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Astronomers Catch Supermassive Black Holes On Verge Of Merger – Forbes

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Long-term radio monitoring of a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy some 9 billion light years distant appears to show it has a massive unseen partner.  The Caltech-led observations were made over a 13-year period by the Owens Valley Radio Observatory in Northern California and reveal that the radio black hole will soon merge with a companion black hole to form a supermassive black hole binary (SMBHB).

These two supermassive black holes appear to be orbiting around each other every two years, reports Caltech. The two giant bodies each have masses that are hundreds of millions of times larger than that of our Sun, and the objects are separated by a distance roughly 50 times that which separates our sun and Pluto, notes Caltech, but When the pair merge in roughly 10,000 years, the titanic collision is expected to shake space and time itself, sending gravitational waves across the universe.

The observations are detailed in a paper appearing this week in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. 

The observed quasar, PKS 2131-021, is part of a subclass of quasars called blazars in which the jet is pointing toward the Earth. It’s now only the second known candidate for a pair of supermassive black holes caught in the act of merging.

“From an astrophysics perspective, we expect there to be supermassive black hole binaries,” Joseph Lazio, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and one of the paper’s co-authors, told me. “Most, if not all, large galaxies have supermassive black holes in their centers, galaxies are observed to be undergoing mergers, so there should be supermassive black hole binaries that result.”

PKS 2131-021 is only one of 1,800 blazars that a group of researchers at Caltech in Pasadena has been monitoring at the Owens Valley Observatory as part of a general study of blazar behavior, Caltech notes. But this particular blazar exhibits a strange behavior: Its brightness shows regular ups and downs as predictably as the ticking of a clock, which researchers now think this regular variation is the result of a second black hole tugging on the first, Caltech reports.

After learning that two other radio telescopes had also studied this system – the University of Michigan Radio Observatory (1980 to 2012) and the Haystack Observatory (1975 to 1983) – they dug into the additional data and found that it matched predictions for how the blazar’s brightness should change over time, says Caltech.

The telltale evidence came from radio observations of PKS 2131-021 that span 45 years, notes Caltech.

A powerful jet emanating from one of the two black holes within PKS 2131-021 is shifting back and forth due to the pair’s orbital motion; this, in turn, causes periodic changes in the quasar’s radio-light brightness, Caltech reports.

Five different observatories registered these oscillations, including Caltech’s Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO), the University of Michigan Radio Astronomy Observatory (UMRAO), MIT’s Haystack Observatory, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), Metsähovi Radio Observatory in Finland, and NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space satellite.

Why are such merging supermassive black holes so difficult to detect?

On astronomical scales, even though the black holes might be “supermassive,” their separation is tiny. The other is that the black holes themselves don’t emit any radiation of course, says Lazio. The radiation results either from material that is in the process of falling into a black hole or from a (powerful) jet that results from some of the material that doesn’t fall into the hole, he says. If there’s material around only one of the black holes and not the other, then it could be easy to be confused about whether there is one or two black holes present, says Lazio. 

What can be learned from these observations?

“This discovery emphasizes the importance of the simple act of monitoring the brightness of celestial objects,” said Lazio. “While apparently a simple task, keeping such a project running for the better part of a decade, day in, day out, requires considerable dedication and stamina.”

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See Astronaut's Sublime Shot of Total Lunar Eclipse Snapped From the ISS – CNET

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Earthlings on Earth weren’t the only ones who got to witness the lovely blushing of the “flower blood moon” total lunar eclipse on Sunday night and Monday morning. Residents of the International Space Station had a great view of the spectacular celestial event.

European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti shared a beautiful series of photos of the eclipse as seen from orbit. “A partially eclipsed moon playing hide-and-seek with our solar panel,” Cristoforetti tweeted on Monday.

The photos show the eclipse in progress, with the moon peeking under the station’s solar panels. One stunning view also shows Earth below, clouds visible against an expanse of blue. The images highlight the subtle shading of the moon as our planet threw its shadow across it.

Cristoforetti shared another look with just the eclipsed moon peeking over the curve of Earth.

Cristoforetti is an accomplished space photographer, having snapped plenty of gorgeous images during her last stay on the ISS in 2014 and 2015. Her most recent stint started in late April as part of NASA’s Crew-4 mission launched by SpaceX. 

I watched the eclipse last night from New Mexico. As the shadow moved across the moon, the ISS flew over, a bright bead of light crossing against the starry sky. So as I was seeing the ISS, Cristoforetti was likely tracking the eclipse, too. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the ground or up in orbit, an eclipse is worth witnessing.

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NASA's InSight still hunting marsquakes as power levels diminish – Phys.org

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InSight captured this image of one of its dust-covered solar panels on April 24, 2022, the 1,211th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dusty solar panels and darker skies are expected to bring the Mars lander mission to a close around the end of this year.

NASA’s InSight Mars lander is gradually losing power and is anticipated to end science operations later this summer. By December, InSight’s team expects the lander to have become inoperative, concluding a mission that has thus far detected more than 1,300 marsquakes—most recently, a magnitude 5 that occurred on May 4—and located quake-prone regions of the Red Planet.

The information gathered from those quakes has allowed scientists to measure the depth and composition of Mars’ crust, mantle, and core. Additionally, InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) has recorded invaluable weather data and studied remnants of Mars’ ancient magnetic field.

“InSight has transformed our understanding of the interiors of rocky planets and set the stage for future missions,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “We can apply what we’ve learned about Mars’ inner structure to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even rocky planets in other solar systems.”

InSight landed on Mars Nov. 26, 2018. Equipped with a pair of solar panels that each measures about 7 feet (2.2 meters) wide, it was designed to accomplish the mission’s primary science goals in its first Mars year (nearly two Earth years). Having achieved them, the spacecraft is now into an extended mission, and its solar panels have been producing less power as they continue to accumulate dust.

Because of the reduced power, the team will soon put the lander’s robotic arm in its resting position (called the “retirement pose”) for the last time later this month. Originally intended to deploy the seismometer and the lander’s heat probe, the arm has played an unexpected role in the mission: Along with using it to help bury the heat probe after sticky Martian soil presented the probe with challenges, the team used the arm in an innovative way to remove dust from the solar panels. As a result, the seismometer was able to operate more often than it would have otherwise, leading to new discoveries.

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NASA’s InSight Mars lander team speak about the mission’s science and the innovative ways they took on engineering challenges. During its time on Mars, InSight has achieved all its primary science goals and continues to hunt for quakes. Its mission is expected to conclude around the end of 2022. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When InSight landed, the produced around 5,000 watt-hours each Martian day, or sol—enough to power an electric oven for an hour and 40 minutes. Now, they’re producing roughly 500 watt-hours per sol—enough to power the same electric oven for just 10 minutes.

Additionally, seasonal changes are beginning in Elysium Planitia, InSight’s location on Mars. Over the next few months, there will be more dust in the air, reducing sunlight—and the lander’s energy. While past efforts removed some dust, the mission would need a more powerful dust-cleaning event, such as a “dust devil” (a passing whirlwind), to reverse the current trend.

“We’ve been hoping for a cleaning like we saw happen several times to the Spirit and Opportunity rovers,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the mission. “That’s still possible, but energy is low enough that our focus is making the most of the science we can still collect.”

If just 25% of InSight’s panels were swept clean by the wind, the lander would gain about 1,000 watt-hours per sol—enough to continue collecting science. However, at the current rate power is declining, InSight’s non-seismic instruments will rarely be turned on after the end of May.

Energy is being prioritized for the lander’s seismometer, which will operate at select times of day, such as at night, when winds are low and marsquakes are easier for the seismometer to “hear.” The seismometer itself is expected to be off by the end of summer, concluding the science phase of the .

At that point, the lander will still have enough power to operate, taking the occasional picture and communicating with Earth. But the team expects that around December, will be low enough that one day InSight will simply stop responding.


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NASA’s InSight still hunting marsquakes as power levels diminish (2022, May 17)
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Peek-a-Boo Moon: Astronaut on Space Station Captures Spectacular Photos of the Lunar Eclipse – SciTechDaily

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ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti captured pictures of the May 2022 lunar eclipse from the International Space Station.

On the evening of May 15, 2022, Earth passed between the Sun and the Moon blocking sunlight and casting a shadow on the lunar surface. ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti witnessed this lunar eclipse from the International Space Station and captured it in a series of photographs.

During a lunar eclipse, Earth’s atmosphere scatters sunlight. The blue light from the Sun scatters away, and longer-wavelength red, orange, and yellow light pass through, turning our Moon red.

Lunar Eclipse From International Space Station 1

An image of a lunar eclipse as seen from the International Space Station. Credit: ESA-S.Cristoforetti

In these images, the Moon appears to play hide and seek with one of the International Space Station’s solar panels:

Lunar Eclipse From International Space Station 4

A partially eclipsed Moon playing hide and seek with the solar panel of the International Space Station. Credit: ESA-S.Cristoforetti

Lunar Eclipse From International Space Station 3

A partially eclipsed Moon playing hide and seek with the solar panel of the International Space Station. Credit: ESA-S.Cristoforetti

Lunar Eclipse From International Space Station 2

A partially eclipsed Moon playing hide and seek with the solar panel of the International Space Station. Credit: ESA-S.Cristoforetti

Samantha is living and working aboard the Space Station for her second mission, ‘Minerva’. Learn more about Samantha and the Minerva mission.

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