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Astronomers spot light from behind a black hole for the first time — proving Einstein right, again – CBS News

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For the first time ever, astronomers have directly detected light from behind a supermassive black hole. The discovery proves Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity was right — again

Using the European Space Agency‘s XMM-Newton and NASA’s NuSTAR space telescopes, researchers were observing the black hole as it flung X-rays out into the universe. The black hole is about 10 million times more massive than our sun, and is located in the center of a nearby spiral galaxy called I Zwicky, 1,800 million light-years away from Earth.

After observing a series of bright flares of X-rays, something unprecedented occurred — more flashes that were smaller, later and different “colors” than their predecessors. According to a study published this week in the journal Nature, the “echoes” of light appeared consistent with X-rays reflected from behind the black hole — a very strange place for light to originate.  

Black holes’ gravitational pulls are so powerful that light cannot escape them. However, light can “echo,” wrapping around the back of the celestial phenomenon and allowing astronomers to see it. 

“Any light that goes into that black hole doesn’t come out, so we shouldn’t be able to see anything that’s behind the black hole,” said lead author Dan Wilkins in a statement. “The reason we can see that is because that black hole is warping space, bending light and twisting magnetic fields around itself.” 

While Einstein predicted the ability of a black hole’s gravity to bend light around it in 1916, it has never been confirmed — until now.

Researchers observed bright flares of X-ray emissions, produced as gas falls into a supermassive black hole. The flares echoed off of the gas falling into the black hole, and as the flares were subsiding, short flashes of X-rays were seen – corresponding to the reflection of the flares from the far side of the disk, bent around the black hole by its strong gravitational field.

Dan Wilkins


“Fifty years ago, when astrophysicists starting speculating about how the magnetic field might behave close to a black hole, they had no idea that one day we might have the techniques to observe this directly and see Einstein’s general theory of relativity in action,” said co-author Roger Blandford. 

Researchers weren’t even looking to confirm Einstein’s theory. They were originally attempting to uncover the mysteries of an odd feature of black holes known as the corona, the source of the bright X-ray light. 

“I’ve been building theoretical predictions of how these echoes appear to us for a few years,” said Wilkins. “I’d already seen them in the theory I’ve been developing, so once I saw them in the telescope observations, I could figure out the connection.”

The prevailing theory is that the corona forms after gas falls continuously into the black hole, forming a spinning disk around it, “like water flushing down a drain.” The gas disk is then heated up to millions of degrees, generating a twisted magnetic field that eventually snaps, releasing its energy and producing the corona.

“This magnetic field getting tied up and then snapping close to the black hole heats everything around it and produces these high energy electrons that then go on to produce the X-rays,” said Wilkins. 

From here, astronomers hope to use the various “colors” observed as the X-ray echoes travel around the black hole to create a 3D map of the black hole surroundings. They also hope to learn how the corona produces such bright flares.

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Joe Biden Wants to Put a Japanese Astronaut on the Moon – Gizmodo

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Gateway, illustrated here, will serve as a crucial part of the upcoming Artemis missions.
Illustration: NASA

President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida further solidified their plans to send a Japanese astronaut to the upcoming lunar space station, while also affirming the possibility of having a Japanese astronaut walk on the Moon during future Artemis missions.

Biden and Kishida met in Tokyo on Monday to continue discussions around an Implementing Agreement that will potentially place a Japanese astronaut on the Gateway space station. The leaders also reaffirmed each country’s commitment to share data on climate change. The discussion around Gateway personnel is a part of ongoing conversations between the U.S. and Japan regarding NASA’s upcoming missions to the Moon.

Gateway is an integral component of NASA’s larger effort to return to the Moon, a series of upcoming missions known as the Artemis program. Once built, Gateway will serve as a Moon-orbiting outpost offering lunar-bound astronauts support for their visit. The lunar space station, in addition to serving as critical infrastructure for the Artemis missions, will also serve as a staging point for future crewed missions to Mars. The first pieces of the upcoming lunar station are set to launch no earlier than November 2024.

“In recent years, the alliance between Japan and the United States has grown stronger, deeper, and more capable as we work together to take on new challenges—just as important as the opportunities—of a rapidly changing world,” said President Biden in a NASA press release.

Japan and the U.S. are also interested in placing a Japanese astronaut on the surface of the Moon during a yet-to-be-determined Artemis mission, according to a White House fact sheet. NASA is looking to land astronauts on the lunar south pole by 2025, and Artemis will involve the first crewed Moon missions since Apollo 17 in 1972. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in the release: “Our shared ambition to see Japanese and American astronauts walk on the Moon together reflects our nations’ shared values to explore space responsibly and transparently for the benefit of humanity here on Earth.”

While the first pieces of Gateway are still a few years away from launch, having the U.S. and Japan team up is an opportunity to get more nations involved. The Artemis missions will be a global effort, and getting back to the Moon represents an exciting next step in space exploration and engineering.

More: This Tiny Moon-Bound Satellite Could Carve a Path For a Lunar Space Station.

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Crumbling comet could create meteor shower May 30 – Toronto Sun

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A crumbling comet could create a meteor shower on May 30.

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The ‘tau Herculids’ meteor display might be one of the most dramatic observed in over two decades, according to Space.com.

Meteor showers occur when dust or particles from asteroids or comets enter Earth’s atmosphere at a very high speed, the U.K. Sun explained.

This one is expected to be the product of a comet named 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, also known as SW3.

SW3 was first discovered in 1930 but did not reappear again until the 1970s, Republic World reported.

In 1995, astronomers noticed that the comet’s nucleus split into four smaller chunks, according to CNET.

It has continued to disintegrate more in the ensuing years.

The display is expected to be very visible in the Northern Hemisphere as it is occurring on a Moon-less night.

A consensus of experts predicts that the shower will be visible starting from 1 a.m. EST on May 31.

It is suggested viewers will want to be outside at least an hour before this so your eyes have a chance to adjust to the dark.

“The southwestern USA and Mexico are favored locations as the radiant, the area of the sky where these meteors come from, will be located highest in a dark sky,” Robert Lunsford wrote for AMS.

“The outburst may be seen from southeastern Canada and the remainder of the (eastern) USA, but at a lower altitude.”

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Boeing capsule returns from space station after test flight with no crew – CBC News

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Boeing’s crew taxi returned to Earth from the International Space Station on Wednesday, completing a repeat test flight before NASA astronauts climb aboard.

It was a quick trip back: the Starliner capsule parachuted into the New Mexico desert just four hours after leaving the orbiting lab, with airbags attached to cushion the landing. Only a mannequin was buckled in.

Aside from thruster failures and cooling system snags, Starliner appeared to clinch its high-stakes shakedown cruise, 2½ years after its botched first try. Flight controllers in Houston applauded and cheered the bull’s-eye touchdown.

NASA astronauts will strap in next for a trip to the space station. The space agency has long wanted two competing U.S. companies ferrying astronauts, giving it added insurance as it drastically reduced its reliance on Russia for rides to and from the space station.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is already the established leader, launching astronauts since 2020 and even tourists. Its crew capsules splash down off the Florida coast; Boeing’s Starliner returns to the U.S. Army’s expansive White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

This image from NASA TV shows the Boeing Starliner approaching the International Space Station last Friday. (NASA/The Associated Press)

Boeing scrapped its first attempt to reach the space station in 2019, after software errors left the capsule in the wrong orbit and nearly doomed it. The company fixed the flaws and tried again last summer, but corroded valves halted the countdown. Following more repairs, Starliner finally lifted off from Cape Canaveral last Thursday and docked to the space station Friday.

Station astronauts tested Starliner’s communication and computer systems during its five days at the space station. They also unloaded hundreds of kilograms of groceries and other supplies that flew up in the Boeing capsule, then filled it with empty air tanks and other discarded gear.

A folded U.S. flag sent up by Boeing stayed behind, to be retrieved by the first Starliner crew.

“We’re a little sad to see her go,” station astronaut Bob Hines radioed as the capsule flew away.

Along for the ride was Starliner’s test dummy — Rosie the Rocketeer, a takeoff on the Second World War’s Rosie the Riveter.

The repairs and do-over cost Boeing nearly $600 million US.

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