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Gravitational waves reveal merger between black hole and mystery 'mass gap' object – CTV News



A mysterious astronomical object merged with a black hole 780 million light-years away and created gravitational waves that could be detected on Earth. The object exists inside what scientists call the “mass gap,” a range between the heaviest known neutron star and the lightest known black hole. And it could change how astronomers understand black holes.

In August 2019, astronomers using gravitational wave detectors in the US and Italy detected ripples in space and time, a gravitational wave event they dubbed GW190814. Given the fact that this occurred so far from Earth, the event occurred 780 million years ago, but the gravitational waves are just now reaching us.

The merger occurred between an object that was 2.6 times the mass of our sun with a black hole that was 23 times the mass of our sun. This large difference in the sizes of both objects, differing by a factor of nine, makes it the most extreme mass ratio for a gravitational wave event known to date.

The merger led to a black hole about 25 times the mass of the sun. Some of the mass was blasted out as gravitational waves.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, and Virgo were used to detect the event. The National Science Foundation’s LIGO includes two detectors — one in Livingston, Louisiana, and another in Hanford, Washington. The Virgo detector is located in Cascina, Italy.

Black holes are created when massive stars die and collapse. Stars that are less massive explode in a supernova. The remnant of this outburst is a neutron star, which is small but very dense.

Currently, the heaviest known neutron star is 2.5 times the mass of our sun and the lightest black hole is five times the mass of our sun. In between is the “mass gap” into which this object fits.

An international team of astronomers were involved in the study, which published Tuesday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“We’ve been waiting decades to solve this mystery,” said Vicky Kalogera, study coauthor and Daniel I. Linzer distinguished university professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University, in a statement.

“Mergers of a mixed nature — black holes and neutron stars — have been predicted for decades, but this compact object in the mass gap is a complete surprise. We are really pushing our knowledge of low-mass compact objects,” Kalogera said.

“Even though we can’t classify the object with conviction, we have seen either the heaviest known neutron star or the lightest known black hole. Either way, it breaks a record,” said Kalogera, who is also director of Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA).


When LIGO and Virgo scientists detected this event, they sent out an immediate alert across the astronomy community to allow for follow-up by Earth and space-based telescopes. The hope is to find light waves also caused by the event.

This has only been seen once during a gravitational wave event, known as GW170817, which occurred in August 2017. It was the result of two neutron stars colliding and releasing light, gravitational waves and even creating elements like gold. Neutron star collisions are fiery, energetic and messy, releasing matter in all directions, and light is a by-product.

Mergers between two black holes, however, aren’t believed to create light.

When telescopes followed up on the August 2019 event, they didn’t pick up any signals of light waves. Scientists believed this is due to the distance of the event, which was six times farther away than the 2017 merger. If it was in fact a merger between two black holes, no light would be produced. And if it was a neutron star, the black hole was so much larger that it may have simply swallowed it.

“I think of Pac-Man eating a little dot,” Kalogera said. “When the masses are highly asymmetric, the smaller compact object can be eaten by the black hole in one bite.”

The detection challenges current theoretical models of how stars die as well as how they pair up in binary systems. Binary systems, like two stars orbiting each other, occur when the two objects are close enough for gravity to create a central orbit.

“The mass gap has been an interesting puzzle for decades, and now we’ve detected an object that fits just inside it,” said Pedro Marronetti, program director for gravitational physics at the National Science Foundation, in a statement.

“That cannot be explained without defying our understanding of extremely dense matter or what we know about the evolution of stars,” Marronetti said. “This observation is yet another example of the transformative potential of the field of gravitational-wave astronomy, which brings novel insights to light with every new detection.”


The researchers said they didn’t expect to find a binary system including two objects with such different masses, but now they know these are actually being created somewhere in the universe. Next, they have the challenge of trying to figure out what exactly they are and how they work, according to Alberto Vecchio, study co-author and director of the Institute for Gravitational Wave Astronomy.

Though the opportunity to study this event in detail has passed, this discovery will change the way astronomers understand and study neutron stars and black holes going forward.

Future detections of similar events could help astronomers determine if there are more objects that exist in the mass gap.

“This is the first glimpse of what could be a whole new population of compact binary objects,” said study coauthor Charlie Hoy, a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and a graduate student at Cardiff University, in a statement.

“What is really exciting is that this is just the start,” Hoy said. “As the detectors get more and more sensitive, we will observe even more of these signals, and we will be able to pinpoint the populations of neutron stars and black holes in the universe.”

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UAE postpones Mars mission due to weather at Japan launch site –



By Lisa Barrington

DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates has postponed to July 17 the launch of its mission to Mars due to weather conditions at the launch site in Japan, the UAE government communications office said on Tuesday.

The UAE’s Hope Probe was due to set off from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center at 12:51am UAE time on Wednesday (2051 GMT Tuesday) for a seven-month journey to the red planet where it was due to orbit and send back data about the atmosphere.

“The UAE’s space mission, the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission, will launch on Friday July 17, 2020 at 12:43am UAE time (July 16, 2020 at 8:43pm GMT) from Tanegashima Space Center,” the government communications office tweeted.

There are currently eight active missions exploring Mars; some orbit the planet and some land on its surface. China and the United States will send another two this year.

The UAE, an oil-exporting nation, first announced plans for the mission in 2014 as part of efforts to diversify away from hydrocarbons and develop a knowledge economy, aiming to reach the planet by 2021.

With a population of 9.4 million, most of whom are foreign workers, the UAE lacks the scientific and industrial base of the big space-faring nations. It launched a National Space Programme in 2017 to develop expertise in space science among Emiratis.

Emirati Hazza al-Mansouri became the first Arab in space in September 2019 in a flight to the International Space Station.

To develop and build the Hope Probe, Emiratis and Dubai’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) worked with U.S. educational institutions with space science expertise.

The UAE government has announced an ambitious goal of a Mars settlement by 2117.

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Ed Osmond)

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How to see Comet Neowise: Rare comet pictured as it soars through the sky – MSN Money



A three-mile wide comet named “NEOWISE” has lit up the skies, wowing people across the globe.

© Conrad Earnest/AP
Comet Neowise soars in the horizon of the early morning sky in this view from the near the grand view lookout at the Colorado National Monument west of Grand Junction, Colo., Thursday, July 9.

Being able to catch a glimpse of the comet — officially known as C/2020 F3 — is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as it won’t pass Earth again for another 6,800 years, according to the International Dark-Sky Association.


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It’s extremely rare for comets to be visible to the naked eye. Comet Hale-Bopp, which experts describe as the “last great comet,” was seen in 1997, which was visible for a year and a half. NEOWISE is not considered a “great comet,” though it is still a spectacle.

“The early reviews are in,” said. “Comet Neowise is a hit.”

On July 3, Comet NEOWISE made its closest approach to the sun.

“This very close passage by the Sun is cooking the comet’s outermost layers, causing gas and dust to erupt off the icy surface and creating a large tail of debris,” NASA said in an article last week. “And yet the comet has managed to survive this intense roasting.”

Since then, the comet has been visible about an hour before sunrise in the US, close to the horizon in the northeastern sky.

It was spotted in England too, where photographer Jon Rees described the comet as a “little beauty.”

“A chance to shoot Comet Neowise over my favourite pier was very very special!” Rees wrote in the caption of his photo he posted to Instagram.

The window to spot NEOWISE is closing quickly — the fleeting comet is expected to remain visible in the northern hemisphere just through July.

Here are some tips on how to best catch a glimpse of it, courtesy of the experts with Sky & Telescope.

  • Before July 14, the best time to see the comet was before the sunrise. But from the 14th onward, you’re more likely to see the comet in the evening sky.
  • As it moves away from the sun and edges closer to Earth, the comet will fade away, but your chance of catching it improves if you can find a location that’s free of light pollution, meaning street lights, car headlights, apartment lights, and the like.
  • “Start looking about 1 hour after sunset, when you’ll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness,” the editors of Sky & Telescope said in a news release. “Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to the right.”
  • On July 23, Comet NEOWISE will be at its closest to Earth, but by then, you’ll probably need binoculars or a telescope. If you want to take a picture of the comet, use a tripod and a camera that’s able to take time exposure shots that are several seconds long, according to Sky & Telescope.

Video: NEOWISE comet is now visible from Earth. Don’t miss it! (CNN)

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Bad weather may delay launch of UAE Mars mission from Japan – Japan Today



Final preparations for the launch from Japan of the United Arab Emirates’ first Mars mission were underway Monday, but there was a chance of a delay because of bad weather, a Japanese rocket provider said.

The liftoff of the UAE’s Mars orbiter named Amal, or Hope, on a Japanese H-IIA rocket is scheduled for early Wednesday from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan, in what would be the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.

A final decision will be made Tuesday before the roll out of the rocket, said Keiji Suzuki, launch site director for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

A seasonal rain front was expected to cause intermittent lightning and rain over the next few days, he said.

“But this thunder is not expected to be severe or lasting, and our assessment is that there will be a chance for a launch,” Suzuki told an online briefing Monday from Tanegashima. “We will make a careful decision based on data.”

Heavy rain has continued for more than a week in large areas of Japan, triggering mudslides and floods and killing more than 70 people, most of them on the southern main island of Kyushu.

Hope is set to reach Mars in February 2021, the year the UAE celebrates 50 years since its formation. A successful Hope mission would be a major step for the oil-dependent economy seeking a future in space.

Hope carries three instruments to study the upper atmosphere and monitor climate change and is scheduled to circle the red planet for at least two years.

Emirates Mars Mission Project Director Omran Sharaf, who joined Monday’s briefing from Dubai, said the mission is not just a repeat of what other countries have done. It will provide a complete view of the Martian atmosphere during different seasons for the first time, he said.

Two other Mars missions are planned in coming days by the U.S. and China. Japan has its own Martian moon mission planned in 2024.

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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