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Scientists find pair of black holes dining together in nearby galaxy merger

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While studying a nearby pair of merging galaxies using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) — an international observatory co-operated by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) — scientists discovered two supermassive black holes growing simultaneously near the center of the newly coalescing galaxy. These super-hungry giants are the closest together that scientists have ever observed in multiple wavelengths. What’s more, the new research reveals that binary black holes and the galaxy mergers that create them may be surprisingly commonplace in the Universe. The results of the new research were published today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, and presented in a press conference at the 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Seattle, Washington.

At just 500 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Cancer, UGC4211 is an ideal candidate for studying the end stages of galaxy mergers, which occur more frequently in the distant Universe, and as a result, can be difficult to observe. When scientists used the highly sensitive 1.3mm receivers at ALMA to look deep into the merger’s active galactic nuclei — compact, highly luminous areas in galaxies caused by the accretion of matter around central black holes — they found not one, but two black holes gluttonously devouring the byproducts of the merger. Surprisingly, they were dining side-by-side with just 750 light-years between them.

“Simulations suggested that most of the population of black hole binaries in nearby galaxies would be inactive because they are more common, not two growing black holes like we found,” said Michael Koss, a senior research scientist at Eureka Scientific and the lead author of the new research.

Koss added that the use of ALMA was a game-changer, and that finding two black holes so close together in the nearby Universe could pave the way for additional studies of the exciting phenomenon. “ALMA is unique in that it can see through large columns of gas and dust and achieve very high spatial resolution to see things very close together. Our study has identified one of the closest pairs of black holes in a galaxy merger, and because we know that galaxy mergers are much more common in the distant Universe, these black hole binaries too may be much more common than previously thought.”

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If close-paired binary black hole pairs are indeed commonplace, as Koss and the team posit, there could be significant implications for future detections of gravitational waves.

Ezequiel Treister, an astronomer at Universidad Católica de Chile and a co-author of the research said, “There might be many pairs of growing supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies that we have not been able to identify so far. If this is the case, in the near future we will be observing frequent gravitational wave events caused by the mergers of these objects across the Universe.”

Pairing ALMA data with multi-wavelength observations from other powerful telescopes like Chandra, Hubble, ESO’s Very Large Telescope, and Keck added fine details to an already-compelling tale. “Each wavelength tells a different part of the story. While ground-based optical imaging showed us the whole merging galaxy, Hubble showed us the nuclear regions at high resolutions. X-ray observations revealed that there was at least one active galactic nucleus in the system,” said Treister. “And ALMA showed us the exact location of these two growing, hungry supermassive black holes. All of these data together have given us a clearer picture of how galaxies such as our own turned out to be the way they are, and what they will become in the future.”

So far, scientists have mostly studied only the earliest stages of galaxy mergers. The new research could have a profound impact on our understanding of the Milky Way Galaxy’s own impending merger with the nearby Andromeda Galaxy. Koss said, “The Milky Way-Andromeda collision is in its very early stages and is predicted to occur in about 4.5 billion years. What we’ve just studied is a source in the very final stage of collision, so what we’re seeing presages that merger and also gives us insight into the connection between black holes merging and growing and eventually producing gravitational waves.”

“This fascinating discovery shows the power of ALMA and how multi-wavelength astronomy can generate important results that expand our understanding of the universe, including black holes, active galactic nuclei, galaxy evolution and more,” says Joe Pesce, NSF program director for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. “With the advent of gravitational wave detectors, we have an opportunity to expand our observational powers even further by combining all these capabilities. I don’t think there’s really a limit to what we can learn.”

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ASTEROID TO WHIP BY EARTH THURSDAY NIGHT WITH NO CHANCE OF HITTING OUR PLANET: NASA – Zoomer Radio

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It feels like a scene out of the movie Don’t Look Up when two low-level astronomers go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.

An asteroid the size of a delivery truck will whip past Earth on Thursday night, one of the closest such encounters ever recorded.

NASA insists it will be a near miss with no chance of the asteroid hitting Earth.

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NASA said Wednesday that this newly discovered asteroid will zoom 2,200 miles (3,600 kilometers) above the southern tip of South America. That’s 10 times closer than the bevy of communication satellites circling overhead.

The closest approach will occur at 7:27 p.m. EST.

Even if the space rock came a lot closer, scientists said most of it would burn up in the atmosphere, with some of the bigger pieces possibly falling as meteorites.

NASA’s impact hazard assessment system, called Scout, quickly ruled out a strike, said its developer, Davide Farnocchia, an engineer at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“But despite the very few observations, it was nonetheless able to predict that the asteroid would make an extraordinarily close approach with Earth,” Farnocchia said in a statement. “In fact, this is one of the closest approaches by a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”

Discovered Saturday, the asteroid known as 2023 BU is believed to be between 11 feet (3.5 meters) and 28 feet (8.5 meters) feet across. It was first spotted by the same amateur astronomer in Crimea, Gennady Borisov, who discovered an interstellar comet in 2019. Within a few days, dozens of observations were made by astronomers around the world, allowing them to refine the asteroid’s orbit.

(This diagram made available by NASA shows the estimated trajectory of asteroid 2023 BU, in red, affected by the earth’s gravity, and the orbit of geosynchronous satellites, in green. On Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, NASA revealed that this newly discovered asteroid, about the size of a truck, will zoom 2,200 miles above the southern tip of South America Thursday evening. Scientists say there is no risk of an impact. Even if it came a lot closer, scientists say it would burn up in the atmosphere, with only a few small pieces reaching the surface. NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The asteroid’s path drastically will be altered by Earth’s gravity once it zips by. Instead of circling the sun every 359 days, it will move into an oval orbit lasting 425 days, according to NASA.

(The Associated Press)

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An asteroid will whip by Earth tomorrow in one of closest approaches ever recorded

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An asteroid the size of a delivery truck will whip past Earth on Thursday night, one of the closest such encounters ever recorded.

NASA insists it will be a near miss with no chance of the asteroid hitting Earth.

The U.S. space agency said Wednesday that this newly discovered asteroid will zoom 3,600 kilometres above the southern tip of South America. That’s 10 times closer than the bevy of communication satellites circling overhead.

The closest approach will occur at 7:27 p.m. ET.

300x250x1

Even if the space rock came a lot closer, scientists said most of it would burn up in the atmosphere, with some of the bigger pieces possibly falling as meteorites.

NASA’s impact hazard assessment system, called Scout, quickly ruled out a strike, said its developer, Davide Farnocchia, an engineer at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

“But despite the very few observations, it was nonetheless able to predict that the asteroid would make an extraordinarily close approach with Earth,” Farnocchia said in a statement.

“In fact, this is one of the closest approaches by a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”

Asteroid spotted by amateur astronomer in Crimea

Discovered Saturday, the asteroid known as 2023 BU is believed to be 3.5 to 8.5 metres across.

It was first spotted by Gennady Borisov, the same amateur astronomer in Crimea who discovered an interstellar comet in 2019.

Within a few days, dozens of observations were made by astronomers around the world, allowing them to refine the asteroid’s orbit.

The asteroid’s path will be drastically altered by Earth’s gravity once it zips by. Instead of circling the sun every 359 days, it will move into an oval orbit lasting 425 days, according to NASA.

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Nuclear-powered spaceships? U.S. plans for 2027

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WASHINGTON –

The United States plans to test a spacecraft engine powered by nuclear fission by 2027 as part of a long-term NASA effort to demonstrate more efficient methods of propelling astronauts to Mars in the future, the space agency’s chief said on Tuesday.

NASA will partner with the U.S. military’s research and development agency, DARPA, to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion engine and launch it to space “as soon as 2027,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during a conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

The U.S. space agency has studied for decades the concept of nuclear thermal propulsion, which introduces heat from a nuclear fission reactor to a hydrogen propellant in order to provide a thrust believed to be far more efficient than traditional chemical-based rocket engines.

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NASA officials view nuclear thermal propulsion as crucial for sending humans beyond the moon and deeper into space. A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say.

That would substantially reduce the time astronauts would be exposed to deep-space radiation and would also require fewer supplies, such as food and other cargo, during a trip to Mars.

“If we have swifter trips for humans, they are safer trips,” NASA deputy administrator and former astronaut Pam Melroy said Tuesday.

The planned 2027 demonstration, part of an existing DARPA research program that NASA is now joining, could also inform the ambitions of the U.S. Space Force, which has envisioned deploying nuclear reactor-powered spacecraft capable of moving other satellites orbiting near the moon, DARPA and NASA officials said.

DARPA in 2021 awarded funds to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin to study designs of nuclear reactors and spacecraft. By around March, the agency will pick a company to build the nuclear spacecraft for the 2027 demonstration, the program’s manager Tabitha Dodson said in an interview.

The joint NASA-DARPA effort’s budget is US$110 million for fiscal year 2023 and is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars more through 2027.

Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio

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