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Two black holes locked in cosmic dance near galaxy's center are doomed to crash – Space.com

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Two huge black holes are locked together by gravity as they inevitably spiral towards a collision, researchers have found in a new study.

Researchers in a new study have spotted two supermassive black holes that whip around each other every two Earth years, on average, with respective masses each of hundreds of millions of times that of our sun. They found that the pair are also relatively close, being only about 2,000 Earth-sun distances apart (or about 50 times the distance between the sun and Pluto.)

“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 California Institute of Technology said of the objects in a statement.

Related: Did astronomers see light from two black holes colliding for the first time?

Described in the statement as the tightest-knit supermassive black hole duo yet observed, the study provides a unique laboratory to understand the dynamics of a quasar involved, called PKS 2131-021. 

Quasars are distant objects powered by black holes a billion times as massive as our sun. Astronomers are interested in these super-bright objects in part because quasars may give insight into the physics of the early universe.

Two supermassive black holes are seen orbiting each other in this artist’s loopable animation. (Image credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

If the findings from this study are confirmed, PKS 2131-021 is not alone in having a pair of supermassive black holes merging. The first suggested pair in quasar OJ 287, however, are much further apart and take nine years to circle each other.

Researchers in this study used 45 years of observations from multiple radio observatories to catch a powerful jet in action within PKS 2131-021, which appears to be moving back and forth as the pair of black holes orbit each other. The movement in turn causes changes in the brightness of radio waves observed at Earth.

“When we realized that the peaks and troughs of the light curve detected from recent times matched the peaks and troughs observed between 1975 and 1983, we knew something very special was going on,” Sandra O’Neill, lead author of the new study and an undergraduate astronomy student at Caltech, said in the same statement. 

Artist’s animation of a supermassive black hole circled by a spinning disk of gas and dust.  (Image credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

Galaxies commonly have huge black holes in their centers, including our own Milky Way. Galaxy mergers, when they occur, tend to see their respective black holes “sink” to the middle of the now combined, new galaxy and create an accordingly combined and more massive supermassive black hole.

The effects of such mergers create huge ripples across space and time, known as gravitational waves. Gravitational waves have been observed multiple times using the National Science Foundation’s LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) that is jointly managed by Caltech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

That said, the supermassive black holes would not be visible to LIGO, as the black holes produce lower frequencies of gravitational waves that are undetectable in LIGO’s sensors. Caltech researchers say that the way to catch this in the future would be to use pulsar timing arrays, referring to radio telescopes that look at blinking stars called pulsars, according to the statement. In the meantime, light waves can show supermassive black holes in action.

A study based on this research was published Wednesday (Feb. 23) in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook

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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 records monster quake on Mars


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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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