Of all the bizarre quirks of nature, supermassive black holes are some of the most mysterious because they're completely invisible.
But that could soon change.
Black holes are deep wells in the fabric of space-time that eternally trap anything that dares too close, and supermassive black holes have the deepest wells of all. These hollows are generated by extremely dense objects thousands to billions of times more massive than our sun.
Not even light can escape black holes, which means they're invisible to any of the instruments astrophysicists currently use. Although they don't emit light, black holes will, under the right conditions, emit large amounts of gravitational waves — ripples in spacetime that propagate through the universe like ripples across a pond's surface.
And although no one has ever detected a gravitational wave, there are a handful of instruments around the world waiting to catch one.
Game-changing gravitational waves
This illustration shows two spiral galaxies - each with supermassive black holes at their center - as they are about to collide.
Albert Einstein first predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916. According to his theory of general relativity, black holes will emit these waves when they accelerate to high speeds, which happens when two black holes encounter one another in the universe.
As two galaxies collide, for example, the supermassive black holes at their centers will also collide. But first, they enter into a deadly cosmic dance where the smaller black hole spirals into the larger black hole, moving increasingly faster as it inches toward it's inevitable doom. As it accelerates, it emits gravitational waves.
Astrophysicists are out to observe these waves generated by two merging black holes with instruments like the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.
"The detection of gravitational waves would be a game changer for astronomers in the field," Clifford Will, a distinguished profess of physics at the University of Florida who studied under famed astrophysicist Kip Thorne told Business Insider. "We would be able to test aspects of general relativity that have not been tested."
Because these waves have never been detected, astrophysicists are still trying to figure out how to find them. To do this, they build computer simulations to predict what kinds of gravitational waves a black hole merger will produce.
Learn by listening
In the simulation below, made by Steve Drasco at California Polytechnic State University (also known as Cal Poly), a black hole gets consumed by a supermassive black hole about 30,000 times as heavy.
You'll want to turn up the volume.
What you're seeing and hearing are two different things.
The black lines you're seeing are the orbits of the tiny black hole traced out as it falls into the supermassive black hole. What you're hearing are gravitational waves.
"The motion makes gravitational waves, and you are hearing the waves," Drasco wrote in a blog post describing his work.
Of course, there is no real sound in space, so if you somehow managed to encounter this rare cataclysmic event, you would not likely hear anything. However, what Drasco has done will help astrophysicists track down these illusive waves.
Just a little fine tuning
Gravitational waves are similar to radio waves in that both have specific frequencies. On the radio, for example, the number corresponding to the station you're listening to represents the frequency at which that station transmits.
3D visualization of gravitational waves produced by 2 orbiting black holes. Right now, astrophysicists only have an idea of what frequencies two merging black holes transmit because they’re rare and hard to find. In fact, the first ever detection of an event of this kind was only announced this month.
Therefore, astrophysicists are basically toying with their instruments like you sometimes toy with your radio to find the right station, except they don’t know what station will give them the signal they’re looking for.
What Drasco has done in his simulation is estimate the frequency at which an event like this would produce and then see how that frequency changes, so astrophysicists have a better idea of how to fine tune their instruments to search for these waves.
Detecting gravitational waves would revolutionize the field of astronomy because it would give observers an entirely new way to see the universe. Armed with this new tool, they will be able to test general relativity in ways never before made possible.
Artist's illustration of the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane in orbit. The mysterious spacecraft is scheduled to launch on its fourth mission on May 20, 2015. Credit: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
The United States Air Force's X-37B space plane will launch on its fourth mystery mission next month. The unmanned X-37B space plane, which looks like a miniature version of NASA's now-retired space shuttle orbiter, is scheduled to blast off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 20.
"We are excited about our fourth X-37B mission," Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said in a statement. "With the demonstrated success of the first three missions, we’re able to shift our focus from initial checkouts of the vehicle to testing of experimental payloads."
The X-37B's payloads and specific activities are classified, so it's unclear exactly what the spacecraft does while zipping around the Earth. But Air Force officials have revealed a few clues about the upcoming mission.
"The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (AFRCO) are investigating an experimental propulsion system on the X-37B on Mission 4," Capt. Chris Hoyler, an Air Force spokesman, told Space.com via email.
"AFRCO will also host a number of advance materials onboard the X-37B for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to study the durability of various materials in the space environment," Hoyler added.
The Air Force owns two X-37B space planes, both of which were built by Boeing's Phantom Works division. The solar-powered spacecraft are about 29 feet long by 9.5 feet tall (8.8 by 2.9 meters), with a wingspan of 15 feet (4.6 m) and a payload bay the size of a pickup-truck bed. The X-37B launches vertically atop a rocket and lands horizontally on a runway, like the space shuttle did.
One of the two X-37B vehicles flew the program's first and third missions, which were known as OTV-1 and OTV-3, respectively. ("OTV" is short for "Orbital Test Vehicle.") The other spacecraft flew OTV-2. Air Force officials have not revealed which space plane will be going to orbit on the upcoming mission.
OTV-1 launched in April 2010 and landed in December of that year, staying in orbit for 225 days. OTV-2 blasted off in March 2011 and circled Earth for 469 days, coming down in June 2012. OTV-3 launched in December 2012 and stayed aloft for a record-breaking 675 days, finally landing in October 2014.
A recovery team processes the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane after the robotic spacecraft's successful landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Oct. 17, 2014. The touchdown marked the end of the X-37B’s third space mission. Credit: Boeing
If Air Force officials know how long OTV-4 is going to last, they're not saying.
"The X-37B is designed for an on-orbit duration of 270 days," Hoyler said. "Longer missions have been demonstrated. As with previous missions, the actual duration will depend on test objectives, on-orbit vehicle performance and conditions at the landing facility."
The secrecy surrounding the X-37B and its payloads has fueled speculation in some quarters that the vehicle could be a space weapon of some sort. But Air Force officials have repeatedly refuted that notion.
"The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space, and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth," Air Force officials wrote in on online X-37B fact sheet.
"Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control; thermal protection systems; avionics; high-temperature structures and seals; conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems; and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry and landing."View Article Here Read More
Excerpt from todayifoundout.com Determining exactly when humans began wearing clothes is a challenge, largely because early clothes would have been things like animal hides, which degrade rapidly. Therefore, there’s very little archaeological evidence that can be used to determine the date that clothing started being worn.
There have been several different theories based on what archaeologists have been able to find. For instance, based on genetic skin-coloration research, humans lost body hair around one million years ago—an ideal time to start wearing clothes for warmth. The first tools used to scrape hides date back to 780,000 years ago, but animal hides served other uses, such as providing shelter, and it’s thought that those tools were used to prepare hides for that, rather than clothing. Eyed needles started appearing around 40,000 years ago, but those tools point to more complex clothing, meaning clothes had probably already been around for a while. All that being said, scientists have started gathering alternative data that might help solve the mystery of when we humans started covering our bits.
A recent University of Florida study concluded that humans started wearing clothes some 170,000 years ago, lining up with the end of the second-to-last ice age. How did they figure that date out? By studying the evolution of lice.
Scientists observed that clothing lice are, well, extremely well-adapted to clothing. They hypothesized that body lice must have evolved to live in clothing, which meant that they weren’t around before humans started wearing clothes. The study used DNA sequencing of lice to calculate when clothing lice started to genetically split from head lice.
The findings of the study are significant because they show that clothes appeared some 70,000 years before humans started to migrate north from Africa into cooler climates. The invention of clothing was probably one factor that made migration possible. This timing also makes sense due to known climate factors in that era. As Ian Gilligan, a lecturer at the Australian National University, said that the study gave “an unexpectedly early date for clothing, much earlier than the earliest solid archaeological evidence, but it makes sense. It means modern humans probably started wearing clothes on a regular basis to keep warm when they were first exposed to Ice Age conditions.”
As to when humans moved on from animal hides and into textiles, the first fabric is thought to have been an early ancestor of felt. From there, early humans took up weaving some 27,000 years ago, based on impressions of baskets and textiles on clay. Around 25,000 years ago, the first Venus figurines—little statues of women—appeared wearing a variety of different clothes that pointed to weaving technology being in place by this time. From there, more recent ancient civilizations discovered many materials they could fashion into clothing. For instance, Ancient Egyptians produced linen around 5500 BC, while the Chinese likely started producing silk around 4000 B.C.
As for clothing for fashion, instead of just keeping warm, it is thought that this occurred relatively early on. The first example of dyed flax fibers were found in a cave in the Republic of Georgia and date back to 36,000 years ago. That being said, while they may have added colour, early clothes seem to have been much simpler than the clothing we wear today—mostly cloth draped over the shoulder and pinned at the waist.
Around the mid-1300s in certain regions of the world, with some technological advances in previous century, clothing fashion began to change drastically from what it was before. For instance, clothing started to be made to form fit the human body, with curved seams, laces, and buttons. Contrasting colours and fabrics also became popular in England. From this time, fashion in the West began to change at an alarming rate, largely based on aesthetics, whereas in other cultures fashion typically changed only with great political upheaval, meaning changes came more slowly in most other cultures.
The Industrial Revolution, of course, had a huge impact on the clothing industry. Clothes could now be made en mass in factories rather than just in the home and could be transported from factory to market in record time. As a result, clothes became drastically cheaper, leading to people having significantly larger wardrobes and contributing to the constant change in fashion that we still see today.View Article Here Read More
Moon Express, a Mountain View, California-based company that's aiming to send the first commercial robotic spacecraft to the moon next year, just took another step closer toward that lofty goal.
Earlier this year, it became the first company to successfully test a prototype of a lunar lander at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The success of this test—and a series of others that will take place later this year—paves the way for Moon Express to send its lander to the moon in 2016, said company co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain.
Moon Express conducted its tests with the support of NASA engineers, who are sharing with the company their deep well of lunar know-how. The NASA lunar initiative—known as Catalyst—is designed to spur new commercial U.S. capabilities to reach the moon and tap into its considerable resources.In addition to Moon Express, NASA is also working with Astrobotic Technologies of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, to develop commercial robotic spacecrafts.
Jain said Moon Express also recently signed an agreement to take over Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral. The historic launchpad will be used for Moon Express's lander development and flight-test operations. Before it was decommissioned, the launchpad was home to NASA's Atlas-Centaur rocket program and its Surveyor moon landers.
"Clearly, NASA has an amazing amount of expertise when it comes to getting to the moon, and it wants to pass that knowledge on to a company like ours that has the best chance of being successful," said Jain, a serial entrepreneur who also founded Internet companies Infospace and Intelius. He believes that the moon holds precious metals and rare minerals that can be brought back to help address Earth's energy, health and resource challenges.
Among the moon's vast riches: gold, cobalt, iron, palladium, platinum, tungsten and Helium-3, a gas that can be used in future fusion reactors to provide nuclear power without radioactive waste. "We went to the moon 50 years ago, yet today we have more computing power with our iPhones than the computers that sent men into space," Jain said. "That type of exponential technological growth is allowing things to happen that was never possible before."
An eye on the Google prize
Helping to drive this newfound interest in privately funded space exploration is the Google Lunar X Prize. It's a competition organized by the X Prize Foundation and sponsored by Google that will award $30 million to the first company that lands a commercial spacecraft on the moon, travels 500 meters across its surface and sends high-definition images and video back to Earth—all before the end of 2016. Moon Express is already at the front of the pack. In January it was awarded a $1 million milestone prize from Google for being the only company in the competition so far to test a prototype of its lander. "Winning the X prize would be a great thing," said Jain. "But building a great company is the ultimate goal with us." When it comes to space exploration, he added, "it's clear that the baton has been passed from the government to the private sector."
Testing in stages
Jain said Moon Express has been putting its lunar lander through a series of tests at the space center. The successful outing earlier this year involved tethering the vehicle—which is the size of a coffee table—to a crane in order to safely test its control systems. "The reason we tethered it to the crane is because the last thing we wanted was the aircraft to go completely haywire and hurt someone," he said.
At the end of March, the company will conduct a completely free flight test with no tethering. The lander will take off from the pad, go up and sideways, then land back at the launchpad. "This is to test that the vehicle knows where to go and how to get back to the launchpad safely," Jain explained. Once all these tests are successfully completed, Jain said the lander—called MX-1—will be ready to travel to the moon. The most likely scenario is that it will be attached to a satellite that will take the lander into a low orbit over the Earth. From there the MX-1 will fire its own rocket, powered by hydrogen peroxide, and launch from that orbit to complete its travel to the moon's surface.
The lander's first mission is a one-way trip, meaning that it's not designed to travel back to the Earth, said Jain. "The purpose is to show that for the first time, a company has developed the technology to land softly on the moon," he said. "Landing on the moon is not the hard part. Landing softly is the hard part."
That's because even though the gravity of the moon is one-sixth that of the Earth's, the lander will still be traveling down to the surface of the moon "like a bullet," Jain explained. Without the right calculations to indicate when its rockets have to fire in order to slow it down, the lander would hit the surface of the moon and break into millions of pieces. "Unlike here on Earth, there's no GPS on the moon to tell us this, so we have to do all these calculations first," he said.
Looking ahead 15 or 20 years, Jain said he envisions a day when the moon is used as a sort of way station enabling easier travel for exploration to other planets. In the meantime, he said the lander's second and third missions could likely involve bringing precious metals, minerals and even moon rocks back to Earth. "Today, people look at diamonds as this rare thing on Earth," Jain said. He added, "Imagine telling someone you love her by giving her the moon." View Article Here Read More
Excerpt from paranormal.lovetoknow.com By Michelle Radcliff The Bermuda Triangle is an area of mostly open ocean located between Bermuda, Miami, Florida and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The unexplained disappearances of hundreds of ships and air...
When Falcon Heavy lifts off later this year, it will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two. Thrust at liftoff is equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft operating simultaneously. Excerpt from csmonitor.com...
With two dozen rockets projected to blast payloads into orbit, Cape Canaveral this year hopes to claim the title of "world's busiest spaceport," the Air Force's 45th Space Wing said Tuesday. "It's a great time to be here," said Col. Thomas Falzarano, commander of the Wing's 45th Operations Group. "Business is booming."
Falzarano presented the Eastern Range launch forecast to several hundred guests at the National Space Club Florida Committee's meeting in Cape Canaveral.
Weather, technical issues and program changes frequently delay launches, so it's likely some of the missions will slip into next year. But the forecast shows the Space Coast launching at an increasingly busy clip even without human spaceflight missions, which aren't expected to resume for several years.
The 2015 forecast anticipates United Launch Alliance matching last year's total of 10 Cape launches, including eight by Atlas V rockets and two by Delta IV rockets.
And it assumes as many as 14 launches by SpaceX. Last year had six Falcon 9 flights.
That was SpaceX's most launches in a calendar year, but five fewer than was projected last January.
This year the company hopes to activate a second launch pad, complementing its existing one at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The debut of the Falcon Heavy rocket from a former Apollo and shuttle pad at Kennedy Space Center would be one of this year's most highly anticipated launches.
In addition, SpaceX plans to launch more ISS resupply missions, and commercial and government satellites.
ULA's first launch of the year is coming up Tuesday, with an Atlas V targeting a 7:43 p.m. liftoff with a Navy communications satellite.
The Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture has its usual slate of high-value science and national security missions. The manifest includes a roughly $1 billion NASA science mission, an X-37B military space plane and more Global Positioning System satellites.
Overall last year, the 45th Space Wing supported 16 space launches — five less than projected last January (all attributed to SpaceX) — plus two Trident missile tests launched from submarines. That ranked the Cape No. 2 behind the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan, Falzarano said.
But with 24 missions potentially on the books this year and more than 30 in various planning stages for 2016, Falzarano said the Eastern Range is facing its busiest two-year stretch in more than two decades.
"The Cape, right here, is going to be the busiest spaceport in the world," he said.
Growing launch rate •2013: 14 •2014: 18 •2015: 24 (projected) Source: U.S. Air Force 45th Space WingView Article Here Read More
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands ready to boost a Dragon capsule on its fifth commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. If all goes as planned, the rocket will land on a barge on Saturday.
Excerpt from news.nationalgeographic.com SpaceX chief aims to make rockets reusable by guiding them to a barge instead of letting them splash down. Rockets have landed on the moon and on Mars, but now SpaceX rocket maven Elon Musk aims to land one someplace really exotic—a barge floating in the Atlantic Ocean.
The barge, or "autonomous spaceport drone ship" as SpaceX calls it, is scheduled to land its returned rocket on Saturday, about 17 minutes after the planned 4:47 a.m. (EST) launch of a Dragon cargo spacecraft heading to the International Space Station from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The point of the barge landing is to recover the rocket's expensive engines and reuse them. Until now, rocket engines have typically been allowed to burn up on reentry or plummet into the ocean, either for disposal or recovery later by boat. If SpaceX pulls off the barge landing, it will be a first for ocean landings.
The barge's landing site, just 300 feet by 170 feet in size (about 90 by 50 meters), will act as the outfielder's glove to catch the massive first stage of the Falcon 9 launch rocket, maneuvered into place by remote control.
"Our main mission is to get cargo to the space station," said SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann, speaking last week at a NASA briefing. "I'm pretty sure it will be pretty exciting," he said of the attempted controlled landing of the 14-story-tall first stage of the rocket on a flat floating platform.
Failure an Option
SpaceX has successfully landed rocket stages on land, and made a controlled landing on water after a past cargo launch, which still led to the loss of the rocket stage in the drink. Musk has previously suggested that barge landings of stages would expedite their reuse, leading to cheaper rocketry.
Musk gave 50 percent odds of the barge landing working out. ("I pretty much made that up. I have no idea," he added in a recent web chat on Reddit.)
It can be a crime to leave pets outside in extreme temperatures without food and shelter
Cold weather can be deadly for pets. As the temperature plummets in many parts of the country, The Humane Society of the United States sees a marked increase in the number of complaints about dogs and cats who have been left outside with no food or shelter.
We encourage you to contact local law enforcement agencies because pets left outside in extreme temperatures, especially without food and shelter, are at risk of hypothermia, frostbite and even death. Their owners are at risk of facing criminal charges.
The act of leaving a pet outside without food or adequate shelter often receives less attention than a violent attack against an animal, but neglect is a crime. "Especially in these cold months, it is important for people to bring their pets inside and for others to report neglected animals to law enforcement,” says Ashley Mauceri, HSUS manager for cruelty response, who fields these calls.
One of the most common forms of animal cruelty, cases of animals left outside in dangerous weather are investigated more by police and animal control agencies than any other form of animal abuse. Our most constant companions—dogs and cats—feel the effects of winter weather as much as we do, only they are often cast outside to weather the cold or a storm owing to a misconception that the fur on their backs will insulate them from suffering. Without proper shelter, food and water, these domesticated animals’ chances of survival in frigid temperatures is greatly decreased. Any pet owners who aren't sure what protections their pets need during cold weather can read our cold-weather advice for keeping pets safe.
While views on animal welfare vary from region to region, there are laws in place in every state to prevent needless suffering. Callers to The HSUS report numerous cases across the country of animals left out in the cold, but the organization is also working with an increasing number of law enforcement agencies that recognize the importance of intervention in these cases.
Animal neglect is considered a misdemeanor crime in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Felony penalties can be levied in Massachusetts and Oklahoma for any animal neglect case.
Felony charges can be applied in animal neglect resulting in death in California, Connecticut, Florida and Washington, D.C.
How you can help
Report what you see: Take note of the date, time, exact location and the type of animal(s) involved and write down as many details as possible about the situation. Video and photographic documentation of the animal, the location, the surrounding area, etc. (even a cell phone photo) will help bolster your case.
December is usually marked by a series of meteor showers. Geminid meteors (like the one seen in this picture of Florida) light up the skies at the beginning of the month, while the Ursids - which peak Monday night (Dec. 22) - put on a show just before Christmas.
The Ursid meteor shower peaks tonight, and it should be a great show.
When skywatchers think of meteor showers during the month of December, the Geminid shower (which peaked earlier this month) usually comes to mind. But the Ursid meteor shower — peaking tonight and into the wee hours of Tuesday (Dec. 23) morning — should also offer skywatchers a good view this year.
Even if you can't see tonight's meteor shower due to light pollution or bad weather, you can still catch the Ursids online thanks to the Slooh Community Observatory. Tune in for Slooh's Ursid meteor shower webcast tonight starting at 8 p.m. EST (0100 Dec. 23 GMT) live on Space.com. You can also watch the webcast directly through Slooh.
The Ursids are so named because they appear to fan out from the vicinity of the bright orange star Kochab, in the constellation of Ursa Minor, the Little Bear. Kochab is the brighter of the two outer stars in the bowl of the Little Dipper (the other being Pherkad), that seem to march in a circle like sentries around the North Star, Polaris. These meteors are sometimes called the Umids, in a rather unsuccessful attempt to make clear that their radiant is in Ursa Minor, not Ursa Major.
The fact that Kochab is positioned so near to the north pole of the sky means that this star almost never sets for most viewers in the Northern Hemisphere. And since the Ursids seem to fan out from this particular region of the sky, you have a reference point to look for these faint, medium-speed meteors all through the night if you care to.
The fact that the shower peaks tonight is good news for observers braving the cold to see the display. The moon is just one day past its new phase, meaning that light reflected from Earth's natural satellite won't wash out the shower.