For many here in the United States, today, Friday 11/27/15 is something called Black Friday. It’s unofficially considered to be the first shopping day of the Christmas season and many Americans mark it by heading out to shopping centers and stores in droves in hopes of finding bargains.
NASA is marking the day too; only they’re calling it Black Hole Friday.
It’s an annual event the space agency has set aside for the past three years to post photos and provide the public with information about black holes on their websites, Facebook and Twitter feeds. They even have a special hashtag for the event – #BlackHoleFriday.
Just in time for Black Hole Friday, in a new study published in the journal Science, an international team of physicists say they have made the first observations of a supermassive black hole devouring a star, while at the same time spitting a bit of it back out in the form of a high-speed flare that’s moving matter at nearly the speed of light.
According to Dr. James Miller-Jones, an astrophysicist at Australia’s International Center for Radio Astronomy Research and a member of the research team, the energy produced by the plasma jets in this event is about the entire energy output of the Sun over 10 million years.
“It’s the first time we see everything from the stellar destruction followed by the launch of a conical outflow, also called a jet, and we watched it unfold over several months,” said team-leader Sjoert van Velzen, a Hubble fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland in a press release.
The study tracked the doomed star over several months as it traveled along its normal path and then be pulled in by the tremendous gravity of the black hole.
The team’s study backs up a theory made earlier by astrophysicists who predicted that when huge amounts of gas, or in this particular instance an entire star, are crammed into a black hole, a fast-moving jet of plasma (flare) can burst from near the black hole’s event horizon or rim.
This rare event is taking place in a galaxy named PGC 043234 that is only 300 million light years away. That’s considered to be a relatively close distance to Earth which the scientists said helped them make their observations.
“The consumption of the star is still going on, and we can still observe it using NASA’s Swift satellite, said van Velzen in an email to Science World. “It will likely take a very long time — hundreds of years — to consume all of the stellar debris that remained bound to the black hole. But the most spectacular part is over now,” he said.
The team said that while the black hole they observed is considered to be super massive, which ranks it among the largest of black holes, this one was fairly light with a mass of about a million times that of our sun. Supermassive black holes can have masses that are billions times more than the sun.
The star being pulled into the black hole was described as being close to the same size as our own sun.
Scientists in California have found that the largest moon of Mars, Phobos, is slowly inching closer to Mars.
They predict that once the gravity of Mars finally overpowers Phobos, in about 20 to 40 million years, the moon will probably be shredded to bits.
The scientists from the University of California, Berkley explain that since Phobos is in such fragile condition, the closer it gets to the Red Planet, it will begin to break up instead of crashing into Mars intact.
While some of the moon’s largest remains will probably smash into Mars, most of the smaller bits and pieces are expected spread out above the planet, where they will circle it like the rings of Saturn.
After millions of years of orbiting the planet, the researchers say Phobos’ remains will eventually fall to the surface of Mars, much like our meteor showers on Earth.
A number of scientists say that Earth’s magnetic fields have been quickly losing strength over the past 100 years or so.
Recent research suggests that because of this, Earth is on the verge of flipping its magnetic poles.
But a new study finds that the field’s strength is merely returning to normal after reaching rather unusually high levels.
Columbia University’s Dennis Kent, the study’s co-author, says while Earth’s magnetic field may be rapidly weakening, it’s not lower than the long-term average.
He also suggests that after weakening to a point, the fields may again increase in intensity.
Earth’s magnetic field has flipped a number of times throughout its 4.5 billion year history.
The last time that happened, about 786,000 years ago, scientists say it took only about 100 years of diminishing field strength to do so.
NASA says that fossil records show that past field changes had no major effect on living creatures.
A new study from the University of Southern California finds that when couples converse it isn’t the words they say but their tone of voice that can predict whether their relationship will improve or worsen.
The USC team fed a number of recorded conversations between a hundred couples during marriage therapy sessions into a computer running a newly developed algorithm.
The system makes its predictions based on various acoustical properties of the couple’s voices.
After comparing the computer results with a two year follow up study, the researchers found that their new program had a 79 percent accuracy rate of forecasting the success or failure of the relationships.
They say that their algorithm was even more successful at predicting couple’s relationships than those made by relationship experts during the original marriage therapy sessions.
The USC team plans to improve their algorithm by incorporating other factors such as verbal and non-verbal language.
NASA has taken an important step in completing construction of the James Webb Space Telescope it hopes to launch in 2018.
Recently engineers and technicians at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland used a robotic arm to successfully install the first of the new space telescope’s 18 flight mirrors.
NASA says that the mirror segments are made of an ultra-lightweight material called beryllium and is coated with a thin layer of gold.
Once all the mirror segments are installed, sometime early next year, they will work together as one 6.5 meter mirror.
After the space telescope launched, NASA says that the 18 mirror segments will unfold and adjust to shape.
The mirror along with other state of the art technologies that have been developed for the new space telescope will allow scientists to study the first stars and galaxies created after the Big Bang and play an important role in searching for possible life on distant exoplanets.
It takes 21 hours of flying to reach Christchurch, New Zealand from Denver, Colorado.
That’s a lot of time in a small seat, and no matter how many laps you make through the aisles, or how frequently you stretch your back, you walk off the plane with sore a body and a head that is throbbing like an inflated balloon
As I’ve learned from my experiences on long ship voyages, it is imperative, upon arrival in a new port, to seek out a libation, be it coffee, booze, or some other epicurean delight.
So, from the international airport, to taxi stand, to the Pavillions Hotel, I begin my journey downtown in search of something that will provide me with a level of enjoyment equivalent to the magnitude of discomfort experienced during my trans-Pacific flight.
A 2-mile walk from the hotel, I find CBD, a speakeasy-esque bar, run by a young Cook Islander who holds the distinction of being one of the top mixologists in the country.
Four years ago, Christchurch was hit by a massive earthquake, a 6.3 on the Richter Scale. Two-thirds of the city was destroyed and the devastation is still apparent today in the buildings with crumbling facades and empty gravel lots filled with twisted rebar and broken concrete pylons.
Despite the destruction, rebuilding efforts are well underway — I counted six cranes from my first-floor hotel room window — although, ultimately, it will be years before everything returns to “normal.”
A broken urban landscape and depreciated rents have meant an influx of creatives and artists. The city has embraced the trend and is becoming a visual arts capital.
Money has been poured into public art, and abandoned lots and buildings have been loaned to emerging artists for use as super-sized canvases and pop-up sites for sculptural installations.
The result is a massive post-apocalyptic Storm King, curated with such perfection that one has trouble distinguishing between what is art and what is destruction.
Outside CBD, the streets are quiet. Everyone is out of town for the Labor Day weekend and those who are still in the city are home watching the New Zealand versus Australia rugby game.
With only a few pedestrians in sight, I feel as if I’m wandering through the National Gallery after closing. Just me, the wind and the graffiti. It is so quiet, I can hear my thoughts echoing off the sidewalk. I’m witnessing the rebirth of a city, a moment in time that is too mundane for locals to see, and that few tourists will ever experience.
CBD is good and the bartender takes me on a tour of some of New Zealand’s best micro-distilleries. He is also kind enough to give me a list or his favorite area restaurants and bars. You can learn a lot about a food scene by scouring blogs and websites (which I did), but nothing is better than local, “industry” knowledge.
On this particular evening, the “industry” steers me six blocks east to 27 Steps, dutifully named for the 27-step staircase that takes you from an unassuming foyer to a nicely-adorned restaurant with 40 seats. The food is good and, suffice it to say, will provide me with fond memories when I find myself knee-deep in canned fruit and frozen veggies.
Look for Refael Klein’s weekly blogs from the South Pole here on Science World.
A pair of scientists from the United Kingdom have found a fossilized tropical forest complete with tree stumps of one of Earth’s first forests in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago located between Norway and the North Pole.
They also say that primitive forests such as the one they found may be one of the reasons for an extraordinary climatic event nearly 400 million years ago.
Back then, during the Devonian period what is now known as Norway was located near the equator, where high temperatures and large amounts of rain created ideal growing conditions for large forest trees.
It wasn’t until later after periods of continental drift that Norway eventually moved from the equator to its current icy location.
Scientists say that until the large trees that formed the ancient forests started to sprout up, vegetation on Earth mostly consisted of small plants, no taller than a meter high.
“These fossil forests shows us what the vegetation and landscape were like on the equator 380 million years ago, as the first trees were beginning to appear on the Earth,” said Berry in a University of Cardiff press release.
Between about 420 and 360 million years ago, scientists said that there was a significant drop in the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Before the decrease, CO2 levels were said to be about 15 time more than today.
That huge reduction in the level of CO2 also happened to coincide with the growth and spread of these very first forests, whose trees sucked the gas from the air to create food and tissue through the process of photosynthesis.
Scientists say that the large drop in atmospheric CO2 was also responsible for a remarkable reduction in Earth’s temperatures to levels that are similar to those we have today.
“The evolution of tree-sized vegetation is the most likely cause of this dramatic drop in carbon dioxide because the plants were absorbing carbon dioxide through photosynthesis to build their tissues, and also through the process of forming soils,” Berry said.
The UK research duo say most of the trees that made up the ancient fossil forest were lycopods, a species that reproduced by spreading spores produced in cones at their stem tips.
They also found that the primitive forest was extremely dense, with very small gaps, around 20cm, between each of the trees, which were probably around 4 meters high.
The pair’s findings were published in the journal Geology.
For about the first 2.1 billion years of Earth’s history, its atmosphere didn’t have enough oxygen to support complex life.
Scientists believe that Earth’s first atmosphere,formed after its creation, was probably made up of hydrogen and helium. Then as a result of volcanic eruptions that spewed gases from Earth’s interior, in a process known as “outgassing”, a secondary atmosphere became filled with those such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ammonia and water vapor.
Then about 2.3 to 2.5 billion years ago, during the Proterozoic Eon, blue/green algae called cyanobacteria, living in Earth’s shallow oceans, began emitting enough oxygen through photosynthesis to create the permanently oxygenated atmosphere that keeps us alive today.
Researchers from five North American universities have collaborated on a study that found the process in fully oxidizing the atmosphere didn’t happen suddenly, but instead took place in scattered bursts over an approximately 100-million-year period in what has become known as the Great Oxidation Event.
“The onset of Earth’s surface oxygenation was likely a complex process characterized by multiple whiffs of oxygen until a tipping point was crossed,” said one of the study’s authors, Brian Kendall from Canada’s University of Waterloo in a university press release. “Until now, we haven’t been able to tell whether oxygen concentrations 2.5 billion years ago were stable or not. These new data provide a much more conclusive answer to that question,” he said.
Prior to these large bursts of oxygen from the cyanobacteria, scientists say most of the oxygen that had been produced by early microbial life was simply chemically captured by materials such as dissolved iron or organic matter before having the chance to escape into the atmosphere.
But O2 began to collect in the atmosphere after these oxygen sinks filled up and couldn’t absorb any more.
The researchers were able to make their findings after discovering certain chemicals in black shale that had been deposited in the seafloor of an ancient ocean in West Australia.
The elements that provided the link to the researcher’s findings are osmium, molybdenum and rhenium. They are produced by a reaction of oxygen with land-based sulfide minerals. The scientists say that after the chemicals are produced they then make their way into rivers, which flow into oceans and are eventually deposited on the sea floor.
The research collaborators from Canada’s Universities of Alberta and Waterloo along with Arizona State University, University of California Riverside, and Georgia Institute of Technology, all in the U.S., published their findings in the journal Science Advances.
My name is Refael Klein.
I’m a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps, which supports research carried out by NOAA and other scientific institutions.
Last year, I was managing our facility in American Samoa, enjoying a tropical climate. This year, I will be at the National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, trying to stay warm.
I invite you to come along on the journey. Let me be your guide to life and science at the South Pole.
Over the course of the next 13 months, I will be supporting over a dozen climate science research projects, working alongside scientists and engineers studying everything from subatomic particles to the Southern Lights.
This summer, we will learn about ice core drilling and carbon dioxide (CO2) sampling, and in the spring, we’ll watch the Ozone Hole form.
The South Pole is not an easy place to survive, and day-to-day life can be challenge even for the most intrepid.
This year, 50 of us will winter over, enduring months of complete darkness and the coldest temperatures in the world. Not all handle the isolation well, but most everyone leaves with a story to tell and an experience they can’t fully put into words.
Over the ensuing months, I’ll try my best to be descriptive and give you a true taste of what it is like to be a modern-day Antarctic explorer.
It will take me a few days to get from the United States to the South Pole. My first stop will be in Christchurch, New Zealand, the jumping off point for those heading to the “Ice”. It’s a long flight.
I’ll see you there.
Look for Refael Klein’s weekly blogs from the South Pole here on Science World.
A pair of British scientists have found that winds of over 2 kilometers per second are blowing around HD 189733b, an exoplanet located about 63 light years away from us.
According to the researchers, the exoplanet’s 2 kps wind speed is about seven times the speed of sound and is 20 times more than the fastest wind speed ever known here on Earth.
The researchers, Tom Louden and Peter Wheatley, both of the University of Warwick’s Astrophysics group used data from the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), a high-resolution spectrograph device at the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla 3.6m telescope in Chile.
The information allowed the researchers to gauge and map the planet’s wind speed. They say it’s the first time a weather system of a planet outside of our solar system say the researchers has been measured and mapped directly.
“This is the first ever weather map from outside of our solar system. Whilst we have previously known of wind on exoplanets, we have never before been able to directly measure and map a weather system,” said Louden in a University of Warwick press release.
Since HD 189733b is a hot Jupiter-like planet that’s thought to be “tidally locked” with its star. This means that it has a distinctive day side (always facing the star) and a night side (in darkness), the researchers measured wind speeds on both sides of the planet. The duo discovered a strong wind that blew from the planet’s day side to its night side at a speed of about 8,700 kilometers per hour.
Explaining how he and his colleague were able to measure the exoplanet’s wind speed, Louden said that they used high resolution spectroscopy of sodium absorption in the planet’s atmosphere. “As parts of HD 189733b’s atmosphere move towards or away from the Earth the “Doppler effect” changes the wavelength of this feature, which allows the velocity to be measured,” he said.
The researchers continue to fine-tune their exoplanet weather system measurement and mapping techniques, which they say could allow scientists to study wind flows in detail and construct weather maps of smaller planets.
Louden and Wheatley’s research and findings have been outlined in a study published by Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Last month NASA dropped a bombshell when it announced it had found evidence of water flowing on Mars.
Yesterday the space agency held a press conference at its Washington headquarters to announce that they may have solved a decades-old mystery of what happened to the Martian atmosphere and its water, when they presented new findings from its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution or MAVEN mission.
The orbiter has been studying various sections of Mars atmosphere since arriving there in September 2014.
There’s already evidence that suggests at one time early in its history Mars had a thick atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide that kept the planet warm enough to allow for liquid water to flow over its surface.
Back in 2013 scientists at England’s Oxford University revealed that Mars may have also had an oxygen-rich atmosphere about four billion years ago, nearly 1.5 billion years before Earth developed its atmospheric oxygen.
Some previous findings suggest that during this time Mars also had more water than Earth’s Arctic Ocean flowing over its surface.
Scientists generally describe today’s Martian environment as very cold and desert-like.
Michael Meyer, lead scientist of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program summed up what happened to the Martian atmosphere by quoting an old Bob Dylan lyric saying “The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.”
In this case, the wind Meyer is referring to is the solar wind, a stream of highly charged particles that blast from the upper atmosphere of the Sun into the solar system at a speed of about 1,609,344 kilometers per hour with a temperature of about 1 million degrees Celsius.
The MAVEN mission uncovered evidence that the thick Martian atmosphere of its distant past was stripped from the planet billions of years ago by the solar wind, when the sun was young and much more active than today.
NASA says that the solar wind continues to blast away at Mars now thinner atmosphere.
“MAVEN measurements indicate that the solar wind strips away gas at a rate of about 100 grams every second.” Like the theft of a few coins from a cash register every day, the loss becomes significant over time,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder during the press conference.
MAVEN’s findings also revealed significantly more of the Martian atmosphere is stripped away during solar storms.
According to the NASA scientists, the solar wind also carries a magnetic field. As the field passes past Mars, it generates an electric field around the planet in the same way that a turbine can produce electricity here on Earth. This electric field then excites ions, or charged atoms, in Mars’ upper atmosphere and blows them into space.
Data gathered by MAVEN allowed NASA’s scientists to determine how both the solar wind and ultraviolet light takes away gas from the top of the Martian atmosphere.
They found that these ions are stripped away at three different areas of Mars. The first location is down its “tail” where the solar wind streams behind the Red Planet. The second location is at the Martian poles where it forms a “polar plume” of ions. And the third location is from a large cloud of gas that surrounds Mars. According to the scientists, about 75% of the ions that flow away from Mars do so at its tail region, with most of the remaining 25% from the polar plumes. A very small amount of the escaping ions come from the large surrounding cloud.
“Solar-wind erosion is an important mechanism for atmospheric loss, and was important enough to account for significant change in the Martian climate,” said Joe Grebowsky, MAVEN project scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “MAVEN is also studying other loss processes – such as loss due to impact of ions or escaping hydrogen atoms – and these will only increase the importance of atmospheric escape,” he said.Solar Wind Strips Martian Atmosphere (NASA Goddard)