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Three Supermassive Black Holes Are On A Crash Course, NASA Says

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Three Supermassive Black Holes Are About To Collide In Deep Space
Photo Credit: NASA

It’s wild enough when two supermassive black holes collide, but scientists have now spotted an extremely rare triple hole smash-up.

The impending collision is occurring one billion light years away in a system called SDSS J0849+1114, which is a merger of three galaxies, according to NASA.

Scientists led by Ryan Pfeifle, an astrophysicist at George Mason University, identified the epic event while hunting for galaxy mergers, which occur when two galaxies collide and evolve into a unified system. Big galaxies host supermassive black holes in their centres, so a galactic merger may lead to a collision of gigantic black holes, as well.

Three Supermassive Black Holes Are On A Crash Course, NASA Says
Concept art of three black holes. Image: flickr/nasa goddard space flight center. Composition by Jordan Pearson

Supermassive black holes are the largest type of black hole known to scientists, and can grow to be millions or even billions of times as massive as the Sun. When galaxies collide, their central black holes emit radiation as they consume stars, gas, and dust from the merger. (While light cannot escape a black hole once it has passed the event horizon, tidal forces at the outside edge of black holes heat up matter, making it visible to telescopes).

Citizen scientists working on Galaxy Zoo, a project that allows users to help categorize galaxies in sky surveys, classified the system as a galactic merger using optical light images taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) telescope in New Mexico.

Three Supermassive Black Holes Are On A Crash Course, NASA Says
SDSS J0849+1114. IMAGE: X-RAY: NASA/CXC/GEORGE MASON UNIV./R. PFEIFLE ET AL.; OPTICAL: SDSS& NASA/STSCI

Pfeifle’s team then took a closer look at the system across multiple wavelengths, using three NASA telescopes: the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft.

The results revealed that SDSS J0849+1114 contains three supermassive black holes that are about 10,000 light years to 30,000 light years away from each other, according to Space.com.

Pfeifle and his colleagues will publish their findings in a forthcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal (a preprint version is available on arXiv). Further observation of this galactic triplet could shed light on the potential dynamics of mergers between three supermassive black holes, compared to pairs.

According to a theory called the “final parsec problem,” the presence of a third black hole may hasten the merging of the other two. It’s possible that all three could eventually become one hole, but some theories suggest that supermassive black holes can also end up in tight orbits around each other, therefore remaining separate—though close—entities.

We were only looking for pairs of black holes at the time, and yet, through our selection technique, we stumbled upon this amazing system,” said Pfeifle in a statement. “This is the strongest evidence yet found for such a triple system of actively feeding supermassive black holes.”

The video below offers a simulation of this epic trumvirate of black holes colliding.

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Scientists Discover Evidence Of Ancient Martian Groundwater In Antarctica

Though the Allan Hills 84001 meteorite was discovered in 1984, scientists have not been able to determine if the organic matter came from Mars or Earth — until now.

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Scientists Discover Evidence Of Ancient Martian Groundwater In Antarctica
Photo Credit: NASA

About 15 million years ago, a chunk a of 4-billion-year-old rock broke away from the surface of Mars and crash-landed on Earth. While the meteorite’s 1984 discovery in Antarctica was remarkable enough, a new analysis of the rock has yielded traces of carbon and nitrogen — essential ingredients for life.

According to LiveScience, the meteorite was named Allan Hills 84001 in honour of its discovery site. It’s long been known to contain organic materials, with experts waging a decades-long debate whether or not these originated on Mars or contaminated the meteorite on Earth.

According to Forbes, researchers from Tokyo’s Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) and the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) believe their findings published in the Nature journal can finally put this argument to rest.

The Japanese experts discovered that some of the nitrogen and carbon materials on the meteorite were trapped inside carbonated globules — meaning they’ve been shielded from the outside all along. That means there might have been subterranean rivers on Mars that could have supported life.

Finding nitrogen and carbon trapped inside carbonate globules (the orange spots) meant they were shielded from the outside world all along — and originated on Mars.
Finding nitrogen and carbon trapped inside carbonate globules (the orange spots) meant they were shielded from the outside world all along — and originated on Mars.

“These carbonate molecules kept the organic materials intact over long geological times,” the study claimed.

The paper explained that the host rock of the meteorite likely resided permanently underground, protected from the harsh ultraviolet and cosmic-ray radiation for billions of years. With carbonate minerals usually precipitating from groundwater, the findings indicate both a wet and organic Mars.

Most of the nitrogen scientists have discovered on Mars was either locked up in nitrogen gas or found within chemicals in the soil. This recent finding of organic nitrogen compounds in the carbonate, however, suggests that if life was present on Mars it had the same form of nitrogen as life on Earth.

The two claims — that the organic materials came from Mars, not Earth, and that they relied on the same forms of nitrogen that Earthly life does — suggest there was an organic-rich early Mars with an active groundwater environment.

Most convincing is the fact that the levels of organic nitrogen experts found were far higher than could be caused by contamination from Antarctic ice. This points toward the organic nitrogen material entering the rock while it was formed.

The discovery certainly supports the theory that Mars once teemed with nitrogen-rich groundwater and could’ve supported life — but organic materials have been found in numerous lifeless places in our solar system before.
The discovery certainly supports the theory that Mars once teemed with nitrogen-rich groundwater and could’ve supported life — but organic materials have been found in numerous lifeless places in our solar system before.

Experts studied the meteorite fragments in a “class-100 clean lab,” which requires anyone involved to wear bodysuits from head to toe, while the airflow is thoroughly controlled to prevent contaminating particulates from floating around.

This type of lab is usually employed by manufacturers of advanced technologies, from spacecraft to pharmaceutical production. Previous research into these meteorites, however, took place at more traditional lab environments — leading some critics to argue they were contaminated at that point.

The recent study saw scientists peel off tiny grains of carbonate, before blasting them with a beam of ions to remove any contaminants on the surface. The layer beneath, according to the scientists, represents what the chemicals inside the meteorites looked like before arriving on Earth.

This is when they discovered the high level of organic material unlikely to have been caused in Antarctica. And since, according to the paper, “nitrogen is an essential element for all life on Earth, as it is necessary for protein, DNA, RNA and other vital materials,” Mars may have once supported life.

In the end, organic materials can form in all sorts of lifeless places across our solar system. According to Space, there was even evidence discovered in the dust floating between the stars in 2011. Whether or not life once existed in the rich oceans of Mars is unclear — but we’re getting closer to finding out.

This article (Scientists Discover Evidence Of Ancient Martian Groundwater In Antarctica) was originally created for All That Interesting and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Be One Of The First In History To Witness A Supermassive Black Hole Destroy A Star

Events like this are not only incredibly rare but difficult to capture. NASA managed it with a state-of-the-art satellite and a network of robotic telescopes.

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Events like this are not only incredibly rare but difficult to capture. NASA managed it with a state-of-the-art satellite and a network of robotic telescopes.
Photo Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Have you ever wondered what a star looks like as it’s ripped apart by a black hole? Probably not! But thanks to NASA and Ohio State University, you don’t have to wonder at all.

According to Ohio radio station WOSU, a NASA satellite and a network of robotic telescopes known as the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae — or ASAS-SN for short — located at the university gave astronomers an unexpected glimpse of the epic cosmic battle back in January of this year.

Courtesy of NASA, we can now watch a computer-generated video of the incredible — and terrifying — event as it unfolded.

The conditions have to be just right for a black hole to rip apart a star like this.

The supermassive black hole in question is estimated to weigh approximately 6 million times the mass of our sun and is located in the Volans constellation, some 375 million light-years away from Earth.

So, according to Science Alert, what we’re seeing actually happened 375 million years ago, but the light is only reaching us now.

The ill-fated star was roughly the same size as our sun

The event, known as a tidal disruption event (TDE), is not only rare — occurring once every 10,000 to 100,000 years in a galaxy the size of the Milky Way — but it also requires very specific conditions to occur.

If a star wanders too close to a black hole, it will be sucked in without a trace. If the star is too far, it’ll simply ricochet off the black hole and be bounced off into space.

If it’s at the perfect distance, the star can be seen in part sucked in by the black hole’s dominating gravity and ultimately ripped apart. Some of that starry material is then shot back out into space as the rest remains trapped in the black hole.

Due to their rarity, these events are very difficult to capture.

“Imagine that you are standing on top of a skyscraper downtown, and you drop a marble off the top, and you are trying to get it to go down a hole in a manhole cover,” Chris Kochanek, professor of astronomy at Ohio State, said in a press release. “It’s harder than that.

An artist’s rendering of a star caught in the gravity of a supermassive black hole and ripped to bits.

However, the latest advancements in NASA technology allowed scientists to achieve just that. Apparently, NASA’s TESS satellite, which launched in July 2018, had detected the early signs of a possible TDE.

The satellite’s massive surveying area covers an area of space 400 times larger than that observed by the famed Kepler telescope. Its four wide-field cameras on board are able to scan different sectors of the sky for days at a time.

This particular tidal disruption event has been dubbed ASASSN-19bt. The research team watched it unfold for 42 days before it peaked in brightness 37 days later.

Only a handful of TDEs have been discovered before they reached peak brightness and this one was found just a few days after it started to brighten,” said Thomas Holoien, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institute for Science.

An artist’s illustration of the battle between the star and the black hole.
An artist’s illustration of the battle between the star and the black hole.

“Plus, thanks to it being in what’s called TESS’ ‘continuous viewing zone,’ we have observations of it every 30 minutes going back months — more than ever before possible for one of these events.”

That data collected from this latest TDE is incredibly valuable as it has never been recorded in such great detail before. The team hopes that the data will allow them to possibly pick up another TDE event in the future.

For instance, they recorded a brief moment of cooling in temperature and fading in the galaxy’s vicinity before its temperature levelled off and its luminosity continued to build toward its peak. This blip is considered “unusual” when compared to other TDE events.

“It was once thought that all TDEs would look the same. But it turns out that astronomers just needed the ability to make more detailed observations of them,” the study’s co-author, Patrick Vallely, said.

The Groundbreaking discovery was published in The Astrophysical Journal.

“We have so much more to learn about how they work, which is why capturing one at such an early time and having the exquisite TESS observations was crucial.”

This article (Be One Of The First In History To Witness A Supermassive Black Hole Destroy A Star) was originally created for All That Interesting and is published here under Creative Commons.

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NASA Telescope To Reveal “Surface Features” And Vegetation On Alien Exoplanets

The goal is to “directly image a habitable Earth-like exoplanet within our stellar neighborhood.”

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NASA Telescope To Reveal “Surface Features” And Vegetation On Alien Exoplanets
Photo Credit: www.space.com

(TMU) — Have you ever wondered what exoplanets outside our solar system look like? We’ve seen countless artist depictions, but imagine seeing the actual planet, its colours, atmosphere, continental structures, and even its vegetation.

NASA announced this week that they are funding research for just such an endeavour—a conceptual telescope called a solar gravitational lens (SGL)—that would allow us to observe distant alien worlds with astonishing resolution.

The project’s goal, according to NASA’s description, is to “directly image a habitable Earth-like exoplanet within our stellar neighbourhood” with a resolution of around 25 km, which is “enough to see surface features and signs of habitability.”

The new announcement of an SGL follows Phase I and II funding by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

Slava Turyshev, a physicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who has written about and studied such technology, describes how an SGL works:

In the strong interference region of the SGL, this light is greatly amplified, forming the Einstein ring around the Sun, representing a distorted image of the extended source.”

This isn’t the only large-scale astronomical endeavour by NASA that could yield unbelievable new data on alien worlds. The James Webb Space Telescope, when it launches in 2021, will be capable of seeing planets (in high-contrast, mid-infrared range) that are 10 million to 100 million times fainter than we can currently image. Webb will also study the atmospheres of these planets and look for traces of oxygen and other “techno-signatures” of industrial gases.

The new phases of the SGL research provided three critical innovations.

According to NASA, they have: “1) proven the feasibility of high-resolution, multipixel imaging of a habitable exoplanet; (2) devised a swarm architecture for smallsats to explore the interstellar medium; (3) designed the low-cost solar array propulsion to achieve the exit velocity from the solar system needed for the mission.”

The remaining technological hurdle is devising a way to ferry a “meter-class telescope with a solar coronagraph” to a great distance from the Sun. Slava Turyshev, physicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has suggested the solution may be deploying a “swarm architecture for smallsats” powered by solar sails that can image “multiple planets/moons of an exosolar system” simultaneously.

While it could be many years until we begin to receive data and images from these projects, it’s exciting to know that in our lifetime we will likely see the “surface features” of alien exoplanets and be able to observe their vegetation patterns.

Who knows—we may even pick up atmospheric traces or “signs of habitability” that tell us who lives there.

By Jake Anderson | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Bright Comet Last Seen By Ancient Egyptians Could Grace Our Skies Just As Coronavirus Peaks

It’s important to remember that these beautiful spectacles pose no real threat to terrestrial life.

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Bright Comet Last Seen By Ancient Egyptians Could Grace Our Skies Just As Coronavirus Peaks
Photo Credit: NASA

Elias Marat, The Mind Unleashed

A comet that hasn’t visited our solar system in about 5,500 years will become visible to the naked eye later this month, gracing skies in the northern hemisphere.

It is believed that the bright comet’s visit to our neighbourhood may coincide with the coronavirus pandemic reaching its peak, reports Forbes.

Astronomers discovered Comet C-2019-Y4 (ATLAS)—or Comet Atlas, for short—while working at the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (Atlas) project in Hawaii.

The comet will be at its brightest at the end of April/beginning of May. Use this sky chart to see where Comet Atlas is now and find it yourself with a telescope. If we’re lucky, Comet Atlas will be visible with binoculars or the naked eye on or around April 30. According to health.com, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates the coronavirus pandemic will reach its peak in mid to late April.

It has been described as resembling a large and dirty snowball, but astronomers are hoping the celestial body will put on a bright, brilliant show—not unlike the Hale-Bopp comet which flew close to Earth back in 1997.

On Tuesday, U.K.-based astronomer George McManus explained:

“Comets tend to develop long, fluorescent tails as they approach the sun before swinging back out into outer space.

We hope that it will become visible to the naked eye in early April reaching closest approach to earth on May 23.

Coming to within 100 million miles of the earth, very close in astronomical terms, it presents no risk to the earth, but does have the potential to lift people’s spirits as we go through the current crisis.”

McManus, who has a 4.5-inch refracting telescope at his East Yorkshire home, noted that a small set of binoculars will be sufficient to view the comet.

He added:

“Look to the Northern sky. The comet should appear between the Plough and the planet Venus, easily the brightest object in the night sky at the moment other than the moon.

We are hoping it will be as spectacular as Hale-Bopp, which was visible in daylight.”

We don’t know the precise composition of the comet—it could be 90% ice or 90% dust and that could affect whether it throws off a spectacular tail as it gets closer to the sun and the sun’s gravity takes effect.”

While the comet’s timing may shock some readers—especially due to a long history of superstitious beliefs and misperceptions about comets—it’s important to remember that these beautiful spectacles are little more than space dust, ice, and gas that pose no real threat to terrestrial life.

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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