A mysterious slab of metal stands silently in the desert, leaving Earth’s primates puzzled.
That’s how the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey begins. It’s also the way things are playing out in Utah in 2020, after biologists made a baffling discovery in the state’s southern desert.
State wildlife officials say they were counting bighorn sheep from a helicopter last Wednesday when they stumbled upon a mysterious slab of metal sticking up out of the rock. The object stood 3-3.7 metres tall and appeared to be completely solid and undecorated, according to a crew from the Utah Department of Public Safety and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Its true origin is unknown.
“One of the biologists is the one who spotted it and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it,” helicopter pilot Bret Hutchings told Utah broadcaster KSLTV.
Hutchings and the crew of biologists touched down nearby and ventured down into a red-rock cove to examine the object up close.
Video shows it’s a solid piece of metal standing as tall as two humans.
“The intrepid explorers go down to investigate the alien life form,” one crew member said with a chuckle, in video they later provided to KSLTV.
Hutchings says the group had some fun with the discovery, though they still don’t know exactly they’re dealing with.
“We were joking around that if one of us suddenly disappears, I guess the rest of us make a run for it,” Hutchings said.
The object appeared to have been planted in place and likely did not fall into position from above, Hutchings said.
State officials did not indicate exactly where they found the monolith because it was in a remote area that is dangerous for hikers. They say they’d rather not inspire amateur adventurers to go out looking for it in hopes of solving the mystery.
“That’s been about the strangest thing that I’ve come across out there in all my years of flying,” Hutchings said.
He added that the object is probably an art installation or a tribute to Kubrick’s film.
The opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey depicts a race of ape-like human ancestors who swarm over a mysterious slab of metal that suddenly appears in their rocky home. One of the apes learns how to use tools a short time after the object appears.
No members of the helicopter crew have reported any incredible scientific discoveries to date, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating about the object’s origin.
The Utah Highway Patrol encouraged followers to guess about the object’s purpose, triggering a slew of guesses about aliens, wormholes, interdimensional portals and Kubrick’s film.
Many users called for the object to be left alone, if only to avoid any further misfortunes during a historically weird 2020.
“If I were y’all I’d wait until at least 2021, maybe 2022 for good measure, before touching it,” one user wrote.
“PUT IT BACK!” another user wrote. “We’ve had enough surprises this year.”
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Oldest quasar and supermassive black hole discovered in the distant universe – CTV News
The most distant quasar and the earliest known supermassive black hole have been discovered, shedding light on how massive galaxies formed in the early universe.
This discovery was revealed Tuesday at the 237th meeting of The American Astronomical Society, happening virtually due to the pandemic. The study has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
A quasar, or quasi-stellar object, is the compact region at the center of a galaxy that throws off enormous energy. They emit so much energy that quasars appear like stars through a telescope. Astronomers believe that the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies actually power quasars, acting like an engine.
When gas falls into quasars at the centers of galaxies, they form disks of gas and dust that emit electromagnetic energy. This creates a brightness greater than entire galaxies.
Jets shoot out of the quasar, pulsing with X-rays, and they are some of the hottest things in the entire universe. The jets blow gas and dust, which are essential to form stars, out of the galaxy. When a quasar forms, it signals the end of a galaxy’s star-forming days.
This quasar is a thousand times more luminous than our Milky Way galaxy, and it’s powered by the earliest known supermassive black hole. The light from this quasar took more than 13 billion years to reach Earth, and astronomers were able to observe it as the quasar appeared just 670 million years after the Big Bang.
Its black hole engine weighs more than 1.6 billion times the mass of our sun, making it twice as massive as that of the previous record holder.
“This is the earliest evidence of how a supermassive black hole is affecting the galaxy around it,” said Feige Wang, lead study author and NASA Hubble fellow at the University of Arizona, in a statement. “From observations of less distant galaxies, we know that this has to happen, but we have never seen it happening so early in the Universe.”
The quasar has been dubbed J0313-1806 by the astronomers who discovered it.
“The most distant quasars are crucial for understanding how the earliest black holes formed and for understanding cosmic reionization — the last major phase transition of our Universe,” said Xiaohui Fan, study coauthor and regents professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, in a statement.
To picture the brightness of this highly energetic object, imagine our sun — but 10 trillion times more luminous.
Astronomers were surprised to discover this quasar was fully formed in such a short time, astronomically speaking, after the Big Bang. The presence of the massive black hole that powers it at this early point in the universe’s timeline also challenges how astronomers understand black hole formation.
For example, how did this black hole have time to form?
“Black holes created by the very first massive stars could not have grown this large in only a few hundred million years,” Wang said.
Typically, such massive black holes form when giant stars explode and collapse, forming black holes that grow in size. They can also form when a dense cluster of stars collapses. Both of these take time.
“This tells you that no matter what you do, the seed of this black hole must have formed by a different mechanism,” Fan said. “In this case, it’s a mechanism that involves vast quantities of primordial, cold hydrogen gas directly collapsing into a seed black hole.”
The brightness of the quasar indicates that the black hole is gobbling up about 25 stars like our sun each year, which powers an outflow of gas moving at 20% the speed of light.
This loss of gas typically halts the birth of stars in a galaxy because that gas is a necessary ingredient in star formation.
“We think those supermassive black holes were the reason why many of the big galaxies stopped forming stars at some point,” Fan said.
Ultimately, the black hole will eventually run out of food, stunting its growth, Fan said.
Multiple telescopes were used in the discovery and astronomers are eager to observe it more in the future.
The galaxy that hosts the quasar is rapidly producing stars at a rate that is 200 times faster than the Milky Way.
“This would be a great target to investigate the formation of the earliest supermassive black holes,” Wang said. “We also hope to learn more about the effect of quasar outflows on their host galaxy — as well as to learn how the most massive galaxies formed in the early Universe.”
Meet NASA Astronaut & Artemis Team Member Victor Glover [Video] – SciTechDaily
NASA astronaut Victor Glover is a member of the Artemis Team, a select group of astronauts charged with focusing on the development and training efforts for early Artemis missions.
Victor J. Glover, Jr. was selected as an astronaut in 2013 while serving as a Legislative Fellow in the United States Senate. He is currently serving as pilot and second-in-command on the Crew-1 SpaceX Crew Dragon, named Resilience, which launched November 15, 2020. It is the first post-certification mission of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft – the second crewed flight for that vehicle – and a long duration mission aboard the International Space Station. He will also serve as Flight Engineer on the International Space Station for Expedition 64.
The California native holds a Bachelor of Science in General Engineering, a Master of Science in Flight Test Engineering, a Master of Science in Systems Engineering and a Master of Military Operational Art and Science. Glover is a Naval Aviator and was a test pilot in the F/A‐18 Hornet, Super Hornet and EA‐18G Growler. He and his family have been stationed in many locations in the United States and Japan and he has deployed in combat and peacetime.
Through the Artemis program NASA and a coalition of international partners will return to the Moon to learn how to live on other worlds for the benefit of all. With Artemis missions NASA will send the first woman and the next man to the Moon in 2024 and about once per year thereafter.
Through the efforts of humans and robots, we will explore more of the Moon than ever before; to lead a journey of discovery that benefits our planet with life changing science, to use the Moon and its resources as a technology testbed to go even farther and to learn how to establish and sustain a human presence far beyond Earth.
Ocean seagrass 'Neptune balls' trap plastic waste, World News & Top Stories – The Straits Times
PARIS (AFP) – Underwater seagrass in coastal areas appear to trap bits of plastic in natural bundles of fibre known as “Neptune balls”, researchers said on Thursday (Jan 14).
With no help from humans, the swaying plants – anchored to shallow seabeds – may collect nearly 900 million plastic items in the Mediterranean alone every year, they reported in the journal Scientific Reports.
“We show that plastic debris in the seafloor can be trapped in seagrass remains, eventually leaving the marine environment through beaching,” lead author Anna Sanchez-Vidal, a marine biologist at the University of Barcelona, told Agence France-Presse.
This accidental clean-up “represents a continuous purge of plastic debris out of the sea”, she added.
Add pollution control, then, to the long list of services that seagrass provides – for ocean ecosystems, and the humans that live near the water’s edge.
There are some 70 species of marine seagrass, grouped in several families of flowering plants that – originally on land – recolonised the ocean some 80 million to 100 million years ago.
Growing from the Arctic to the tropics, most species have long, grass-like leaves that can form vast underwater meadows.
They are more than just pretty, however.
They play a vital role in improving water quality, absorb CO2 and exude oxygen, and are a natural nursery and refuge for hundreds of species of fish.
They are also the foundation of coastal food webs.
By anchoring shallow waters, they help prevent beach erosion, and dampen the impact of destructive storm surges.
To better understand the plastic bundling capabilities of seagrass, Sanchez-Vidal and her team studied a species found only in the Mediterranean Sea, Posidonia oceanica.
In 2018 and 2019, they counted the number of plastic particles found in seaballs that had washed up on four beaches in Mallorca, Spain, which has large seagrass meadows offshore.
There was plastic debris in half of the loose seagrass leaf samples, up to 600 bits per kilo of leaves.
Only 17 per cent of the tighter bundled seagrass fibre known as Neptune balls contained plastic, but at a much higher density – nearly 1,500 pieces per kilo of seaball.
Using estimates of seagrass fibre production in the Mediterranean, the researchers worked up an estimate of how much plastic might be filtered in the entire basin.
The oval orbs – the shape of a rugby ball – forms from the base of leaves that have been shredded by the action of ocean currents but remain attached to stems, called rhizomes.
As they are slowly buried by sedimentation, the damaged leaf sheaths form stiff fibres that intertwine into a ball, collecting plastic in the process.
“We don’t know where they travel,” said Sanchez-Vidal. “We only know that some of them are beached during storms.”
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