Black hole collisions could jumpstart gravitational astronomy

Astrophysicists are gaining new understanding of how gravitational waves are formed thanks to new detailed models of black hole collisions. These collisions occur when black holes get caught in one another’s gravitational wells and enter into ever-tightening orbits around each other until they merge into one.

As reported by Discovery News, mergers between black holes “are thought to be the most energetic events the universe has seen since the Big Bang.” The massive amount of energy put forth by these collisions is thought to have a unique gravitational wave emission signature.

While gravitational waves can be indirectly observed and their properties described, more conclusive data and direct observation opportunities have thus far eluded astrophysicists.

Under the guiding principles of the theory of general relativity, scientists would expect gravitational waves to be created by large objects gaining speed through space. This predicted phenomenon, however, has not been directly observed. Current evidence for the existence of gravitational waves comes in the form of space objects’ behavior. For example, when two white dwarf stars orbit one another, energy gradually becomes lost as their orbits shrink over time. The conclusion is that gravitational waves are the means by which that energy leaves the binary system.

Several devices designed to detect gravitational waves are currently in use or in development. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), with two locations in the United States, is currently being refitted to become more sensitive to gravitational waves that pass through Earth. Another detector known as VIRGO is being built in Europe and the LISA Pathfinder Mission will deliver a gravitational wave detector into space.

Until direct detection of gravitational waves is achieved by detectors, the study of black hole mergers may be the most promising vehicle for future breakthroughs in the science of gravitational astronomy.

“Using gravitational waves as an observational tool, you could learn about the characteristics of the black holes that were emitting those waves billions of years ago,” study co-author Davide Gerosa, of the University of Cambridge, said in a statement. “That’s important data for more fully understanding the evolution and nature of the universe.”

The University of Cambridge researchers focused their study on modelling the spin and change in rotation direction observed in colliding black holes. The team looks forward to comparing the results of their calculations regarding the kinds of waves that black hole mergers would emit with the data collected in the future by the LIGO detector. The hope is that the researchers’ models will help identify and analyze the signals coming into the detectors with speed and accuracy, bringing valuable insight into the whole realm of gravitational energy transfer that shapes the universe.


"He is guilty": Defense in Boston Marathon bombing trial rests case after four witnesses

The defense in the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rested its case on Tuesday after questioning just four witnesses over the span of five hours. In contrast, the prosecution had presented 92 witnesses over 15 days, according to the New York Times.

The minimal defense reflected the defense strategy of admitting at the outset that the suspect Tsarnaev was indeed responsible for the 2013 bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 260 others.

The four witnesses on Tuesday spoke to a narrow range of physical evidence, such as Internet searches and a lack of fingerprints, that the defense suggested showed its client was less culpable than his older brother, Tamerlan. The elder brother died after a shootout with the police and after Dzhokhar drove over him in a getaway car.

While Tsarnaev’s lawyers have admitted his guilt, he has yet to plead guilty. Lawyers for both sides are preparing to make their closing arguments Monday to the jury, which is expected to convict him on most or all of the 30 charges against him. Seventeen of the charges, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, possession and use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence resulting in death, and conspiracy to bomb a place of public use resulting in death, carry the possibility of the death penalty.

If the jury was to find him guilty of at least some of the death penalty charges, the same jurors will return for the second phase of the trial, in which they will determine whether to sentence Tsarnaev, 21, to prison for the rest of his life or condemn him to death.

The defense is preparing to make its major arguments during the sentencing phase, when it will present what it says are mitigating factors that should spare Tsarnaev from the death penalty. Among the factors are the facts that he was 19 at the time of the bombings and had no criminal record.

After the defense rested its case, the judge, George A. O’Toole Jr. of Federal District Court, told the jurors to return Monday for closing arguments and to begin deliberations.



Jury in Boston bombing trial sheds tears over gruesome death of 8-year-old

US prosecutors in the trial of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rest their case on Monday after presenting gruesome testimony about the death of the youngest victim. The emotional finale included graphic accounts of the injuries suffered eight-year-old Martin Richard, who was torn apart by one of the pressure-cooker bombs, which caused some members of the jury to become emotional.

21-year-old Tsarnaev could face the death penalty if convicted over the April 15, 2013 attack that killed 3 people and wounded 264 others.

Prosecutors summoned 92 witnesses to the stand in recent weeks and built a case against Tsarnaev as an active and willing participant in the bombings. The final witness, medical examiner Henry Nields, recounted in graphic detail the injuries suffered by Martin Richard and showed to the jury the child’s bloodstained clothing. Jurors were also shown photographs of the Richard family, which stood on the race’s sidelines in front of Tsarnaev. The boys’ parents, Denise and Bill, were present in the courtroom.

Defense lawyer Judy Clarke acknowledged that Tsarnaev and his brother, both American citizens of Chechen descent, were responsible for the brutal attack. However, the defense team put the bulk of the blame on the elder Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout with police following the blasts.

“It was Tamerlan Tsarnaev who self-radicalised. It was Dzhokhar who followed,” Clarke said during opening statements.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to 30 charges over the attacks, the murder of a police officer, a carjacking and the shootout with police while on the run. Seventeen of those charges carry the possibility of the death penalty under federal law.

Over the course of the testimony, prosecutors have countered Clarke’s statements by painting Tsarnaev as a cold, callous killer; a unmotivated student who had recently failed a number of exams and become an avid reader of the Islamist literature that investigators found on his computer.

If Tsarnaev is found guilty, jurors will determine in a sentencing phase whether he will receive the death penalty or life in prison.


Mom of Colorado theater shooter calls sons "empathetic" and "responsible"

A new book written by the mother of Colorado theater-shooting defendant James Holmes reveals that she prays for the victims of the attack daily. The book names each of the 12 people who were killed and the 70 others who were injured, according to the Associated Press.

Arlene Holmes announced the book during her first interview since the 2012 shooting in suburban Denver. Holmes also said that she and her husband are currently bracing themselves for their son’s trial and maintain hope their son’s life will be spared through a plea deal. Opening statements in the death penalty case are scheduled for April 27.

“The pretrial process has been lengthy, stressful for everyone, and expensive; the trial will be torturous and lengthy, and the appeal process in death penalty cases could last decades,” she wrote in the forward of her book, “When The Focus Shifts: The Prayer Book of Arlene Holmes 2013 -2014.”

The book contains several prayers taken from her personal journals that were written after the shooting. Some prayers are addressed to prosecutors and defense attorneys, some convey her guilt for not recognizing her son’s mental illness and getting him help, and others reflect on her experiences in the courtroom and struggles with her own depression after the shooting. Throughout the book, Holmes laments what she sees as a lack of compassion for the mentally ill.

According to his parent and attorneys, James Holmes had been in the midst of a psychotic episode when he entered the movie theater and opened fire. While the book does not offer any new insight into his diagnosis, it does feature the author’s recollections of her son as empathetic and responsible.

“My son never harmed anyone,” she wrote. “People think he is a monster, but he has a disease that changed his brain. … Praying for good men and women engulfed in psychosis and alone with their disease.”

Some victims’ families have questioned the timing of the new book, which comes after defense attorneys have asked a judge to move the proceedings due to pretrial publicity that has biased prospective jurors against Holmes.

“I can only think this is some kind of ploy. This is some type of strategy cooked up by the defense to try to save someone’s life,” said Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed in the shooting.



Denver Broncos have tough choice at QB between Manning, Osweiler

Believe it or not, there is actually a quarterback controversy on the Denver Broncos — and with one week to go until the playoffs, no less.

Despite Peyton Manning’s career of dominance and the fact that he’s finally back from injury, there’s no question that the games he did start this year have everyone questioning whether he’s finally too old to play — and Brock Osweiler’s success in Peyton’s absence means the Broncos may not be quite so sure who they’re going with in the playoffs.

It was Osweiler who led Denver to a win in overtime against the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that is headed for the playoffs itself. And as confidence grows with him and sinks with Manning, it’s no wonder the Broncos are trying to figure out what the right move is with the playoffs about to start and Denver positioned as a top AFC contender despite its QB troubles.

Coach Gary Kubiak has already named Osweiler as the started in a critical Week 17 game against San Diego, which could have major implications for seeding in the playoffs.

Manning is reportedly closer to recovering from an injury to his foot and is likely to participate in practice this week in advance of the wild card round. And because of the Broncos victory, the team is likely to benefit from a first-round bye and an extra week to think about who will be going under center when the divisional rounds kick off.

Osweiler has been solid but has been inconsistent. But so has Peyton Manning, leaving Kubiak with a tough choice: go with the young, unproven, but so far solid QB in Osweiler or a sure-fire Hall of Famer who took the team to the Super Bowl not long ago.


Weird, frightening 4-eyed, lobster-like creature terrorized ancient Cambrian era: fossil find

It’s definitely a weird-looking creature, and it’s definitely not one you would have wanted to come across if you were an organism living 508 million years ago.

A newly discovered species, Yawunik Kootenayi, was a vicious predator that lived at the top of the food hcain and eventually led to the evolution of butterflies, spiders, and lobsters, according to new research published in the journal Paleontology as reported by Discovery News.

Lead author Cedric Aria of the University of Toronto said in a statement that the creature is “expanding our perspective on the anatomy and predatory habits of the first anthropods.”

Its exteernal skeleton, segmented body, and joined appendages are all telltale signs of an anthropod, but there are certain advanced traits that didn’t show up in anthropods until later, according to the report.

The fossil of the first discovery was found in the Marble Canyon site in British Columbia’s Kootenay National Park, after which the creature is named. The “Yawunik” portion comes from a mythological figure revealed by the native Ktunaxa people who live in the area.

Yawunik appears ot have had long front appendages that may have resembled antenna but were actually long claws with opposing rows of teeth. These appendages could have been moved backward and forward and were likely spread out for attack, and then retracted while swimming, scientists believe according to the report.

Yawunik lacks certain characteristics of modern-day insect; most notably, appendages in the head that could process food, something that evolution later corrected through the frontal-most appendages on the creature that went through a series of adaptations over time.

Large predators such as the mantis shrimp split up the sensory and grasping functions of its appendages, but Yawunik lived during a time before such a division of tasks had been evolved.

It was evidently a dominant predator close to if not at the top of the food chain at the time, as many fossils for the creature were found at the dig site.

At 508 million years old, Yawunik lived during the Cambrian period in Earth’s history, far predating dinosaurs and large animals in general. It is the time in Earth’s history when life changed from single-cell simple organisms to more complex multi-cellular organisms, giving rise to more and more complex species and eventually to humans.


Shocking finding: Coffee slashes liver cancer risk caused by too much booze

Drinking lots of alcohol can put you at much greater risk of liver cancer — but coffee can help lower that risk, a new study has found.

Researchers with the World Cancer Research Fund in London found that while drinking three or more alcoholic drinks per day can significantly increase your risk of being diagnosed with liver cancer, it also found that regular coffee consumption had a correlation with a decreased risk of liver cancer, according to a UPI report.

The findings of the new survey were featured in the fund’s Liver Cancer 2015 report, which conducted an analysis of 34 scientific studies that included 8 million individuals and 24,600 liver cancer cases. More research will be need to determine exactly why coffee has such a positive effect on reducing cancer risk.

Studies in the past have provided evidence that coffee has a protective effect based on data from both animals and humans. Coffee and coffee extracts help reduce the expression of genes that cause inflammation, the kind of inflammation that leads to cancer, especially in the liver, according to the report.

In addition to coffee and booze, the study also examined the role of aflatoxins in causing liver cancer. Aflatoxins are produced by mold and has a close link with liver cancer. They are typically produced by poor food storage, which is especially a problem in developing nations in a warm climate, where it is not only difficult to store food properly but often lacks the type of equipment needed to do so.

Cereals, spices, nuts, dried fruit, and black pepper are particularly susceptible to this type of mold.

About 746,000 people died from liver cancer in 2012, the second most of any cancer type.


Massive cheating scandal rocks Stanford University

Authorities suspect that there has been an unusually high amount of cheating at Stanford University during the most recent term, and faculty and staff are looking to crack down.

University Provost John Etchemendy sent a letter last week indicating that faculty and teaching staff had uncovered some “troubling allegations of academic dishonesty” during the winter quarter, including indications that as many as 20 percent of the students in one of the introductory courses were involved, according to a San Jose Mercury-News report.

Stanford has begun reaching out to students who are suspected of cheating, and the university has a lot of work to do to root out everyone involved. Etchemendy slammed students who participated, saying that all they were doing was “cheating themselves of the very core of our mission,” and pledged “severe consequences” to those who are caught, according to the report.

A total of 2,144 students have been accepted to its Class of 2019 out of 42,487 applicants — a record. Normally, that would make this a celebratory week for the university, but the cheating scandal has thrown cold water on the attitude around campus.

Etchemendy said that although all students must agree to the honor code, he blamed the “ease of technology and widespread sharing” on allowing students to more easily be dishonest about their work.

It’s not the first time there have been allegations of cheating. The Stanford Daily ran a report last fall from a professor of statistics, who wanted to determine how many of his students had cheated while at Stanford, and he found that a whopping 40 percent of the 86 students who had responded had cheated.

It’s not unusual for cheating allegations to be raised every quarter, as the university has a lot of classes and students, but the most recent allegations have been serious enough to get the provost involved and issue a public statement.

Typically, someone who cheats gets suspended for a quarter and has to complete 40 hours of community service, as well as not getting credit for the course. Doing it more than once results in a three-quarter suspension and 40 or more hours of community service, according to the report.

University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin declined to identify the course or grade level where the cheating is likely taking place, or even go into detail on the specific allegations.

Stanford students are currently on spring break. Some of them will be contacted about the cheating allegations when they return. The winter classes took place between Jan. 5 and March 13.


Massive $5 billion industry shake-up: Dow sells off its chlorine business to Olin

Dow Chemical Company is done with chlorine — the very substance that it started with way back in 1897 when the company was founded.

In an attempt to focus more on products with higher profit margins and less on commodities, Dow Chemical will sell of nearly all of its chlorine business — the largest in the world — to Olin Corp. for $5 billion, according to a Bloomberg report.

That means Dow investors will hold 50.5 percent of Olin, and Olin shareholders will keep the rest, the companies announced on Friday. Dow Chief Executive Officer Andrew Liveris had in the past pledged to sell $7 billion to $8.5 billion in assets in order to change direction for Dow, and this sale means he will exceed even those goals. Now, the company will focus more on value-added products, including auto plastics and genetically modified corn seed, according to the report.

Bleach was the first product Dow ever made when it was founded in 1897, and bleach is made from chlorine. However, the practice of making chlorine has long since been perfected, meaning that the substance is now a commodity that has low profit margins because of the fact it can be produced in the exact same way by other companies, and Dow wants to get out of commodities.

Olin, meanwhile, is the oldest maker of chlorine in North America, and has wanted to become the industry leader in the substance, CEO Joseph Rupp said. Olin will take on $2 billion in debt in order to pay for the merger.

Shares of Dow rose on the news by 2.8 percent, closing at $47.76, while shares of Olin jumped 14 percent to $3.81, closing at $31 per share.

Dow had long since planned to jettison its chlorine business, an intention it announced in December 2013.

The deal will likely wrap up by the end of the year. Under the deal, Dow will receive $2 billion in cash and cash equivalents from Olin, as well as Olin common stock valued at $2.2 billion. The remaining $800 million will come from Olin taking on some of Dow’s liabilities and pensions.


Scientists make surprising discovery about Pandas: They're not so lonely after all

Most people think of pandas as loners, and because it’s so hard to study them in the wild, there wasn’t much evidence that that wasn’t the case — but scientists have used GPS tracking collars to provide some surprising insights into panda behavior.

For two years, scientists have been tracking a group of pandas released into the wild to find out what their day-to-day lives are like, and they found that pandas actually appear to stick together in the wild, according to a UPI report.

Far from avoiding contact with each other, pandas seem pretty happy to have some company, and they certainly aren’t viciously defending their territories from encroachment by other pandas.

Researchers at Michigan State used collars fitted with GPS to track the movements of five giant pandas that were released into Wolong National Nature Reserve in southwest China. Three of them were adult females — Pan Pan, Mei Mei, and Zhong Zhong — and two of them were juveniles: a female named Long Long and a male named Chuan Chuan.

For two years, scientists watched their movements, and they found that three of the pandas gathered in the same area for several weeks in the autumn, often within just 10 or 20 meters of each other, suggesting that the interacted with each other frequently.

The pandas appeared to rotate between about 30 different bamboo spots, where they sit and eat until they have to move on to a new one.

Studying pandas in the wild is difficult because they are such elusive creatures. It has also been difficult to convince the Chinese government, which is very protective of the creatures that are considered emblematic to Chinese culture, to allow them to use GPS collars.

The findings were published in the Journal of Mammalogy.