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Fastest-growing black hole devours about one sun every day – CNET

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Black holes still provide some of the biggest mysteries – and superlatives – in existence.


NASA/JPL-Caltech

The fastest-growing black hole known to humans is astonishingly large, and apparently very, very hangry, according to new research from an international team of astronomers. “The black hole’s mass is also about 8,000 times bigger than the black hole in the center of the Milky Way,” Christopher Onken of the Australian National University said in a release.

To localize it even further, the yawning void, known as J2157, is 34 billion times the mass of our sun and consumes the equivalent of one sun each day. 

“If the Milky Way’s black hole wanted to grow that fat, it would have to swallow two-thirds of all the stars in our galaxy,” Onken adds. 

Onken and his team discovered the black hole in 2018 and were astonished by its fast growth rate.

“How much black holes can swallow depends on how much mass they already have,” explained team member Fuyan Bian of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). “So, for this one to be devouring matter at such a high rate, we thought it could become a new record holder. And now we know.” 

The team used the ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile to get accurate data on the black hole’s mass. Their results appear in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Fortunately for us, the behemoth of a black hole is billions of light-years away, which also means the researchers are seeing it when the universe was very young. How a black hole could grow so massive at such an early period in the history of the universe is one of the more intriguing mysteries the team plans to pursue. 

“Is this galaxy one of the behemoths of the early universe,” Onken asks, “or did the black hole just swallow up an extraordinary amount of its surroundings? We’ll have to keep digging to figure that out.” 

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Venus is a Russian planet — say the Russians – CTV News

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No longer confined to territories here on Earth, Russia has now staked its claim on Venus, saying it is a “Russian planet.”

This week, Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space corporation Roscosmos, revealed that the country plans to send its own mission to Venus in addition to “Venera-D,” the planned joint mission with the US, the Russian state news agency TASS reported.

Rogozin was addressing reporters at the HeliRussia 2020 exhibition, an international expo of the helicopter industry in Moscow.

“Resuming Venus exploration is on our agenda,” he told reporters Tuesday.

“We think that Venus is a Russian planet, so we shouldn’t lag behind,” he said.

“Projects of Venus missions are included in the united government program of Russia’s space exploration for 2021-2030.”

The statement came the day after scientists revealed that a gas on Earth called phosphine had also been detected in the atmosphere of Venus.

Venus is similar in size to Earth and is our closest planetary neighbour, but it spins backward compared to other planets.

The study authored by Cardiff University professor Jane Greaves and her colleagues was published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The discovery of phosphine on Venus elevates it to an area of interest worth exploring in our solar system alongside the ranks of Mars and “water world” moons like Enceladus and Europa, Seager said.

“Our hoped-for impact in the planetary science community is to stimulate more research on Venus itself, research on the possibilities of life in Venus’ atmosphere, and even space missions focused to find signs of life or even life itself in the Venusian atmosphere,” Seager said.

According to the European Space Agency, the Russians do have significant experience when it comes to Venus.

Its website states: “Between 1967-1984 Venusian studies carried out in Russia were at the forefront of international research into this planet.

“Since then, Russia has still preserved its unique expertise in designing and developing landing craft for Venus and continues to define scientific tasks for those craft.”

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COVID-19 messages may need to have greater impact – The Sudbury Star

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As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, there’s a growing risk people may be tuning out information they need to know, says Dr. David Colby.

This undated transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, also known as novel coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like.

Photo supplied

As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, there’s a growing risk people may be tuning out information they need to know, says Dr. David Colby.

“Higher-impact” messages may be necessary, said Chatham-Kent’s medical officer of health.

“There is such a thing as message fatigue as well,” Colby said. “Personally, I think it’s not a question of increasing the amount of education we’re doing but rather changing it up into a different style so that it refocuses peoples’ attention on the issues at hand.”

If people keep seeing the same message, eventually they no longer notice it, he said.

“Improvements can always be made,” Colby said. “We never want to get to the point where we basically sit back and say, ‘We’ve done it all. Let’s wait and see what happens.’

“We’re always searching to have a greater impact on people’s behaviour to the benefit of their health.”

The 401 new cases reported Friday in Ontario were the province’s highest single-day total since June 7 had 415 cases.

The numbers are better in Chatham-Kent, which reported no new cases for the sixth consecutive day Friday. The municipality’s cumulative total is 366 cases.

One more recovery raised Chatham-Kent’s total to 362. No one is hospitalized.

Active cases are down to two. Both stem from close contact with other cases.

There have been 25,756 individuals tested in Chatham-Kent.

“As the provincial numbers of new cases are increasing substantially, resulting in all this concern … we are not seeing that yet here,” Colby said, “but we will always be vigilant to deal with whatever comes our way, both in a reactive but especially a proactive way.”

The numbers were reversed in late July and early August. New cases were spiking in Chatham-Kent but sinking overall in the province.

“As our cases were going up, the provincial cases were going down sharply,” Colby said. “At a time when the (daily) number of new cases in the province was less than a hundred, that’s when we were dealing with our huge surge. We dealt with that. We are at a very, very low level now.”

Sarnia-Lambton has one active case, Middlesex-London has 53 active after 13 new cases were confirmed Friday, and Windsor-Essex County has 89 active cases.

Colby sympathizes with people suffering from pandemic fatigue.

“It’s difficult because people are tired of this, and none more than those on the front line that are dealing with it in public health,” he said. “It is very difficult.”

Anyone who says there’s no pandemic shouldn’t look to him for support.

“I have no idea how to deal with people that deny there’s a pandemic,” he said. “It’s sort of, to me, like people that deny that there are trees and rocks.”

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The detection of phosphine in Venus' clouds is a big deal – here's how we can find out if it's a sign of life – The Conversation US

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On Sept. 14, 2020, a new planet was added to the list of potentially habitable worlds in the Solar System: Venus.

Phosphine, a toxic gas made up of one phosphorus and three hydrogen atoms (PH₃), commonly produced by organic life forms but otherwise difficult to make on rocky planets, was discovered in the middle layer of the Venus atmosphere. This raises the tantalizing possibility that something is alive on our planetary neighbor. With this discovery, Venus joins the exalted ranks of Mars and the icy moons Enceladus and Europa among planetary bodies where life may once have existed, or perhaps might even still do so today.

I’m a planetary scientist and something of a Venus evangelical. This discovery is one of the most exciting made about Venus in a very long time — and opens up a new set of possibilities for further exploration in search of life in the Solar System.

Venus as seen in the infrared by the Japanese Akatsuki spacecraft. The warm colors are from the hot lower atmosphere glowing through the cooler cloud layers above. Image credit: JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic.
JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic

Atmospheric mysteries

First, it’s critical to point out that this detection does not mean that astronomers have found alien life in the clouds of Venus. Far from it, in fact.

Although the discovery team identified phosphine at Venus with two different telescopes, helping to confirm the initial detection, phosphine gas can result from several processes that are unrelated to life, such as lightning, meteor impacts or even volcanic activity.

However, the quantity of phosphine detected in the Venusian clouds seems to be far greater than those processes are capable of generating, allowing the team to rule out numerous inorganic possibilities. But our understanding of the chemistry of Venus’ atmosphere is sorely lacking: Only a handful of missions have plunged through the inhospitable, carbon dioxide-dominated atmosphere to take samples among the global layer of sulfuric acid clouds.

So we planetary scientists are faced with two possibilities: Either there is some sort of life in the Venus clouds, generating phosphine, or there is unexplained and unexpected chemistry taking place there. How do we find out which it is?

A model of the Soviet Vega 1 spacecraft at the Udvar-Hazy Center, Dulles International Airport. Vega 1 carried a balloon to Venus on its way to visit Halley’s Comet in 1985.
Daderot

First and foremost, we need more information about the abundance of PH₃ in the Venus atmosphere, and we can learn something about this from Earth. Just as the discovery team did, existing telescopes capable of detecting phosphine around Venus can be used for follow-up observations, to both definitively confirm the initial finding and figure out if the amount of PH₃ in the atmosphere changes with time. In parallel, there is now a huge opportunity to carry out lab work to better understand the types of chemical reactions that might be possible on Venus — for which we have very limited information at present.

Antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope, on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes. The telescope was used to confirm the initial detection of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere.
ESO/C. Malin.

Once more unto the breach

But measurements on and from Earth can take us only so far. To really get to the heart of this mystery, we need to go back to Venus. Spacecraft equipped with spectrometers that can detect phosphine from orbit could be dispatched to the second planet with the express purpose of characterizing where, and how much, of this gas is there. Because spacecraft can survive for many years in Venus’ orbit, we could obtain continuous observations with a dedicated orbiter over a much longer period than with telescopes on Earth.

But even orbital data can’t tell us the whole story. To fully get a handle on what’s happening at Venus, we have to actually get into the atmosphere. And that’s where aerial platforms come in. Capable of operating above much of the acidic cloud layer – where the temperature and pressure are almost Earthlike – for potentially months at a time, balloons or flying wings could take detailed atmospheric composition measurements there. These craft could even carry the kinds of instruments being developed to look for life on Europa. At that point, humanity might finally be able to definitively tell if we share our Solar System with Venusian life.

A concept for an aerial platform at Venus. Two connected balloons could take turns to inflate, allowing the balloon to control the altitude at which it floats. An instrument package would then hang from below the balloons.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

A new dawn for Venus exploration?

Thirty-one years have elapsed since the United States last sent a dedicated mission to Venus. That could soon change as NASA considers two of four missions in the late 2020s targeting Venus. One, called VERITAS, would carry a powerful radar to peer through the thick clouds and return unprecedented high-resolution images of the surface. The other, DAVINCI+, would plunge through the atmosphere, sampling the air as it descended, perhaps even able to sniff any phosphine present. NASA plans to pick at least one mission in April 2021.

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I have argued before for a return to Venus, and will continue to do so. Even without this latest scientific discovery, Venus is a compelling exploration target, with tantalizing evidence that the planet once had oceans and perhaps even suffered a hellish fate at the hands of its own volcanic eruptions.

But with the detection of a potential biomarker in Venus’ atmosphere, we now have yet another major reason to return to the world ancient Greek astronomers called Phosphorus — a name for Venus that, it turns out, is wonderfully prescient.

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