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Depiction of black hole in space by artist

Astronomers to release pictures of a black hole for the first time

Black holes have always been a trending and mysterious topic of discussion since we were never able to collect their data and images. Being the source of high gravity, not letting even the light to escape, this breaking news will get you on your feet!

European Southern Observatory is about to make the most trailblazing announcement in a press conference on April 10, 2019, at 15:00 CEST (13:00 UTC, 9:00 EST) as the first ever picture of a black hole’s event horizon would be made public.

An international team of astronomers who had been monitoring the event horizon telescope, trying to obtain a direct photograph of our galaxy’s massive black hole, Sagittarius A*. We have never been able to see a black hole since they are an immense source of gravity and absorb all electromagnetic radiation, thereby, being completely undetectable to our telescope.

However, a project called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) consisting of a series of telescopes (15 and 20 telescopic dishes) collectively of the size of the Earth has been active in the heart of our milky way trying to get a picture of the supermassive black hole for us! What makes this news ground-breaking is that we are going to see the ‘Supermassive Blackhole’ which gives birth to many other black holes in the galaxy.

Wondering how is this possible? Well, all the telescopes are pointed in the direction of the black hole and they measure the radio waves, storing them on banks of hard disk drives. Each telescope is observed individually within the region spanning the South Pole, Europe, South America, Africa, North America and Australia and the collected radio wave data is stored in the supercomputer which was later processed, analysed and sorted by the researchers.

Sera Markoff, a professor at the University of Amsterdam who co-leads the EHT’s Multiwavelength Working Group told MailOnline that:
‘If the project succeeds in making an image of a black hole, it would be a really big deal for the fields of physics and astrophysics. Scientists have been working towards this goal for over 20 years.’ However, she also told that they are not yet confirmed if the observations could produce the direct picture of a black hole’s silhouette making the announcement ground-breaking for all of us!
You can watch this historic live stream on YouTube.

So, get ready to witness the most historical event in space research until now, which will change the way we think and see black holes!

Origin of dinosaur killing meteor

Scientists link Chicxulub impact with the dinosaur-killing meteor

In a study published today, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offered a scientific take on ‘The Chicxulub Impact’, the most catastrophic event believed to have led to the death of dinosaurs and nearly 75% of flora and fauna when a large asteroid of about 1 to 81 kilometers in diameter hit the Gulf of Mexico in the Caribbean.

At Tanis, an inland site in North Dakota, palaeontologists from the University of Kansas, unearthed an untainted motherlode of animal and fish fossils that were killed in the series of events that followed the K/Pg ( layer of clay rich in iridium) impact majorly, the seiche – the rushing wave that shattered the Tanis site.

According to De Palma and his colleagues, in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan, surges were stimulated in Norway just 30 minutes after the impact

So, Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction, that is, the KT event, might have led to similar surges in water bodies before any other aftermath could have reached. They distinguish the event from a Tsunami by a reasoning that tsunami could not have killed such a massive aquatic life so it had been the seismic waves that got the water splattering before the tektites coming with a ballistic trajectory from space would have rained down, thereby, killing fishes who are believed to taken the ejecta while gaping as they breath inside the water.

Nobelist Luis Alvarez and his son proposed that an asteroid or comet is responsible for K/Pg impact. Later, scientists found a layer of iridium on fossils which signed towards an enormous collision which made them believe that the K/Pg impact lead to the melting of bedrocks and pulverisation of asteroids which caused tektites to fall along with debris of Shocked quartz and glass spherules.

This clarified the occurrence of K/Pg impact due to falling of the asteroid chicxulub leading to the capping off the Cretaceous.

Jan Smit, a retired professor from Vrije University in Amsterdam went to analyse and date the tektites. He concluded that charred log covered in amber about 4m long acted as an aerogel when tektites fell and on dating them concluded that they came from K-T boundary. He found the buried body of a Triceratops and a duck-billed hadrosaur which led to the conclusion that dinosaurs were alive back then.

Dr. Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh, told The Independent, “This is hugely exciting if true, but it will take extraordinary evidence to convince paleontologists.”

Irregular Galaxy NGC 4449

For the second time, astronomers discover a galaxy with no dark matter

In 2018, astronomers discovered a galaxy with almost zero dark matter. This was a groundbreaking discovery as scientists always considered dark matter to be a crucial component of galaxies. This galaxy named NGC1052-DF2, is 65 million light-years away from us in the constellation Cetus. It is of the same size as Milky Way but has one star per 200 found in Milky Way. Because of lack of stars and absence of dark matter, it has a very low mass.

The main evidence of dark matter is the calculations which show that galaxies would have flown away instead of rotating if they did not contain matter which is not visible otherwise. As dark matter has not been observed directly, it must have a bare minimum interaction with ordinary baryonic matter, except only through gravity. In the standard model of cosmology, dark matter consists of about 85% of total mass while dark matter and dark energy combined accounts for 95% of total mass energy content.

Now again, researchers have found one more galaxy without any dark matter. This one is named NGC1052-DF4. The research team at Yale University which discovered DF2 was skeptical about its findings, but now the discovery of DF4 clears the confusion and it proves that galaxies do exist devoid of any dark matter. This galaxy like the previous one is also an ultra diffuse galaxy, large, spread out and can be faintly observed. These galaxies have very less stars thus making them very difficult to observe.

The astronomers tracked orbital motion of multiple dense clusters of stars which are called globular clusters using a device called Low Resolution Imaging Spectrometer. This velocity was found to be consistent with the one calculated using the mass of the normal matter of the galaxy. Scientists are hoping such galaxies can be found in more numbers and more research work can be carried on how they were formed.

Scientists also conducted more research work to confirm the past results for DF2. They used the Keck Cosmic Web Imager and tracked the orbital motion of 10 globular clusters. The results were consistent with a lack of dark matter.

But it has not been found yet that why these galaxies do not have dark matter. This is still unsolved. It might be possible that they had dark matter present but then it was lost. There can be multiple hypotheses to this question and this can only be solved by finding more such galaxies. Researchers want more evidence before drawing any conclusion, so that they can finally solve the mystery of dark matter.

Milky Way Galaxy

Scientists test Einstein Equivalence Principle near supermassive black hole

GRAVITY Collaboration, a group of researchers at various world renowned institutes recently tested a part of the Einstein Equivalence Principle, the local position invariance(LPI) near a supermassive black hole. Their work focused on the dependency of various atomic transitions on gravitational potential so as to find upper limit on violations of the principle.
Einstein’s equivalence principle in the theory of general relativity implies that gravitational force experienced by an observer while standing on a huge body like Earth is same as the pseudo force experienced in an accelerated or non-inertial frame of reference. Although this is the best explanation of gravity right now, there are still many questions not answered. Hence, putting this principle to test is crucial as it could open up new observations and expand our present knowledge.

Equivalence principle of Einstein has three principles. The local position invariance mentions that the non-gravitational measurements must be independent of location in space time(the gravitational potential).

Galaxies have a supermassive black hole which is present at the center of the galaxy. For Milky Way, the mass of its supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, is 4 million times more than that of the sun. Hence it is the ideal place to experiment on the principles of general relativity as it creates the strongest gravitational field.

The star S2, a very bright star in Milky Way’s inner region makes a very close encounter with the galatic supermassive black hole at 16 light years. So the GRAVITY team decided to use this to test Einstein’s equivalence principle as it keeps moving in and out of the gravitational field of the black hole. When the star is closest to the black hole, there is a gravitational redshift in the star’s light. This is due to the intense gravity on the surface of the star which results in decreasing vibrations of light waves, thus they appear redder than usual from Earth.

Scientists used hydrogen and helium atoms to test the local position invariance principle. According to it, the gravitational redshift in a star is only dependent on the gravitational potential and not on any other factors.

The change in frequency of light from the atoms was measured as they moved through a varying potential. This was done with the help of the line-of-sight velocity of S2 using the spectral lines of both atoms. The change in the frequency did not violate the LPI. Violation of LPI means different vibration of light from helium and hydrogen atoms.

After this successful testing, scientists want to keep testing various aspects of the general relativity theory in different conditions and improve our understanding of the universe.

space full of stars and exoplanets

Researchers recently got the most detailed observation of an exoplanet

What is an exoplanet?
Our universe includes many indefinite stars and planets. All the planets that exist in our solar system orbit around the Sun. The planets that orbit around other stars are called exoplanets. Exoplanets are very hard to see directly even with large telescopes because they are at a few light years far from us. They are concealed by the bright glare of the stars they orbit around. So, astronomers use other ways to detect and study these distant planets. They examine for exoplanets by looking at the effects these planets have on the stars they orbit.

Research:
The ESO (European Southern Observatory) has broadcasted the successful observation of an exoplanet using optical interferometry. It’s the first time an exoplanet has been actually seen in this manner and the technique offers a promising example of how we might discern new evidence about the atmospheres of exoplanets. These type of detailed investigations and characterizations are considered critical to discovering other planets in the galaxy that might support earthly life.

The term “Astronomical interferometry refers to the process of merging and combining information from multiple separate telescopes to observe a given target in greater in depth and detail than any single telescope could offer. Combining multiple smaller mirrors doesn’t offer all the compensations of a single large telescope, the total amount of light collected is smaller than a single large mirror would be but it consents for very high angular resolutions and avoids the enormous expense associated with casting huge mirrors.

The ESO scientists observed exoplanet HR8799e using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) array in Chile earlier, which combines data from four telescopes using its interferometer. Each individual telescope has an 8.2m meter range. HR8799e is one of the few exoplanets whose movement has been confirmed via direct imaging.

Directly observing the exoplanet led to some astounding discoveries. We already identified that HR8799e is a very young planet, at just 30 million years old. The planet is literally still glowing with leftover heat from its formation and an ambient temperature of ~1,000 C. The new VLT observations improved our understanding of HR8799e’s spectrum by a full order of magnitude, presenting that its atmosphere contains different compounds than expected.

HR 8799e artist impression

HR 8799e artist impression. (Credit: ESO/L. Calçada)

The analysis further exhibited that HR8799e had an atmosphere containing more carbon monoxide than methane, something not expected from equilibrium chemistry. This was explained by team leader Sylvestre Lacour who is a researcher at the Observatoire de Paris, and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. “We can best explain this astonishing result with great vertical winds within the atmosphere preventing the carbon monoxide from reacting and retorting with hydrogen to form methane.”

The atmosphere was also found to contain clouds of iron and silicate dust, implying that the entire gas giant is engulfed in a colossal storm. Lacour suggests the planet is lit and ignited from within, with rays of light penetrating stormy, dark clouds. The silicates and iron then “rain” into the interior. This last process isn’t unique to HR8799e as the astronomers believe that diamonds fall like rain within Jupiter and Saturn as well.

Astronomers hope to accomplish more unswerving observations of exoplanet atmospheres in the future. We may have found nearly 3,000 exoplanets, but our understanding of their atmospheres and their composition is still very limited. As this continues, every planet we image and research will likely tell us something we didn’t know before about the likely atmospheric composition of diverse worlds and where to focus our search for life, in the future.

India's anti-satellite weapon

India successfully tests Anti-Satellite Weapon

The Indian government announced on March 27 that it has successfully fired a ground-based anti-satellite weapon against a satellite in low Earth orbit, a test that is likely to intensify concerns about space security and orbital debris.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the country’s military efficaciously demonstrated an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon in a test known as “Mission Shakti.” It was a ground-based missile – a version of an existing ballistic missile interceptor, which hit the satellite at an altitude of approximately 300 kilometers.

“It shows the remarkable dexterity of India’s outstanding scientists and the accomplishment of our space programme,” PM Modi said in a series of tweets announcing the test. PM Modi also made a televised proclamation, in Hindi, about the test.

While Indian government hails the event as an ambitious achievement, India’s Anti-satellite weapon test also represents an increasing fear toward space warfare and also heightens the risk that humanity could lose access to critical regions of the space around Earth.

According to a statement from India’s Ministry of External Affairs, the missile was initially launched from the Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam Island complex in the northeast part of India. The missile struck a pre-planned Indian satellite.

“The test was fully efficacious and achieved all parameters as per plans,” the ministry said. The threat that debris poses isn’t just limited to expensive satellites. Right now, six crew members are living on board at the International Space Station (ISS) roughly 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth which is almost about 65 miles (100 kilometers) higher than the 185 miles (300 kilometers) altitude of India’s now obliterated satellite, but there is nonetheless a chance some debris could reach higher orbits and threaten the space station.

The potential risk to the ISS and other satellites is only scratches on the surface but there are larger worries associated with destroying spacecraft, either intentionally or accidentally.

Any collision in space creates a cloud of debris, with each piece moving at about 17,500 mph (28,000 kilometers per hour).

That’s roughly the speed required to keep a satellite in low-Earth orbit and more than 10 times as fast as a bullet shot from a gun.

At such velocities, even a stray paint chip can disable a satellite. Jack Bacon, a scientist at NASA, told Wired in 2010 that a strike by a softball-sized sphere of aluminum would be akin to detonating 7 kilograms (15 pounds) of TNT explosives.

This is worrisome for a global society increasingly reliant on space-based infrastructure to make calls, get online, find the most efficient route home via GPS, and more.

 

The ultimate fear is a space-access nightmare called a “Kessler syndrome” event, named after Donald J. Kessler, who first described such an event in 1978 while he was a NASA astrophysicist. Kessler Syndrome is basically a scenario where the density of space debris in lower earth orbit is very high.

Keeping all that aside, let us hope that we will use all these technologies in the right way. Let us know what do you think about such projects with a quick comment.

international space station

A recent experiment strengthens hope for life on Mars

Our chances of finding life on Mars have vastly increased, thanks to a groundbreaking new experiment. Scientists have discovered that certain simple organisms that are found on Earth can safely survive Mars’ brutal conditions for months on end. They stuck a canister filled with microbes to the outside ISS (International Space Station), exposing them to cosmic radiation and the vacuum of space for 18 gruesome months. Some of the tiny creatures somehow survived, thus proving that similar life could be hiding out on the red planet.

Dr. Jean-Pierre Paul de Vera at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in Cologne was quoted saying that some of the organisms and biomolecules have shown great resistance to radiation in the open space and even returned to Earth as ‘survivors’ of space.

He added that certain single-cell organisms would be the appropriate candidates for life forms that we could imagine on Mars. The result also adds credibility to the theory that life on Earth actually came from Mars. Experts think that our neighbor was home to microorganisms nearly 4 billion years ago and that an asteroid strike sent some chunks of Martian rocks flying into space. These chunks then collided with an early kind of our planet, depositing the microbes and leaving the foundations for all life on Earth. Scientists had already previously doubted whether any life could actually be able to survive the perilous trip from Mars, but the DLR study shows some organisms are more than proficient.

Terrestrial organisms that were stuck on the outside of the International Space Station (ISS) have been able to survive 533 days in the vacuum, intense ultraviolet radiation, and extreme temperature variations of space.

Out of all the planets in the Solar System, Mars seems like the most likely candidate to host life. But it’s extremely inhospitable, dusty, scorched, and inferior in gravity and oxygen, and has harsh radiation due to its thin atmosphere. It is cold and wracked by dust storms that can plummet the planet into darkness.

We have yet to detect life there, but there are a few ways we can test how viable its presence is. One is searching for life on planets similar to mars for environments on Earth.

In the current German Aerospace Center (DLR) led experiment called BIOMEX,  organisms such as bacteria, algae, lichens and fungi were unprotected to Mars-like conditions aboard the space station.

We know, hypothetically, that Mars has a bunch of the things we know life practices, including an atmosphere, elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus, water ice, and maybe even liquid water.

Expose R2 in space

The Expose-R2 facility. (Roscosmos)

So, organisms were cultivated in Martian soil simulants. They were then placed outside the space station in the Expose-R2 facility.

Hundreds of samples were thereby included in the experiment, some with the soil simulant and a virtual Mars atmosphere to boot.

There they stayed for almost 18 months between 2014 and 2016 before being brought back down to Earth for further analysis.

None of the equipment sent to Mars so far has detected life or any divulging signs of it. But eloquent that it could exist there, and what kinds of organisms are most likely to survive – will help to develop tools that could detect life on future Mars missions.

inflation after bigbang

New research goes against inflation theory of the big bang

A team of scientists has proposed a powerful new test against inflation, the theory that the universe adequately expanded in size in a fleeting fraction of a second right after the Big Bang. Their goal is to give insight into an interesting question: what was the condition of the universe before the Big Bang actually happened?

Theory:
The predominant cosmological model for the universe which has existed from the initial known phases is the Big Bang theory. Through its subsequent large-scale evolution, the big bang model describes how the universe bolstered from a very high-density and high-temperature state and offers an exhaustive explanation for a broad range of phenomena. This includes the abundance of light elements, the cosmic microwave background (CMB), large scale structure and Hubble’s law.

The Big Bang hypothesis is a push to clarify what occurred at the very beginning of our universe. Albeit there have also been too many misconceptions related to space and time. Revelations in astronomy and physics have appeared past a sensible doubt that our universe indeed has a beginning. The theory is just a way of clarifying what actually happened and what did not.

The primal universe was not entirely uniform. There were tiny irregularities in density on infinitesimal scales that became the seeds of the large-scale structure observed in today’s universe. This is the principal source of information physicists rely on to learn about what happened before the Big Bang.

Avi Loeb of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard said that “No matter what value people measure for some observable attribute, there are always some models of inflation that can explain it”

Now, a team of scientists led by the CfA’s (Center for Astrophysics) Xingang Chen, along with Loeb, and Zhong-Zhi Xianyu of the Physics Department of Harvard University, have applied an idea they call a “primordial standard clock” to the non-inflationary theories, and laid out a method that may be used to falsify inflation experimentally.

Scientists started their experiment by identifying the defining property of the various theories – the evolution of the size of the primordial universe. Through this, they actually wanted to find some characteristic that can separate inflation from other theories.

Admitting that cosmic inflation is well known for resolving some critical secrets about the structure and advancement of the universe, other altogether different hypotheses can also clarify these issues. In a portion of these hypotheses, the condition of the universe preceding the Big Bang, the purported primordial universe was weak and contracting as opposed to extending, and the Big Bang model theory was in this manner a piece of a Big Bounce.

To identify between inflation and other ideas, the issue of deceit has inevitably arisen. Additionally, some of the scientists have also been so curious about inflation implying that its seemingly endless malleability makes it all but impossible to properly test.

jupiter great red spot

Jupiter’s Great Red Storm is now shrinking

A massive red high-pressure storm that is Jupiter’s mysterious red storm which has lasted for hundreds of years, is now slowly changing its shape, size and colour. Astronomer Donna Pierce from Mississippi State University explains why this has been happening.

The red storm:
The Red Storm/ Spot is a high-pressure region in the atmosphere of Jupiter, producing an anticyclone-like storm. Being the largest in the Solar System, almost 22 degrees south of the planet’s equator, it has been continuously observed since 1830.

The Great Red Spot, a storm sized way larger than the Earth and compelling enough to tear apart smaller storms that get drawn into it, is one of the most substantial features in Jupiter’s atmosphere and the entire solar system.

Many questions about the Great Red Spot still remain unanswered, including exactly when and how was it formed, what gives it its striking bright red colour and why it has persisted for so much longer than other storms that have been observed in the atmosphere of Jupiter and the solar system.

Unlike Jupiter, planet Earth also has land masses that cause major storms to lose energy due to friction with a solid surface. Without this feature, Jupiter’s storms are evidently more long-lasting. The Great Red Spot is however long-lived, even by Jupiter standards. Researchers don’t quite understand the reason behind this, but we do know that Jupiter’s storms that are located in cloud bands with the same direction of rotation tend to be longer lasting.

Bands and Zones:
These colorful bands, called as belts (dark bands) and zones (light bands), run parallel to Jupiter’s equator. Researchers aren’t quite sure what is the main cause of the change in colour of the bands and zones, but differences in their chemical composition, temperature and transparency and quality of the atmosphere have all been suggested as contributing factors. These bands are also counter-rotating, meaning that they move in opposite directions with respect to their neighbor’s. The boundaries between the bands and zones are being marked by strong winds called zonal jets.

Similar to the Great Red Spot, these bands have undergone a slight change in latitude over time during which they have been observed. Researchers don’t entirely understand the banded structure of the equator, but we certainly do possess evidence suggesting that the light coloured zones are regions of rising hot material, and the dark belts are regions of heavy harmful material sinking into the atmosphere.

The Great Red Spot of Jupiter is changing dramatically and hence there is a change in its size, shape, and colour. In-Depth research and analysis of historical and recently obtained data on the Great Red Spot has shown that it is shrinking and becoming both rounder and taller, and its colour has also varied over time. What is driving these changes, and what do they mean for the future of the Great Red Spot and what will come out of it? Researchers cannot come to a valid conclusion yet.

However, NASA’s Juno spacecraft, currently orbiting Jupiter, is gathering more data on the cloud bands and the Great Red Spot.

Triton

NASA proposes a new mission to Neptune’s moon Triton

NASA has recently proposed to send a spacecraft to the largest moon of Neptune, Triton.

About Triton:
Triton – Neptune’s own natural satellite was the first Neptunian moon to be discovered. It was initially discovered in 1846 in the Month of October by the English astronomer William Lassell. Triton is the only moon in the solar system that has a retrograde orbit. A retrograde orbit moves in the direction that is completely opposite to the planet’s rotation. The surface is mostly made up of matter believed to be Nitrogen and has an icy-cold surface. Triton is therefore considered to be the coldest known object in the solar system, with surface temperatures of almost -235°C. Triton is also thought to harbor an ocean which can pave way for new life.

NASA’S project:
After the confirmation of a pending approval, we might be able to have a glimpse of what the Triton looks like. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory proposed a patent during a conference in Texas with a mission to send a spacecraft named “Trident” to Triton with the motive of finding out whether the Triton is, in fact, a habitable world for the people of the Earth or not. 

The last good glimpse we got of Neptune and Triton was during a 1989 flyby of NASA’s Voyager 2 which had to be the very first time any spacecraft had ever done in history. Below is the video of Triton captured by Voyager 2.

Rather than spending billions of dollars on the project, the proposed spacecraft called Trident aims to keep the costs down low and is roughly the “price of a small mission to the moon,” as it is mentioned in the daily report of the New York Times.

“The time is the best now to do it at a low cost,” quoted Louise Prockter at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas. Prockter is the director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston and the principal investigator of the proposed mission to Triton. According to the reports, if the mission to the Triton becomes a successful one and if it gives positive results by proving that new life can be created up there, it will be a huge achievement for us.

The outer solar system routine visits are usually conducted as NASA flagship missions that cost billions of dollars, like the recently concluded Cassini mission to Saturn or the Europa Clipper spacecraft set for launch in the 2020s.

Although these missions produce significant achievements of great importance to mankind, less expensive missions also exist which might add up to the advanced study of planetary science.

On Mars, no single spacecraft was sent to do everything, but in aggregate and over time, the robots sent there revealed the planet’s watery and ocean-like past and set the stage for future astronauts to make a visit and follow up.

Keeping all that aside, let us hope that at least on Triton we find the existence of life in some form.