Black hole chorus ‘sings’ in high-energy X-rays

Many black holes have been observed sending out bursts of X-rays as matter is drawn in.  The chorus of energetic black holes which “sing” with radiation creates what is known as the cosmic X-ray background.  Scientists, up until now, have had difficulty locating the sources of the most high-energy X-rays among the cosmic “voices.”

According to EurekAlert, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has found, for the first time, large numbers of black holes emitting high-energy X-rays.  NuSTAR is the first telescope able to translate high-energy X-rays into clear pictures.

“Before NuSTAR, the X-ray background in high-energies was just one blur with no resolved sources,” Fiona Harrison of Caltech said.  “To untangle what’s going on, you have to pinpoint and count up the individual sources of the X-rays.”

“We’ve gone from resolving just 2 percent of the high-energy X-ray background to 35 percent,” Harrison said.  “We can see the most obscured black holes, hidden in thick gas and dust.”

Since black holes cannot be observed directly using visible light, observations of high-energy X-rays can help scientists analyze the objects and activities present in the areas surrounding supermassive black holes.

Further study of the high-energy outputs detected by NuSTAR can help scientists better understand how supermassive black holes develop over time.  Understanding of the evolution of black holes can help astronomers learn how the galaxies surrounding supermassive black holes form and develop.

“We knew this cosmic choir had a strong high-pitched component, but we still don’t know if it comes from a lot of smaller, quiet singers, or a few with loud voices,” Daniel Stern of NASA said. “Now, thanks to NuSTAR, we’re gaining a better understanding of the black holes and starting to address these questions.”

The study will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.


White dwarf star found blasting red dwarf neighbor

An unusual binary star system has been spotted in which a tiny white dwarf is blasting its hulking neighbor with powerful radiation.

According to Astronomy Magazine, the pair of newly discovered stars includes a white dwarf that spins so rapidly that it accelerates electrons to near the speed of light.  The energy produced by the spinning star bursts forth at its companion red dwarf star, causing the binary system to pulse with radiation every 1.97 minutes.

The star system is called AR Scorpii and lies about 380 light-years from Earth in the constellation Scorpio.  The two stars orbit one another every 3.6 hours.  The white dwarf is about 200,000 times more massive than Earth but approximately the same size.  The red dwarf is about one-third the mass of the Sun.

The pulse of radiation emitted about every two minutes from the white dwarf’s blasting of its neighbor ranges from radio to ultraviolet wavelengths.  AR Scorpii is the first white dwarf system found to emit radio waves.

“AR Scorpii was discovered over 40 years ago, but its true nature was not suspected until we started observing it in 2015,” Tom Marsh of the University of Warwick said.  “We realized we were seeing something extraordinary within minutes of starting the observations.”

The presence of a wide band of radio frequencies indicated that electrons were being accelerated in a magnetic field.  While the magnetic field seems to be created by the white dwarf’s spinning, the source of the electrons remains a mystery as to whether they originate with the white dwarf or the red.

The research team observed the star system using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Array along with other telescopes located around the globe.  AR Scorpii was first spotted 40 years ago but was assumed to be a single star that pulsed with light every 3.6 hours, much as neutron star would be expected to do.

“We’ve known pulsing neutron stars for nearly fifty years, and some theories predicted white dwarfs could show similar behavior,” Boris Gänsicke of the University of Warwick said.  “It’s very exciting that we have discovered such a system, and it has been a fantastic example of amateur astronomers and academics working together.”

The study was published in the journal Nature.


Dark matter continues to elude scientists despite search

After an in-depth search for direct evidence of dark matter, researchers continue to come up empty-handed.

According to Science Alert, scientists from the LUX detector program announced that the highly sensitive equipment had not detected the faintest trace of dark matter during its 20-month run.

“We’ve probed previously unexplored regions of parameter space with the aim of making the first definitive discovery of dark matter,” Cham Ghag of University College London said.  “Though a positive signal would have been welcome, nature was not so kind! Nonetheless, a null result is significant as it changes the landscape of the field by constraining models for what dark matter could be beyond anything that existed previously.”

Dark matter is the invisible substance thought to make up some 80 percent of the universe.  Although not yet directly detectable, dark matter exerts its gravitational influence on visible matter.  The existence of dark matter was theorized to explain the observed effects of gravity on galaxies and light where not enough visible matter is present to account for the behavior of the spinning galaxies and bending light.  Dark matter particles are presumed to pass through normal matter, barely interacting in any detectable way.

“Over 80 percent of our matter is in this dark matter form,” Richard Gaitskell of Brown University said.  “You and I are the flotsam and jetsam; dark matter is the sea.  That’s why one doesn’t give up. We’ve got to figure out what this dark matter component is.”

Scientists believe that a dark matter particle most likely takes the form of a weakly interacting massive particle or WIMP.  The LUX detector, built in a former gold mine a mile below ground, was created to detect the rare collisions of passing WIMPs with xenon particles in the sheltered detector.

While dark matter remains invisible, the lack of WIMPs in the detector is a result from which scientists can learn nonetheless.

“We worked hard and stayed vigilant over more than a year and a half to keep the detector running in optimal conditions and maximize useful data time,” Simon Fiorucci of the Berkeley Lab said. “The result is unambiguous data we can be proud of and a timely result in this very competitive field – even if it is not the positive detection we were all hoping for.”

The search will continue with the next generation of detector called LUX-ZEPLIN, which will be 70 times more sensitive than LUX.  Efforts to find dark matter particles will also continue at the Large Hadron Collider.

“This is the kind of science that takes a lifetime,” Gaitskell said. “Ask me in 15 years where we stand.”


Freddie Roach says Garcia and Broner are scared to fight Pacquiao

Freddie Roach claimed that Danny Garcia and Adrien Broner are ducking Manny Pacquiao.

Roach, who has trained Pacquiao through the bulk of his glory years, says that both Broner and Garcia are using money to duck out of a fight with his legendary pugilist.

Both Garcia and Broner declined an offer to fight Pacquiao, citing too small a purse as the primary reason for their rejection of the contract.

“Where else in the world can either of those guys make $4M at least?!” asked Roach. “I mean, they’re full of shit, they’re scared of Manny, that’s all there is to it. So we’re getting closer and closer to an opponent right now.”

Roach made it clear that he and Pacquiao are determined to return to the ring and that they both want fighters in the upper echelon of the boxing landscape.

“I wanted [Danny] Garcia because I think Manny would destroy him, and outbox him, but he’s a little bit dangerous though – a pretty good puncher. That’s the fight I always wanted but, you know, really Manny wants Mayweather one more time…”

Roach also spoke on top contender, Keith Thurman, saying that he would love to take a turn with Pacquiao in his return fight.

“It’s a good fight, I like Thurman – he’s a good fighter, tough guy. That’s a fight I would definitely say yes to, no problem,” said Roach. “Bob [Arum] hasn’t offered me that fight yet, though. So no word from Bob at least, but Thurman – thanks for coming out.”


Hubble views extremely distant galaxy cluster

The Hubble Space Telescope has located extremely distant galaxies hidden behind an ancient galaxy cluster. reports that Hubble’s Frontier Fields program released an image of the galaxy cluster known as Abell S1063, giving scientists a clearer view into the universe’s distant past.

Abell S1063 lies about 4 billion light-years away, but the Hubble image also includes light from even older objects located beyond the cluster.

The immense gravity of the galaxy cluster creates an effect called gravitational lensing, by which the cluster’s gravity causes light from further objects to bend around it.  Thanks to the lensing effect, Hubble can image bright objects that would otherwise be blocked by the interposed galaxies.

One of the galaxies that Hubble can locate beyond Abell S1063 due to gravitational lensing is a galaxy that scientists estimate to be 12.7 billion years old.  That ancient galaxy is only one billion years younger than the universe itself.

Astronomers can also use gravitational lensing to better estimate the mass of the interceding objects – in this case, the Abell cluster.  The light cast by 16 galaxies beyond Abell S1063 is sufficiently distorted by the lensing effect that scientists will be able to use the distortion to zero in on the mass present in the light-bending cluster.

A comparison of the estimated total mass of the cluster with the amount of mass directly detectable by the light produced in Abell S1063 will help scientists determine how much of the cluster may be composed of dark matter, the elusive substance which has not been directly detected but still is thought to exert its gravitational influence throughout the universe.

Hubble has been collecting data on deep space objects from its position in orbit around Earth since 1990.  Its Frontier Fields program has located such space objects as the first gravitationally lensed supernova ever seen as well as a galaxy that formed just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.


Oregon occupation ends with cries of ‘hallelujah’

Cries of ‘hallelujah’ filled the air when the 41-day occupation of the federal complex in rural Harney Count finally ended in a dramatic climax when the last protester, 27-year-old David Fry, ended talks of violence and suicide to emerge unscathed from the Oregon wildlife refuge.

“I declare war against the federal government!” Fry shouted before surrendering.

“I’m taking a stand. A stand means you’re willing to risk your life.”

The intense ending was unique in that the entire standoff was livestreamed to Youtube. There had previously been a continual YouTube live-stream of phone calls with the remaining occupants, including the panicked and tense discussions over the final 18 hours of the occupation.

While the occupation may be over, the repercussions in the immediate community and the nation will not be so quickly remedied. Harney County sheriff Dave Ward was emotional in the speech.

“I’m proud of this community. I’m proud of my friends and neighbors. I’m proud of the way you stood up to this stuff. […] It’s torn our community apart. I see it tear our country apart. But right now we have the opportunity as people in this great nation […] to come out and work through our differences and start getting things back together

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Ward declared.

Around the same time of the final standoff, federal prosecutors arrested Cliven Bundy, the figurehead of the ultra-conservative federal lands movement and leader of the 2014 standoff which directly influenced the Oregon occupation. Bundy was arrested late Wednesday evening in Portland after federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against the cattle rancher. Prosecutors have accused Bundy of conspiracy against the federal government, assault on an officer, interference with commerce by extortion and several other serious offenses.



MeerKAT telescope discovers 1300 galaxies

South Africa’s super-sized MeerKAT telescope released its first image of a patch of sky revealing many more galaxies than previously detected. reports that even though MeerKAT is currently operating at a quarter of its eventual ability, the telescope has found over 1,300 galaxies in an area of space in which only 70 galaxies had been already discovered.  The radio telescope released its first stunning image on Saturday.

MeerKAT will eventually consist of 64 receptors and will become part of the multi-national Square Kilometer Array (SKA), which by the 2020s will be the world’s most powerful radio telescope.   The SKA will ultimately consist of 3,000 dishes spread over one square kilometer touching several countries.

The current MeerKAT receptor dishes are located near the town of Carnarvon which lies 600 kilometers north of Cape Town.

“This the first time that an African group of countries will host global science infrastructure of this character,” South African Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said.  “We are building a global infrastructure for the world.”

At full power, the SKA will be able to provide an unprecedented look at cosmic phenomena such as black holes and supernovae, and will be able to detect objects shining with some of the universe’s oldest light from its formation some 14 billion years ago.

Over 20 countries are involved in developing and administrating the SKA project, and scientists from 45 countries have already signed up to make use of the array.

“What this will do is bring to South African and world astronomers the most astonishing and profoundly powerful instrument ever used before in radio astronomy,” SKA South Africa project director Rob Adam said.


New 3D map of the universe hints at dark energy

Astronomers have assembled a 3D map of the universe which may help scientists understand more about the workings of dark energy.

Gizmodo reports that the 1.2 million galaxies included in the map is a record high number for such a model.  The distribution of the galaxies across the vast expanse shows the likely workings of dark energy, the most widely accepted explanation for the expansion of the universe.

While not directly detectable, dark energy makes its influence known in the way that galaxies throughout the universe are accelerating outward.

The map covers 650 billion cubic light-years of space, which represents about one-quarter of the sky.  The map provides one of the most precise measurements ever made of the expansion of the universe, which helps scientists get a more detailed look at the presumed effects of dark energy, which is seen to essentially offset the effects of gravity over large distances as it sends galaxies flying away from one another at an ever-increasing pace.

The model was assembled by hundreds of astronomers working together as part of the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS).  BOSS uses data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III) which measures impressions left on the background radiation of the cosmos by sound waves of the early universe.  The BOSS mapping project seeks to track positions and movements of galaxies back through time to the earliest days of the universe.

The map reveals the locations of galaxies up to six billion years into the past.  The distribution of galaxies creates clusters and voids, the locations of which seem to correlate somewhat with the distribution of matter present not long after the Big Bang.

“We see a dramatic connection between the sound wave imprints seen in the cosmic microwave background 400,000 years after the Big Bang to the clustering of galaxies 7 to 12 billion years later.  The ability to observe a single well-modeled physical effect from recombination until today is a great boon for cosmology,” Rita Tojeiro of the University of St. Andrews said in a statement.

“This map has allowed us to make the best measurements yet of the effects of dark energy in the expansion of the Universe. We are making our results and map available to the world,” Jeremy Tinker of New York University said.


Astronomers get first look at young star’s snow line

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile has captured an image of water snow surrounding a young star.  The image taken by the radio telescopes is the first visual evidence ever found of such a snow line.

According to Tech Times, a star’s snow line is the area beyond the reach of the star’s heat where water molecules are cold enough to freeze, usually at a distance of about 450 million kilometers.  Snow lines are normally too close to a new star to be imaged, but a young star called V883 Orionis experienced a burst of heat which pushed its snow line outward far enough to be imaged by ALMA.

V883 Orionis lies about 1,350 light-years from Earth in the Orion constellation.  The star’s sudden burst of brightness and heat pushed its ring of ice out to a distance of 3.7 billion miles, which is comparable to the distance at which Pluto orbits the Sun.

The imaging of a snow line can help astronomers understand more about how planets form around new stars.  The detection of the snow line also confirms that conditions exist around other stars for the formation of exoplanets.

“Since water ice is more abundant than dust itself beyond the snowline, planets can aggregate more solid material and form bigger and faster there. In this way, giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn can form before the protoplanetary disk is gone,” Zhaohuan Zhu of Princeton University said.

Scientists developing models of planetary formation can use information from the discovery to include snow lines and their behavior in conjunction with their stars’ development in future simulations.

“As most planetary systems are expected to experience outbursts caused by accretion during their formation, our results imply that highly dynamical water snow-lines must be considered when developing models of disk evolution and planet formation,” Zhu said.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

NONE Science

Massive amount of trees in Amazon takes three centuries to document

Growing up and reaching adulthood we can maybe name three or so kinds of trees; maple, oak, spruce, the common types we would see stateside. In the Amazon though remembering the different types could pose a challenge, as scientists have identified nearly 12,000 species over the last 300 years.

According to Tech Times, over the last three centuries scientists and explorers have been documenting the species of trees located in the Amazon rainforest. The official number is set at 11,676, but scientists note there are bound to be more in such a diverse ecosystem, saying the number could be anywhere around 16,000.

“Before this paper we didn’t have a list of Amazonian trees,” said study author Nigel Pitman. Pitman noted too that because of the vastness of the Amazon rainforest it would take years to uncover them all.
“[We] won’t be done discovering new tree species there for three more centuries,” said Pitman.
International Business Times reports that the study consisted of a team of scientists who studied records dating back to 1707. A combination of this record and other known species collected since 1900 but not added to the list were combined and documented in order to make the official list. Though there are still many more to discover, including some rarer species that could take scientists a long time to find.
The collection still answers a lot of questions on just how much we have already discovered. For some it shows just how much science can accomplish over time, and for others it just fulfills an age-old curiosity, like lead author Hans ter Steege, who led a similar study in 2013.
“After a while, I was just curious how many species of tree had actually been collected in the area,” said Steege.