled pseudo-science, but McFadden has attempted to apply a scientific explanation for the idea, which hasn’t been done before.

Neuroscience news reports that the theory is based on scientific fact:

“The theory is based on scientific fact: when neurons in the brain and nervous system fire, they not only send the familiar electrical signal down the wire-like nerve fibres, but they also send a pulse of electromagnetic energy into the surrounding tissue. Such energy is usually disregarded, yet it carries the same information as nerve firings, but as an immaterial wave of energy, rather than a flow of atoms in and out of the nerves.”

It’s also a fact we have an electromagnetic field surrounding our brain is well-known and is detected by brain-scanning techniques such as electroencephalogram (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) but has previously been dismissed as irrelevant to brain function and supernatural. Instead, McFadden contends that the brain’s information-rich electromagnetic field is, in fact, itself the seat of consciousness, driving the ‘free will’ of an individual.

“How brain matter becomes aware and manages to think is a mystery that has been pondered by philosophers, theologians, mystics and ordinary people for millennia,” McFadden said in a press release published by Medical Xpress. “I believe this mystery has now been solved, and that consciousness is the experience of nerves plugging into the brain’s self-generated electromagnetic field to drive what we call ‘free will’ and our voluntary actions.”

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