Connect with us


U.K. science star Brian Cox’s new book explores how we might live in a black hole




Quirks and Quarks16:47UK science star Brian Cox’s new book explores how we might live in a black hole


Black hole research in the last few years is revealing a tantalizing new view of the very nature of time and space.


In his new book, physicist and science communicator Brian Cox explores how the new physics might help us reconcile the fundamental clash of principals stemming from our understanding of gravity at a cosmological scale and the physics of the minutia that underlies it, quantum theory.

The professor of particle physics from the University of Manchester and the Royal Society spoke with Bob McDonald about his new book, Black Holes: The Key to Understanding the Universe

Here’s part of their conversation.

You say right in the title of your book that black holes are the key to understanding the universe. How has that become even more true in recent years?

Beginning with Stephen Hawking’s work in the 1970s, it was understood that black holes are not only interesting from an astrophysical perspective, but they actually set up a fundamental clash of principle between the two great pillars of 20th and 21st century physics, which are Einstein’s theory of gravity and quantum theory.

In his new book, physicist Brian Cox explores how black holes are like the Rosetta stones to a deeper understanding of not only our universe, but the very nature of reality itself. (Harper Collins)

Hawking discovered that when you put those two frameworks together, there’s a prediction, which is black holes have a temperature. Now that was a remarkable discovery because temperature was just a thing you could measure on a thermometer, but it was really only fully understood when we knew that everything is made of atoms.

Temperature tells you how fast the component parts of something are jiggling around and moving.

Contrast that with the description of a black hole. A black hole in Einstein’s theory is just a distortion in the fabric of space-time where even light itself cannot escape. All it is geometry. It doesn’t appear to have any moving parts at all, so immediately back in the 1970s, there was a sign that there may be something deeper to black holes.

A more modern version of Hawking’s discovery is that the temperature of a black hole has to do with the information it can store or hide from us.

When you say information, what do you mean? 

Literally bits of information. So Jacob Beckenstein calculated how much information a black hole contains. And he found an astonishing result: the amount of information — in bits literally — that the black hole stores is equal to the surface area of the event horizon of the black hole.

Stephen Hawking is seated in his wheelchair in front of a podium.
Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking’s 1974 theory about black holes having a temperature kickstarted what has become a quantum revolution in astrophysics. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

The event horizon is the point of no return.

Yes, the point of no return. But remember, it’s just space. For very big black holes, like the sort you find at the centres of galaxies, you could fall through it and you wouldn’t notice a thing.

When you say bits of information, I usually think of bits that are used in terms of computer science to describe a zero or a one that encodes information. What are the bits of the event horizon in a black hole? 

Well, yeah, so that’s what you’re supposed to think. What are they? We don’t know. We seem to know how big they are, so how many pixels there are.

But it’s very strange for two reasons. One is that we’re just talking about space for a start, so what do we mean by a pixel of space? And secondly, this idea that somehow the amount of information is proportional to the surface area.

A bluish star glowing with a prism of rainbow-coloured light is seen being pulled inside a dip in the fabric of spacetime caused by the gravitational pull of a black hole in space.
In this artist’s rendering, a star makes its closest approach to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. (Nicolle R. Fuller/National Science Foundation/Reuters)

We say that nothing can come out of a black hole and yet, Stephen Hawking is famous for his Hawking radiation, which does come out of a black hole. And if it has temperature, that’s also something coming out of a black hole. Take me through that.

Stephen Hawking uses an analogy in his 1974 paper to describe what’s happening. You can picture the vacuum of space. If you could imagine zooming in and slowing time down with some great microscope, you could picture the vacuum of space as not being empty, as being filled with particles fizzing in and out of existence all the time.

Imagine that a pair of these particles, which would have come into existence and disappeared again, they can be configured such that one’s on the inside of the horizon and one is on the outside of the horizon.

So that means that the one on the inside is not coming out, but the upshot is the one on the outside that would have gone back and re-merged with its partner, essentially giving its energy back to the vacuum, can be made real and can escape into space.

Two photos of a black hole are side by side. The one on the left shows a more white-hot orange ring of a black hole's event horizon. The less blurry image on the right shows the bright ring of the event horizon with sharper edges that appear thinner.
The supermassive black hole in the galaxy M87 was originally photographed by the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration in 2019, left, and was spruced up in a 2023 image generated by the PRIMO algorithm, right. (Medeiros et al. 2023/Reuters)

Not that I want to throw your book into a black hole, but what would happen to it and the information that it contains if I tossed it in?

As viewed from the outside, you can picture the book as being completely incinerated as it approaches the horizon, with all the bits of information being smeared around.

You could almost imagine this kind of hot atmosphere of the black hole, which somehow contains the information and re-radiates it out into the universe again. And that would be essentially what happens when you burn the book.

A point of bright light depicting a star that's being eaten by a black hole with a long red tail of gas arcing out of the black hole that in this image looks like a circular dark cloud.
A glowing stream of material from a star is disrupted as it was being devoured by a supermassive black hole surrounded by a ring of dust and illuminated by high-energy radiation. (Caltech/JPL/NASA)

So no problem, except that according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, you can also ask the question, what does that look like from the perspective of the book or an astronaut falling in? Einstein’s theory is unequivocal. From the perspective of the book or the astronaut, you can fall across the horizon into the interior of the black hole.

Now you have two descriptions of what happened from different perspectives and both are correct.

You said at the beginning of our conversation that this new idea of reality in a black hole is part black hole geometry and part quantum physics. How do we tie those two together to bring us to a new understanding of reality? 

So we had these disparate ideas, right? The black hole can somehow store information and it’s something to do with the surface area of the black hole. And then we have this idea that there are different pictures of what happened and that they can both be true at the same time.

The modern view is that all these different pictures are trying to tell us something. And what they’re trying to tell us seems to be that space and time are not fundamental properties of the universe, but they emerge from a deeper theory. And that theory seems to be quantum theory which does not have space and time in it.

We see a bright glowing outline of a supermassive black hole's event horizon that takes the shape of the planet Saturn with a bright white hot yellow star passing by leaving a haze of gas in is wake.
In this illustration, a supermassive black hole pulls a stream of gas off a star that passes too close. (Chris Smith/USRA/GESTAR/NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

So, the black holes, as we say in the book, they’re like Rosetta stones in the sense that they’re forcing us to discover that there are different descriptions of our universe. One of them is the description of Einstein and then there’s another description, which just looks like some kind of quantum theory, some kind of building blocks of the universe that are entangled together.

And so quantum mechanics allows for this property where things can be related to each other — connected together, if you like. And out of that emerges this other description that we’re familiar with. So it’s almost like the black hole is a naturally occurring object that forced us to glimpse a deeper description of our reality.



Source link

Continue Reading


SpaceX's Dragon splashdown with Ax-2 astronauts looks amazing in these nighttime photos and videos –



SpaceX’s Dragon capsule Freedom splashed down off the Florida coast late Tuesday night (May 30), wrapping up the Ax-2 private astronaut mission.

Freedom’s return to Earth was quite a sight, as footage posted on Twitter shows. For example, Stephanie Ivison shared a video of the capsule carving a bright orange slice into the skies above Oklahoma as it headed toward the Gulf of Mexico.

“Just streaked across the sky in Tulsa at about 9:55pm. Looks like something re-entering the atmosphere. Pretty neat!” Ivison wrote.


Related: Private Ax-2 astronauts get warm welcome on space station (video)
Read more: Ax-2 spaceflight with SpaceX: Updates

The Ax-2 SpaceX Dragon Freedom floats near a recovery ship shortly after splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico on May 30, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

See more

Twitter user TJ posted a short video as well, one that captured Freedom much closer to its splashdown site — and therefore much closer to the ground.

See more

See more

Freedom hit the water right on schedule, splashing down in the Gulf off Panama City, Florida, at 11:04 p.m. EDT (0304 GMT on May 31). The capsule was then met by a recovery ship and hauled onto it for the trip back to shore.

SpaceX documented this process and shared it with us, posting three photos on Twitter about 45 minutes after splashdown.

One of the shots — the main photo for this story, featured above — shows Freedom floating near its ride home, whose deck is outfitted with a striking array of green and red lights.

Recovery crews get the Ax-2 SpaceX Dragon capsule Freedom ready for transfer to a recovery ship shortly after its splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on May 30, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

Another shot depicts recovery personnel tending to the capsule from a smaller craft, which presumably launched from the large recovery ship. 

The third shows Freedom — its once bright-white exterior now sporting a “toasted marshmallow” look from the heat of atmospheric reentry — safely aboard that ship.

The Ax-2 SpaceX Dragon capsule Freedom rests on a recovery ship shortly after its splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on May 30, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

Ax-2 launched on May 21, carrying four people to the International Space Station (ISS). As its name suggests, Ax-2 is the second mission to the orbiting lab carried out by Houston-based company Axiom Space, after the pioneering Ax-1 flight in April 2022.

Ax-2 was commanded by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who is now director of human spaceflight at Axiom. The other three crewmembers were paying customer John Shoffner, Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi.

AlQarni and Barnawi are members of Saudi Arabia’s first astronaut class. They became the first Saudis ever to visit the ISS, and Ax-2 made Barnawi the first woman from the kingdom to reach the final frontier.


SpaceX will send two more Dragons to the orbiting lab soon, if all goes according to plan.

The company plans to launch a robotic cargo mission to the ISS on Saturday (June 3). And SpaceX’s Crew-7 mission, which will send four astronauts to the orbiting lab for NASA, is scheduled to fly on the Crew Dragon Endurance in August. 

Adblock test (Why?)


Source link

Continue Reading


SpaceX mission returns from space station with ex-NASA astronaut, 3 paying customers – KCCU



A SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City, Florida, late Tuesday.

The Crew Dragon capsule was seen as it streaked across the southeastern U.S. and made a sonic boom before it splashed into the water.

The nighttime return capped a nine-day mission that launched in a SpaceX Falcon rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and docked at the International Space Station in Earth’s orbit.


The four-person crew included former NASA veteran Peggy Whitson and three paying passengers, including pilot John Shoffner and two astronauts from the Saudi Space Commission, Ali al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi.

With Whitson’s return, she extended her record-setting time in space. She’s spent a cumulative 674 days in orbit – the most of any American or woman. She also moved into ninth overall for total duration, passing Russia’s Fyodor Yurchikin.

The team conducted medical research, public outreach and more than 20 experiments, such as how low levels of gravity can produce stem cells, which have the ability to create various other types of cells, and affect human messenger RNA cells, which assist protein synthesis.

This is Axiom Space’s second privately funded human mission to dock at the International Space Station. In April 2022, Axiom flew the first all-civilian mission to the International Space Station. That lasted 17 days, 15 of which were spent at the ISS.

Axiom says these flights help it to “continue to lay the groundwork” to eventually build and operate Axiom Station, which would be the world’s first commercial space station.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Adblock test (Why?)


Source link

Continue Reading


Fearless raccoons could be more sick than brave –



If you spot a raccoon that seems unfazed by noise or human contact, it could be suffering from a disease called distemper.

Distemper is a contagious virus that affects the respiratory, digestive and nervous systems of animals — a disease that often proves fatal if left untreated and can also infect unvaccinated pets.

Londoner Linda MacKinnon spotted a raccoon acting strangely in her backyard and decided to call animal control.


“The raccoon was right in my husband’s work shed and was coming up on the deck,” said MacKinnon. “This little guy had no fear of anything.”

As the weekend approached, she said the raccoon became less coordinated and began walking around the yard in circles on shaky paws.

Be aware of the symptoms

There are several possible signs of distemper and those are just two of them, said Jamie Round who is the enforcement manager with the London Animal Care Centre.

“There can be a detached retina effect, where they have a green reflection in the eye,” he said. “They sometimes also drool uncontrollably.”

Round said distemper damages the animal’s organs and brains, which is why they have such abnormal behaviour. If it’s caught early enough, the animal can possibly be treated.

“They would make a determination based on what they’re seeing and we would also look to seek advice from wildlife rehabilitation centres,” said Round. 

Vaccination against the disease can keep pets safe, he added.

Euthanasia is the only option when the disease progresses

“Any canine can get it, so skunks, foxes, dogs, anything like that,” said David Loechner, a wildlife specialist with The Critter Guy.

It’s sometimes hard to notice the early stages of the disease and it spreads quickly, he added.

“It doesn’t even have to be direct contact,” said Loechner. “They just leave some blood or saliva behind and if something else comes in contact with that, then they can get it.”

When he gets a call from someone to pick up a sick raccoon, Loechner said people often mistake its symptoms for rabies.

“Rabies is almost nonexistent in Ontario. It’s pretty obvious when it’s distemper, especially in the final stages. Their eyes are all crusted over and they’re disorientated.”

David Loechner is a wildlife removal specialist with The Critter Guy based in Owen Sound. Among other animals, he’s had to capture many raccoons with distemper. (The Critter Guy)

If the disease progresses too far, all that can be done is humanely euthanize the animal.

“We use CO2. They just fall asleep and they’re out. Done. No pain, no suffering,” said Loechner.

In the last eight months, Loechner said he would get as many as four calls a day about raccoons with distemper outside of the city.

Linda MacKinnon said she’s thankful that the disease hadn’t progressed that far with the raccoon in her backyard.

“When animal control came, they said this guy was quite hefty,” she said. “So he probably hadn’t been sick all that long. It’s a terrible, terrible way to die.”

If you see a raccoon that looks sick, the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society recommends contacting the London Humane Society or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Do not attempt to handle the animal.

Adblock test (Why?)


Source link

Continue Reading