Tag: Pallab Ghosh

It stretches the mind beyond imagination!

The most incredible story of all!

I first read the story early yesterday morning in The Guardian Newspaper.

But then I saw another version of the same story on the BBC News site, from which I republish it in its entirety.

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First ever black hole image released

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

The first ever picture of a black hole: It’s surrounded by a halo of bright gas.

Astronomers have taken the first ever image of a black hole, which is located in a distant galaxy.

It measures 40 billion km across – three million times the size of the Earth – and has been described by scientists as “a monster”.

The black hole is 500 million trillion km away and was photographed by a network of eight telescopes across the world.

Details have been published today in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Prof Heino Falcke, of Radboud University in the Netherlands, who proposed the experiment, told BBC News that the black hole was found in a galaxy called M87.

“What we see is larger than the size of our entire Solar System,” he said.

“It has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun. And it is one of the heaviest black holes that we think exists. It is an absolute monster, the heavyweight champion of black holes in the Universe.”

The image shows an intensely bright “ring of fire”, as Prof Falcke describes it, surrounding a perfectly circular dark hole. The bright halo is caused by superheated gas falling into the hole. The light is brighter than all the billions of other stars in the galaxy combined – which is why it can be seen at such distance from Earth.

The edge of the dark circle at the centre is the point at which the gas enters the black hole, which is an object that has such a large gravitational pull, not even light can escape.

Taking the temperature of black holes

Hawking: Black holes store information

Dozen black holes at galactic centre

DR JEAN LORRE/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY I have suspected that the M87 galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its heart from false colour images such as this one. The dark centre is not a black hole but indicates that stars are densely packed and fast moving.

The image matches what theoretical physicists and indeed, Hollywood directors, imagined black holes would look like, according to Dr Ziri Younsi, of University College London – who is part of the collaboration.

“Although they are relatively simple objects, black holes raise some of the most complex questions about the nature of space and time, and ultimately of our existence,” he said.

“It is remarkable that the image we observe is so similar to that which we obtain from our theoretical calculations. So far, it looks like Einstein is correct once again.”

But having the first image will enable researchers to learn more about these mysterious objects. They will be keen to look out for ways in which the black hole departs from what’s expected in physics. No-one really knows how the bright ring around the hole is created. Even more intriguing is the question of what happens when an object falls into a black hole.

What is a black hole?

  • A black hole is a region of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape
  • Despite the name, they are not empty but instead consist of a huge amount of matter packed densely into a small area, giving it an immense gravitational pull
  • There is a region of space beyond the black hole called the event horizon. This is a “point of no return”, beyond which it is impossible to escape the gravitational effects of the black hole
Presentational white space

Prof Falcke had the idea for the project when he was a PhD student in 1993. At the time, no-one thought it was possible. But he was the first to realise that a certain type of radio emission would be generated close to and all around the black hole, which would be powerful enough to be detected by telescopes on Earth.

He also recalled reading a scientific paper from 1973 that suggested that because of their enormous gravity, black holes appear 2.5 times larger than they actually are.

These two previously unknown factors suddenly made the seemingly impossible, possible. After arguing his case for 20 years, Prof Falcke persuaded the European Research Council to fund the project. The National Science Foundation and agencies in East Asia then joined in to bankroll the project to the tune of more than £40m.

The eventual EHT array will have 12 widely spaced participating radio facilities

It is an investment that has been vindicated with the publication of the image. Prof Falcke told me that he felt that “it’s mission accomplished”.

He said: “It has been a long journey, but this is what I wanted to see with my own eyes. I wanted to know is this real?”

No single telescope is powerful enough to image the black hole. So, in the biggest experiment of its kind, Prof Sheperd Doeleman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, led a project to set up a network of eight linked telescopes. Together, they form the Event Horizon Telescope and can be thought of as a planet-sized array of dishes.

KATIE BOUMAN Information gathered is too much to be sent across the internet. Instead the data was stored on hundreds of hard drives which were flown to a central processing centre.
JASON GALLICCHIO

Each is located high up at a variety of exotic sites, including on volcanoes in Hawaii and Mexico, mountains in Arizona and the Spanish Sierra Nevada, in the Atacama Desert of Chile, and in Antarctica.

A team of 200 scientists pointed the networked telescopes towards M87 and scanned its heart over a period of 10 days.

The information they gathered was too much to be sent across the internet. Instead, the data was stored on hundreds of hard drives that were flown to a central processing centres in Boston, US, and Bonn, Germany, to assemble the information. Prof Doeleman described the achievement as “an extraordinary scientific feat”.

“We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago,” he said.

“Breakthroughs in technology, connections between the world’s best radio observatories, and innovative algorithms all came together to open an entirely new window on black holes.”

The team is also imaging the supermassive black hole at the centre of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

Odd though it may sound, that is harder than getting an image from a distant galaxy 55 million light-years away. This is because, for some unknown reason, the “ring of fire” around the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way is smaller and dimmer.

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One of the most remarkable things about this story is that it continues to validate the theories of Albert Einstein (1879-1955). That is doubly impressive.

The film, How to see a Black Hole: The Universe’s Greatest Mystery,    is a most interesting account of the skills that were utilised by the team, and the luck of that same group in pulling it all together.

This is clearly the start of a new journey in astronomy.

I will leave you by repeating the image of the black hole.

The first ever picture of a black hole: It’s surrounded by a halo of bright gas.

The Cave of Crystal Giants

This will take us away from the daily beat of life!

On the 18th. February the BBC News website carried an article that I found incredible. It was the story of Naica’s crystal caves in Mexico.

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Naica’s crystal caves hold long-dormant life

By Jonathan Amos, BBC Science Correspondent, Boston, 18 February 2017.

 The caves were discovered by miners 100 years ago
The caves were discovered by miners 100 years ago. Picture credit: Penelope J. Boston

It is a remarkable discovery in an amazing place.

Scientists have extracted long-dormant microbes from inside the famous giant crystals of the Naica mountain caves in Mexico – and revived them. [Ed: my emphasis]

The organisms were likely to have been encased in the striking shafts of gypsum at least 10,000 years ago, and possibly up to 50,000 years ago.

It is another demonstration of the ability of life to adapt and cope in the most hostile of environments.

“Other people have made longer-term claims for the antiquity of organisms that were still alive, but in this case these organisms are all very extraordinary – they are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases,” said Dr Penelope Boston.

The new director of Nasa’s Astrobiology Institute in Moffett Field, California, described her findings here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

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I was delighted to find more details in many other places on the ‘web’.

Such as this one on the National Geographic website:

By Victoria Jaggard

PUBLISHED February 17, 2017

Boston, Massachusetts

Creatures that thrive on iron, sulfur, and other chemicals have been found trapped inside giant crystals deep in a Mexican cave. The microbial life-forms are most likely new to science, and if the researchers who found them are correct, the organisms are still active even though they have been slumbering for tens of thousands of years.

If verified, the discovery adds to evidence that microbial life on Earth can endure harsher conditions in isolated places than scientists previously thought possible. (See “Life Found Deep Under Antarctic Ice for First Time?”)

“These organisms have been dormant but viable for geologically significant periods of time, and they can be released due to other geological processes,” says NASA Astrobiology Institute director Penelope Boston, who announced the find today at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “This has profound effects on how we try to understand the evolutionary history of microbial life on this planet.”

Then there’s another article on that NatGeo website: (Apologies for some duplication in the message.)

By Neil Shea, National Geographic Staff
In a nearly empty cantina in a dark desert town, the short, drunk man makes his pitch. Beside him on the billiards table sits a chunk of rock the size of home plate. Dozens of purple and white crystals push up from it like shards of glass. “Yours for $300,” he says. “No? One hundred. A steal!” The three or four other patrons glance past their beers, thinking it over: Should they offer their crystals too? Rock dust on the green felt, cowboy ballads on the jukebox. Above the bar, a sign reads, “Happy Hour: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.”

This remote part of northern Mexico, an hour or so south of Chihuahua, is famous for crystals, and paychecks at the local lead and silver mine, where almost everyone works, are meager enough to inspire a black market. “Thirty dollars.” He leans in. “Ten.” It’s hard to take him seriously. Earlier in the day, in a cave deep below the bar, I crawled among the world’s largest crystals, a forest of them, broad and thick, some more than 30 feet long and half a million years old. So clear, so luminous, they seemed extraterrestrial. They make the chunk on the pool table seem dull as a paperweight.

Nothing compares with the giants found in Cueva de los Cristales, or Cave of Crystals. The limestone cavern and its glittering beams were discovered in 2000 by a pair of brothers drilling nearly a thousand feet below ground in the Naica mine, one of Mexico’s most productive, yielding tons of lead and silver each year. The brothers were astonished by their find, but it was not without precedent. The geologic processes that create lead and silver also provide raw materials for crystals, and at Naica, miners had hammered into chambers of impressive, though much smaller, crystals before. But as news spread of the massive crystals’ discovery, the question confronting scientists became: How did they grow so big?

It takes 20 minutes to get to the cave entrance by van through a winding mine shaft. A screen drops from the van’s ceiling and Michael Jackson videos play, a feature designed to entertain visitors as they descend into darkness and heat. In many caves and mines the temperature remains constant and cool, but the Naica mine gets hotter with depth because it lies above an intrusion of magma about a mile below the surface. Within the cave itself, the temperature leaps to 112 degrees Fahrenheit with 90 to 100 percent humidity—hot enough that each visit carries the risk of heatstroke. By the time we reach the entrance, everyone glistens with sweat.

That article continues here.
Finally, lose yourself in this video. (If the voice doesn’t get to you!)

How to close today’s post?

Both by embracing the power of the natural order of things, life and death, and by reminding us all that there are in the order of over two billion stars in this universe.

That universe must be teeming with life, current and dormant, and the day when we truly confirm that will put everything into perspective!

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Talk about synchronicity!

For yesterday, around 10am PST, the BBC News website carried this big news item: Earliest evidence of life on Earth ‘found’.

Here’s how that article opens:

Earliest evidence of life on Earth ‘found’

By Pallab Ghosh Science correspondent, BBC News
Scientists have discovered what they say could be fossils of some of the earliest living organisms on Earth.
They are represented by tiny filaments, knobs and tubes in Canadian rocks dated to be up to 4.28 billion years old.
That is a time not long after the planet’s formation and hundreds of millions of years before what is currently accepted as evidence for the most ancient life yet found on Earth.

The researchers report their investigation in the journal Nature.

As with all such claims about ancient life, the study is contentious. But the team believes it can answer any doubts.

The scientists’ putative microbes from Quebec are one-tenth the width of a human hair and contain significant quantities of haematite – a form of iron oxide or “rust”.

Matthew Dodd, who analysed the structures at University College London, UK, claimed the discovery would shed new light on the origins of life.

Do read the full article including viewing some wonderful photographs.