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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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Another Mysterious Object Has Just Been Found In Our Solar System

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Another Mysterious Object From Interstellar Space May Have Entered Our Solar System
Photo Credit: NASA

A second interstellar object is zooming through our solar system and this time, astronomers will be ready.

In 2017, scientists marvelled over the first human observations of an interstellar object passing through our solar system. The cigar-shaped asteroid, named ‘Oumuamua, possessed such bizarre traits that some observers speculated it might be an alien spaceship; most astronomers, however, focused on using the narrow timeframe of its passage to make as many observations as possible.

Now astronomers believe a second interstellar object is zooming into our solar system and this time, their telescopes will be ready.

An amateur astronomer in Crimea, Gennady Borisov, discovered what is believed to be a comet using his own observatory. The Minor Planet Centre (MPC) confirmed the object, subsequently named C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), and further analysis revealed it to have an unusual trajectory—an eccentric, hyperbolic path that likely means it is not gravitationally tied to our sun.

Like its predecessor ‘Oumuamua, the new interstellar visitor hails from another planetary system and is tearing through the galaxy with incredible velocity (30 kilometres a second).

There are differences between the objects, though. While ‘Oumuamua is an asteroid, the 10 kilometre wide C/2019 appears to have a tail of gas indicative of a comet. This means its composition and origins can be studied in greater detail. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, C/2019 is six times brighter and will be available for observation for far longer.

‘Oumuamua took scientists by surprise and was on its way out of the solar system by the time they discovered it, allowing only a couple weeks of analysis. C/2019, on the other hand, will be visible to astronomers for about six months.

C/2019’s cometary nature and the amount of time scientists will have to study it means we will get an unprecedented opportunity to learn about the condition of an alien planetary system that could be a billion years old. 

Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer with the European Southern Observatory, says scientists are so excited about the discovery that many are dropping all other projects to focus on it and commission high-powered telescopes for observation. 

“Here we have something that was born around another star and traveling toward us. It’s the next-best thing to sending a probe to a different solar system,” Hainaut said.

Someday the European Space Agency (ESA) may attempt to land a spacecraft on an interstellar object. In the meantime, scientists plan to learn more about the conditions of other parts of our vast galaxy.

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Alien Civilizations May Have Explored The Galaxy & Visited Earth Already, A New Study Says

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Alien Civilizations May Have Explored The Galaxy & Visited Earth Already, A New Study Says.
Photo Credit: Pexels

Scientists have suggested that there could actually be life out there but we just don’t know about it yet because the extraterrestrials haven’t been to visit us for 10 million years.

A recent study published in The Astronomical Journal has suggested that intelligent alien life is out there but it’s just taking it’s time to explore the galaxy.

The work was created in response to a question known as the Fermi Paradox that asks why humans haven’t been able to detect signs of aliens yet.

The Fermi Paradox — Where Are All The Aliens? (1/2)

The study’s lead author Jonathan Carroll-Nellenback told Business Insider: “If you don’t account for motion of stars when you try to solve this problem, you’re basically left with one of two solutions.

Either nobody leaves their planet, or we are in fact the only technological civilisation in the galaxy.”

The researchers theory revolves around the fact that stars and their planets orbit the centre of the galaxy at different speeds and in different directions.

As this happens the stars and planets occasionally pass each other so the scientists think that aliens could be travelling in destinations that move closer to them.

This kind of travelling would take civilisations longer to spread across stars than previously thought.

Taking this into account, the researchers think that aliens may not have reached us yet or if they did they might have visited Earth long before humans evolved.

They also said that other studies have not properly taken into account how our galaxy moves.

If aliens have to wait long enough until the closest habitable star system moves near them to travel then a civilisation may die out before they visit it.

Carroll-Nellenback told Business Insider: “If long enough is a billion years, well then that’s one solution to the Fermi paradox.

Habitable worlds are so rare that you have to wait longer than any civilisation is expected to last before another one comes in range.”

This suggests that alien visits could just be skipping entire civilisations.

Models made during the study helped the researchers to conclude that the Milky Way could be full of inhabited star systems that we don’t know about.

The study authors also suggested that no traces may have been left by aliens if they visited billions of years ago.

They also considered the possibility that the extraterrestrials might not want to visit a planet that already has life.

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Astronomers Have Detected A Whopping 8 New Repeating Signals From Deep Space

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Astronomers Have Detected A Whopping 8 New Repeating Signals From Deep Space
Photo Credit: New York Post

One of the biggest mysteries out there in the Universe is inching closer to answers. An astonishing eight new repeating radio signals known as fast radio bursts (FRBs) have been detected flaring from deep space.

At the start of 2019, just one of these mysterious signals, FRB 121102, was known to flash repeatedly. In January, scientists reported a second repeating one (FRB 180814).

This new paper – available on preprint server arXiv, and accepted into The Astrophysical Journal Letters – describes eight new repeating signals detected by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) radio telescope.

This brings the known total of repeating FRBs to 10. It means we’re starting to build a statistical database of repeaters, which could help astronomers to figure out what these signals actually are.

Fast radio bursts are certainly perplexing. They are detected as spikes in radio data, lasting just a few milliseconds. But, in that time, they can discharge more energy than 500 million Suns.

Most FRBs are only detected once and can’t be predicted, so tracing them back to their source is really tricky (although, as demonstrated earlier this year for the first time, not impossible).

That’s why repeaters are so important. And the news that they are not as rare as we thought means it might be possible to trace more back to their source galaxies, and determine what kinds of environments they come from.

We can also start looking for similarities and differences between repeating FRBs.

“There is definitely a difference between the sources, with some being more prolific than others,” physicist Ziggy Pleunis of McGill University told Science Alert.

“We already knew from FRB 121102 that the bursts can be very clustered: sometimes the source doesn’t burst for hours and hours and then suddenly you get multiple bursts in a short amount of time. We have observed the same thing for FRB 180916.J0158+65, for which we report ten bursts in this paper.”

On the other side of the scale, six of the FRBs reported in the paper only repeated once, and the longest pause between signals was over 20 hours. The eighth one (FRB 181119) repeated twice after the initial detection, pinging a total of three times.

We don’t yet know what this means, but it could indicate – as hypothesised in a paper last month by Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Vikram Ravi – that all FRBs are actually repeaters, but some are a lot more active than others.

“Just as some volcanoes are more active than others, and you can think a volcano is dormant because it has not erupted in a long time,” Pleunis noted.

But there are similarities between FRBs, too. The individual bursts from repeaters seem to last a little bit longer than the bursts from one-off FRBs. That’s pretty interesting.

There’s also the frequency drift. The first two repeaters – FRB 121102 and FRB 180814 – showed a downward drift in frequency, with each burst getting successively lower. Think of a sad trombone sound effect.

Most of the eight new repeaters, also demonstrated this downward frequency drift. This could be a clue as to what’s producing the signals.

I just think it is so amazing that nature produces something like that,” Pleunis said. “Also, I think that there is some very important information in that structure that we just have to figure out how to encode and it has been a lot of fun to try to figure out what exactly that is.”

CHIME is optimised for monitoring a very broad swathe of the sky, across a lower range of frequencies than radio telescopes like ASKAP or the Parkes Observatory in Australia, which have also detected FRBs.

So far, CHIME’s approach is proving remarkably effective at detection. In addition to these repeaters, and the repeater announced in January, CHIME has detected a number of one-off bursts, too. It’s not optimised for tracing those detections to a source, though.

That’s where the broader scientific community comes in. Just today, a different team of researchers, including Ravi, announced they had made headway localising the eight new repeaters to known galaxies, just based on the direction the signals came from.

We can even roughly tell how far away the bursts may have originated based on how dispersed the signal is – the higher these measures, the farther the distance.

In fact, this is where it gets intriguing, because one of the signals, FRB 180916, has the lowest dispersion seen yet, indicating that it could be nearby.

“Even with the biggest telescopes, if it’s closer to you, you always get a better view than if it’s something farther away,” astronomer Keith Bannister from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, who was not involved in the research.

“So that particular low dispersion measure was super exciting, because there’s a good chance that that will be nearby. And that means it will be easier to look at, once we really know exactly where it is in the sky.”

The polarisation of the signals (how twisted the signal is) is informative, too. If the signal is really twisted up, it means it came from an extreme magnetic environment, such as can be found around a black hole or neutron star. This is what the signal from FRB 121102 was like.

But the team was able to measure the polarisation of one of the new signals, FRB 180916, and it was really low. This tells us that not all repeating FRBs come from extreme environments.

We don’t know what this means yet. We don’t know if there are several different classes of objects or events producing these signals. We don’t know if they all repeat, or why they repeat. But these results are bringing us tantalisingly close to finally having some answers.

“I think (and I hope!) the paper will prompt other astronomers to point their telescopes to these newly discovered sources,” Pleunis said.

“Then, there is a lot of information here for model builders to work with. I think it will help them figure out what produces repeating FRBs.

“Also, I think our findings will influence the search strategy of other teams that try to discover repeating FRBs.”

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This article was originally published by Science Alert.

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Dark Matter May Be Older Than The Big Bang, Study Suggests

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Dark Matter May Be Older Than The Big Bang, Study Suggests
Photo Credit: Space

The elusive ‘dark matter’, which is believed to make up about 80% of the universe’s mass, may have existed before the ‘Big Bang’, according to a study published in the journal Physical Review Letters. It presents a new idea of how ‘dark matter’ was born and how to identify it with astronomical observations.

The Big Bang theory states that all matter that exists today sprung forth from a single point in an epic explosion commonly called the ‘Big Bang’, about 13.7 billion years ago.

“The study revealed a new connection between particle physics and astronomy,” said Tommi Tenkanen, a post-doctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins University in the US.

“If ‘dark matter’ consists of new particles that were born before the Big Bang, they affect the way galaxies are distributed in the sky in a unique way. This connection may be used to reveal their identity and make conclusions about the times before the Big Bang too,” added Tenkanen.

While not much is known about its origins, astronomers have shown that ‘dark matter’ plays a crucial role in the formation of galaxies and galaxy clusters.

Though not directly observable, scientists know dark matter exists by its gravitation effects on how visible matter moves and is distributed in space.

For a long time, researchers believed that dark matter must be a leftover substance from the Big Bang. They have long sought this kind of ‘dark matter’, but so far all experimental searches have been unsuccessful.

“If dark matter were truly a remnant of the ‘Big Bang’, then in many cases researchers should have seen a direct signal of dark matter in different particle physics experiments already,” pointed out Tenkanen.

Using a new, simple mathematical framework, the study shows that ‘dark matter’ may have been produced before the ‘Big Bang’ during an era known as the cosmic inflation when space was expanding very rapidly.

The rapid expansion is believed to lead to copious production of certain types of particles called scalars. So far, only one scalar particle has been discovered; the famous ‘Higgs boson’.

“We do not know what ‘dark matter’ is, but if it has anything to do with any scalar particles, it may be older than the ‘Big Bang’. With the proposed mathematical scenario, we don’t have to assume new types of interactions between visible and dark matter beyond gravity, which we already know is there,” informed Tenkanen.

The new study shows that researchers have always overlooked the simplest possible mathematical scenario for ‘dark matter’s’ origins.

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