Black holes aren’t surrounded by “firewalls,” study says

A new study uses string theory to examine black holes and provide evidence contrary to theories that suggest black hole “firewalls.”

Researchers from The Ohio State University suggest that black holes aren’t surrounding by a “firewall,” and are essentially perpetually growing balls of string.

Although some physicists suggest that there is a “firewall” around black holes that can incinerate anything sucked into its gravitational pull, the new study examines what would happen if an electron was sucked into a standard black hole.

“The probability of the electron hitting a photon from the radiation and burning up is negligible, dropping even further if one considers larger black holes known to exist in space,” said Samir Mathur, a professor of physics at Ohio State.

The team came to their conclusion through months of mathematical research built on string theory, which posits that the universe is composed of string-like tubes of energy that exist at a subatomic level.

“The question is ‘Where does the black hole grab you?’ We think that as a person approaches the horizon, the fuzzball surface grows to meet it before it has a chance to reach the hottest part of the radiation, and this is a crucial finding in this new physics paper that invalidates the firewall argument,” Mathur said.

“Once a person falling into the black hole is tangled up in strings, there’s no easy way to decide what he will feel,” he continued.”

“The firewall argument had seemed like a quick way to prove that something falling through the horizon burns up. But we now see that there cannot be any such quick argument; what happens can only be decided by detailed calculations in string theory.”

Young galaxy’s halo reveals clues to evolution and growth of ancient galaxies

The halo of a young galaxy Q2343-BX418 could shed light on the evolution and growth of the universe’s early galaxies.

Researchers believe that they have discovered a new method of unlocking the mysteries underlying the formation and evolution of the first galaxies. By examining Q2343-BX418, a small young galaxy about 10 billion light years from the Earth, the team believes they can reveal how galaxies looked following the birth of the universe.

Not only that, but the galaxy possesses a gas halo that is emits a certain type of light that is of great interest to astronomers.

“In the last several years, we’ve learned that the gaseous halos surrounding galaxies glow with a particular ultraviolet wavelength called Lyman alpha emission,” said the study’s lead author Dawn Erb. “There are a lot of different theories about what produces this Lyman alpha emission in the halos of galaxies, but at least some of it is probably due to light that is originally produced by star formation in the galaxy being absorbed and re-emitted by gas in the halo.”

“Most of the ordinary matter in the universe isn’t in the form of a star or a planet, but gas,” Erb said. “And most of that gas exists not in galaxies, but around and between them.”

The halo is the location where gas enters and exits the galaxy. It also fuels galaxies, and sometimes the gas within a galaxy can shift into the halo. The process of gas flowing in and out of these regions is what influences stars and their fates.

“The inflow of new gas accreting into a galaxy provides fuel for new star formation, while outflows of gas limit a galaxy’s ability to form stars by removing gas,” Erb said. “So, understanding the complex interactions happening in this gaseous halo is key to finding out how galaxies form stars and evolve.”

Notably, the study harnessed the power of the Keck Cosmic Web Imager (KCWI) from the Keck Observatory.

“Our study was really enabled by the design and sensitivity of this new instrument,” Erb said. “It’s not just an ordinary spectrograph—it’s an integral field spectrograph, which means that it’s a sort of combination camera and spectrograph, where you get a spectrum of every pixel in the image.”

The findings were published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

New paper suggests aliens don’t have technological capacity for space travel

A new paper suggests that we haven’t encountered aliens because they don’t have the technological means for space travel.

A new paper from Sonnenberg Observatory researcher Michael Hippke suggests that alien “space programs” might struggle with the technology necessary to send them into space, according BGR. And it’s this lack of technology that could be the reason that we haven’t encountered aliens yet, at least according to Hippke.

While there are plenty of proposed reasons why we haven’t discovered aliens, Hippke’s is a new one. In particular, he suggests that if aliens reside in the “Super Earths” that astronomers have discovered in recent years, they would have trouble creating technology to counter the increased force of gravity that comes with their size.

In other words, Hippke suggests that alien intelligence might not have the technology necessary to push themselves off of these Earth-like worlds, which are up to twice the size of our planet.

And if aliens are using technology similar to ours (such as rockets powered by chemical fuels), gravity might be an insurmountable obstacle on the “Super Earth” planets that Hippke believes they likely call home.

Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, believes that Hippke’s theory seems to suggest that humans only just barely made it into space. If this is true, it would make sense that it would be pretty much impossible to achieve similar results in a higher gravity environment.

The findings are available on the pre-print server arXiv.

Milky Way’s cosmic jazz can now be heard online

A researcher has turned the Milky Way into a jazz composition using an algorithm to express its gases.

Mark Heyer of the University of Massachusetts Amherst has created an algorithm that expresses the gas movement in the Milky Way’s disc as music, according to Science Alert. The resulting composition has jazz-like tones, and has been titled the Milky Way Blues.

“This musical expression lets you ‘hear’ the motions of our Milky Way galaxy,” Heyer said. “The notes primarily reflect the velocities of the gas rotating around the centre of our galaxy.”

Heyer mapped 20 years of radio telescope data on the Milky Way’s gas using a pentatonic minor scale. The gases exist in three phases: molecular, atomic, and ionized. They can also move in specific directions — towards us or away from us.

Using a pentatonic minor scale, he mapped 20 years of radio telescope data on gas in the Milky Way to musical notes and instruments.

The gases were turned into musical instruments based on their spectra. For example, molecular gases were turned into pianos and woodblocks, atomic gases into acoustic basses, and ionized gases into the saxophones. Gas moving towards us were turned into high notes, and gas moving away from us were turned into low notes. The longer the note, the stronger the emission line.

“Each observation is represented by a line showing where the telescope was pointing and the positions of the circles along a line show the locations of the gas in the galaxy responsible for the played notes,” Heyer said.

Heyer’s composition is featured on Astronomy Sound of the Month.

Study suggests that ancient gravitational force rippled through our galaxy

Preliminary data suggests that the Milky Way was hit by an ancient gravitational force that rippled through it.

New data suggests that a strong gravitational force sent ripples through the Milky Way approximately 300 to 900 million years ago, according to Gizmodo. The findings come from the Gaia mission’s data drop that happened last week—in particular, one paper that describes a potential gravitational force that could have affected our galaxy in an ancient time, like a stone thrown into a pond.

“We have here provided the clearest evidence that our own Galaxy disk has suffered from perturbations, bringing it to an out-of-equilibrium state, which may well be due to the interaction with an external satellite galaxy,” reads the paper, which has yet to be peer-reviewed.

Using data on the apparent motion of 1.3 billion stars in the sky and actual velocities for over 7 million stars, the research team studied how the star velocities vary with position. The motion revealed that they are likely recovering for a gravitational force a few hundred million years ago, which is fairly recent in the universe’s terms.

The gravitational force might have originated from a close approach from the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy, which is a collection of stars that orbits the Milky Way from around 70,000 light years away..

“This work shows that the stellar disk of the Milky Way is a dynamically active place, where spiral arms and the Galactic bar leave their marks on the orbits of stars like ripples in a pond—a pond that has perhaps recently felt the splash of a small stone in the form of a merging dwarf galaxy,” said Stacy McGaugh from Case Western Reserve University, who wasn’t involved in the study. “It is a living and breathing beast that is sensitive to be poked and prodded and even tickled a little bit.”

The findings are available on preprint repository arXiv.

Researchers search for Sun’s ancient siblings

A new study hopes to find the Sun’s ancient siblings.

Although the Sun is isolated now, it used to exist alongside thousands of siblings in a stellar nursery. And now, an international team of researchers is trying to find the ancient siblings that it has been separated from over the years.

The team is using the Galactic Archaeology with HERMES (GALAH) survey to compile the spectra of 340,000 stars. The end goal is to examine over one million stars before the survey is complete.

“No other survey has been able to measure as many elements for as many stars as GALAH,” HEREMES instrument scientist Gayandhi De Silva said in a press release. “This data will enable such discoveries as the original star clusters of the Galaxy, including the Sun’s birth cluster and solar siblings — there is no other dataset like this ever collected anywhere else in the world.”

The team analyzed star data, including chemical composition, to determine galactic relations.

“We train [our computer code] The Cannon to recognize patterns in the spectra of a subset of stars that we have analyzed very carefully, and then use The Cannon’s machine learning algorithms to determine the amount of each element for all of the 340,000 stars,” said Sven Buder, lead author of the study.

The end goal is to use the DNA signatures of stars to track down the Sun’s ancestry.

The findings were published in SciRate.

Scientists capture the universe’s cosmic hum

A new study might reveal the cosmic hum that fuelled the universe’s early expansion.

A team of researchers uncovered behavior that appears to resemble the universe in microcosm through the rapid expansion of a doughnut-shaped cloud of atoms, according to Phys.org.

“From the atomic physics perspective, the experiment is beautifully described by existing theory,” says Stephen Eckel, an atomic physicist and the lead author of the new paper. “But even more striking is how that theory connects with cosmology.”

Eckel and his team rapidly expanded the size of a cloud of atoms shaped like a doughnut, taking snapshots throughout the process. The rapid growth left the cloud in a state of humming, which might resemble a related hum that took place on cosmic scales during the Earth’s early expansion.

The work represents a collaboration between experts in atomic physics and gravity and highlights the versatility of the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), which is an ultracold cloud of atoms that is an ideal platform for testing ideas in various facets of physics.

“Maybe this will one day inform future models of cosmology,” Eckel said. “Or vice versa. Maybe there will be a model of cosmology that’s difficult to solve but that you could simulate using a cold atomic gas.”

Ted Jacobson, a coauthor on the new paper, believes that his connection with atomic physicists led to benefits outside of the immediate results.

“What I learned from them, and from thinking so much about an experiment like that, are new ways to think about the cosmology problem,” he said. “And they learned to think about aspects of the BEC that they would never have thought about before. Whether those are useful or important remains to be seen, but it was certainly stimulating.”

“Ted got me to think about the processes in BECs differently and any time you approach a problem and you can see it from a different perspective, it gives you a better chance of actually solving that problem,” added Eckel.

The findings were published in Physical Reviews X.

Advanced DARKNESS camera could reveal hidden planets

The world’s most advanced camera, DARKNESS, might one day reveal planets that hide within their host stars’ light.

An international team of researchers has developed the DARK-speckle Near-infrared Energy-resolved Superconducting Spectrophotometer (DARKNESS), which is the world’s most advanced camera, according to Astronomy.com. The 10,000-pixel integral field spectrograph might be able to reveal planets that are hiding in the light of their host stars by differentiating the light emitted by the two.

“Taking a picture of an exoplanet is extremely challenging because the star is much brighter than the planet, and the planet is very close to the star,” said Benjamin Mazin, lead researcher of a recent study on DARKNESS.

DARKNESS is designed to fit the 200-inch Hale telescope that is located at the Palomar Observatory in California. And in addition to being a camera, it functions as a focal-plan wave-front sensor. Its sensor is able to measure light from stars and planets at a fast enough rate to adjust its light-collecting mirror at a whopping 2,000 time per second.

The unique capabilities of DARKNESS means it can counteract atmospheric distortions and achieve increased contrast ratios between different light sources, such as a planet and a star.

The team is still working on working out the kinks in DARKNESS, and they hope to continue developing it and improving its contrast ratio.

“Our hope is that one day we will be able to build an instrument for the Thirty Meter Telescope planned for Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii or La Palma,” said Mazin. “With that, we’ll be able to take pictures of planets in the habitable zones of nearby low mass stars and look for life in their atmospheres. That’s the long-term goal and this is an important step toward that.”

The findings were published in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Discovery of subglacial lakes could advance search for extraterrestrial life

The discovery of two subglacial lakes could shed light on the possibility of life on other planets.

Radar data analysis has led scientists to the discovery of two lakes beneath 550 to 750 metres of ice under the Devon Ice Cap, according to Phys.org. The cap is one of the largest ice caps in the Canadian Arctic, and the newly discovered lakes are believed to be the first isolated hypersaline subglacial lakes in the world.

“We weren’t looking for subglacial lakes,” said Anja Rutishauser, who made the discovery while analyzing airborne radar data from NASA and The University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG). ” The ice is frozen to the ground underneath that part of the Devon Ice Cap, so we didn’t expect to find liquid water.”

The radar sounding measurements that can penetrate ice are based on electromagnetic waves that are sent through the ice and reflected back at contrasts that exist in subsurface materials. Essentially, it allows scientists to see through the ice.

“We saw these radar signatures telling us there’s water, but we thought it was impossible that there could be liquid water underneath this ice, where it is below -10C,” said Rutishauser.

Although there are more than 400 known subglacial lakes in the world, these are the first to be discovered in the Canadian Arctic. Most of the others are concentrated in Antarctica, with a few in Greenland. And unlike the others, these two appear to be made of hypersaline water. This is contrary to the other subglacial lakes, which are believed to contain freshwater.

Rutishauser believes that similar salty rock outcrops are hiding beneath other ice caps in the Canadian Arctic.

“Although the Devon hypersaline subglacial lakes are very unique discoveries, we may find networks of brine-rich subglacial water systems elsewhere in the Canadian Arctic,” she said.

The lakes are a potential habitat for microbial life, and could be used in our search for life on other planets.

“We think they can serve as a good analogue for Europa, one of Jupiter’s icy moons, which has similar conditions of salty liquid water underneath—and maybe within—an ice shell,” said Rutishauser.

The findings were published in Science Advances.

Human mind might be preventing us from finding extraterrestrial life

The human brain could be preventing us from finding artificial intelligence.

A new study suggests that our own neurophysiology, psychology, and consciousness could be holding us back from finding extraterrestrial life, according to the Information and Scientific New Services (SINC).

The data stems from an experiment that examined 137 people who had to distinguish aerial photographs with artificial structures from natural elements, such as mountains and rivers. In one image, a tiny character disguised as a gorilla was inserted to determine if participants noticed.

It makes more sense when you look at the experiment it was based on — back in the 90s, two researchers sought to determine inattention blindness in humans. They had a boy in a gorilla costume walk in front of a scene gesticulating while observers were busy with something else.

The results found that more than half didn’t notice.

“It is very striking, but very significant and representative at the same time, how our brain works,” said Gabriel de la Torre, first author on the study. “In addition, our surprise was greater, since before doing the test to see the inattentional blindness we assessed the participants with a series of questions to determine their cognitive style (if they were more intuitive or rational), and it turned out that the intuitive individuals identified the gorilla of our photo more times than those more rational and methodical.”

“If we transfer this to the problem of searching for other non-terrestrial intelligences, the question arises about whether our current strategy may result in us not perceiving the gorilla,” he said. “Our traditional conception of space is limited by our brain, and we may have the signs above and be unable to see them. Maybe we’re not looking in the right direction”.

The findings were published in Acta Astronautica.