Science & Nature
Science fact: Astronomers reveal first image of a black hole
This image released Wednesday, April 10, 2019, by
Event Horizon Telescope shows a black hole. Scientists revealed the
first image ever made of a black hole after assembling data gathered by
a network of radio telescopes around the world. (Event Horizon Telescope
Collaboration/Maunakea Observatories via AP)
- Humanity got its first glimpse last week of
the cosmic place of no return: a black hole.
And it’s as hot, as
violent and as beautiful as science fiction imagined.
In a breakthrough
that thrilled the world of astrophysics and stirred talk of a Nobel
Prize, scientists released the first image ever made of a black hole,
revealing a fiery doughnut-shaped object in a galaxy 53 million
light-years from Earth.
has become science fact,” University of Waterloo theoretical physicist
Avery Broderick, one of the leaders of the research team of about 200
scientists from 20 countries, declared as the colorized orange-and-black
picture was unveiled.
assembled from data gathered by eight radio telescopes around the world,
shows light and gas swirling around the lip of a supermassive black
hole, a monster of the universe whose existence was theorized by
Einstein more than a century ago but confirmed only indirectly over the
holes are situated at the center of most galaxies, including ours, and
are so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape their
gravitational pull. Light gets bent and twisted around by gravity in a
bizarre funhouse effect as it gets sucked into the abyss along with
superheated gas and dust.
The new image
confirmed yet another piece of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
Einstein even predicted the object’s neatly symmetrical shape.
“We have seen what
we thought was unseeable. We have seen and taken a picture of a black
hole,” announced Sheperd Doeleman of Harvard, leader of the project.
another co-discoverer and deputy director of the East Asian Observatory
in Hawaii, said the fiery circle reminded her of the flaming Eye of
Sauron from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Three years ago,
scientists using an extraordinarily sensitive observing system heard the
sound of two much smaller black holes merging to create a gravitational
wave, as Einstein predicted. The new image, published in the
Astrophysical Journal Letters and announced around the world, adds light
to that sound.
suggested the achievement could be worthy of a Nobel, just like the
gravitational wave discovery.
“I think it looks
very convincing,” said Andrea Ghez, director of the UCLA Galactic Center
Group, who wasn’t part of the discovery team.
The picture was
made with equipment that detects wavelengths invisible to the human eye,
so astronomers added color to convey the ferocious heat of the gas and
dust, glowing at a temperature of perhaps millions of degrees. But if a
person were to somehow get close to this black hole, it might not look
quite like that, astronomers said.
The black hole is
about 6 billion times the mass of our sun and is in a galaxy called M87.
Its “event horizon” - the precipice, or point of no return where light
and matter get sucked inexorably into the hole - is as big as our entire
Black holes are the
“most extreme environment in the known universe,” Broderick said, a
violent, churning place of “gravity run amok.” Unlike smaller black
holes, which come from collapsed stars, supermassive black holes are
mysterious in origin.
Despite decades of
study, there are a few holdouts who deny black holes exist, and this
work shows that they do, said Boston University astronomer professor
Alan Marscher, a co-discoverer.
The project cost
$50 million to $60 million, with $28 million of that coming from the
National Science Foundation. The same team has gathered even more data
on a black hole in the center of our own Milky Way galaxy, but
scientists said the object is so jumpy they don’t have a good picture
Myth says a black
hole would rip a person apart, but scientists said that because of the
particular forces exerted by an object as big as the one in M87, someone
could fall into it and not be torn to pieces. But the person would never
be heard from or seen again.
Black holes are
“like the walls of a prison. Once you cross it, you will never be able
to get out and you will never be able to communicate,” said astronomer
Avi Loeb, who is director of the Black Hole Initiative at Harvard but
was not involved in the discovery.
The telescope data
was gathered two years ago, over four days when the weather had to be
just right all around the world. Completing the image was an enormous
undertaking, involving an international team of scientists,
supercomputers and hundreds of terabytes of data.
initially put all that data into the first picture, what they saw looked
so much like what they expected they didn’t believe it at first.
“We’ve been hunting
this for a long time,” Dempsey said. “We’ve been getting closer and
closer with better technology.”
Japan spacecraft drops explosive
on asteroid to make crater
This Feb. 22, 2019, file image released by the Japan Aerospace
Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows the shadow, center above, of the
Hayabusa2 spacecraft after its successful touchdown on the asteroid
Ryugu. (JAXA via AP, File)
Tokyo (AP) -
Japan’s space agency said an explosive
dropped from its Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully blasted the surface
of an asteroid for the first time to form a crater and pave the way for
the collection of underground samples for possible clues to the origin
of the solar system.
mission was the riskiest for Hayabusa2 because it had to immediately
move away so it wouldn’t get hit by flying shards from the blast.
The Japan Aerospace
Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said Hayabusa2 dropped a small explosive
box which sent a copper ball the size of a baseball slamming into the
asteroid, and that data confirmed the spacecraft had safely evacuated
and remained intact. JAXA later confirmed the impact from images
transmitted from a camera left behind by the spacecraft which showed the
impactor being released and fine particles later spraying dozens of
meters out from a spot on the asteroid.
“The mission was a
success,” JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda said, beaming. “It is highly
likely to have made a crater.”
JAXA plans to send
Hayabusa2, which was moved to the other side of the asteroid, back to
the site after dust and debris settle for observations and to collect
samples of material from the new crater that was unexposed to the sun or
space rays. Scientists hope the samples will help them understand the
history of the solar system, since asteroids are left over material from
No such samples
have been recovered. In a 2005 “deep impact” mission to a comet, NASA
observed fragments after blasting the surface but did not collect them.
Last month, JAXA
announced that a group of scientists participating in the Hayabusa2
mission had detected hydroxyl-bearing minerals on the asteroid by
analyzing near-infrared spectrometer readings by the spacecraft. It said
that could help explain where the Earth’s water came from. The results
were published in the online edition of Science magazine.
“So far, Hayabusa2
has done everything as planned, and we are delighted,” mission leader
Makoto Yoshikawa said earlier Friday. “But we still have more missions
to achieve and it’s too early for us to celebrate.”
successfully touched down on a small level area on the boulder-strewn
asteroid in February, when it also collected some surface dust and small
debris. The craft is scheduled to leave the asteroid at the end of 2019
and bring the surface fragments and underground samples back to Earth in
The asteroid, named
Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 300
million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth.
School lessons targeted by climate change doubters
In this June, 3, 2017, file photo, the sun sets
behind Georgia Power’s coal-fired Plant Scherer, one of the nation’s top
carbon dioxide emitters, in Juliette, Ga. As climate change becomes a hotter
topic in American classrooms in 2019, some politicians are pushing back
against the scientific consensus that global warming is real and man-made.
(AP Photo/Branden Camp)
Hartford, Conn. (AP) -
A Connecticut lawmaker wants to strike climate
change from state science standards. A Virginia legislator worries
teachers are indoctrinating students with their personal views on global
warming. And an Oklahoma state senator wants educators to be able to
introduce alternative viewpoints without fear of losing their jobs.
As climate change becomes a hotter
topic in American classrooms, politicians around the country are pushing
back against the near-universal scientific consensus that global warming
is real, dire and man-made.
Of the more than a dozen such
measures proposed so far this year, some already have failed. But they
have emerged this year in growing numbers, many of them inspired or
directly encouraged by a pair of advocacy groups, the Discovery
Institute and the Heartland Institute.
“You have to present two sides of
the argument and allow the kids to deliberate,” said Republican state
Sen. David Bullard of Oklahoma, a former high school geography teacher
whose bill, based on model legislation from the Discovery Institute, ran
into opposition from science teachers and went nowhere.
Scientists and science education
organizations have blasted such proposals for sowing confusion and doubt
on a topic of global urgency. They reject the notion that there are “two
sides” to the issue.
“You can’t talk about two sides
when the other side doesn’t have a foot in reality,” said University of
Illinois climate scientist Donald Wuebbles.
Michael Mann, director of the Earth
System Science Center at Penn State University, said these legislative
proposals are dangerous, bad-faith efforts to undermine scientific
findings that the fossil-fuel industry or fundamentalist religious
groups don’t want to hear.
In the mainstream scientific
community, there is little disagreement about the basics that greenhouse
gases from the burning of coal, oil and gas are causing the world to
warm in a dangerous manner. More than 90 percent of the peer-reviewed
studies and scientists who write them say climate change is a
A Nobel Prize-winning international
panel of scientists has repeatedly published reports detailing the
science behind climate change and how the world is likely to pass a
level of warming that an international agreement calls dangerous. The
U.S. government last year issued a detailed report saying that
“climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social and economic
well-being are rising.”
The battle over global warming
resembles the fight that began decades ago over the teaching of
evolution, in which opponents led by conservative Christians have long
called for schools to present what they consider both sides of the
Some of those who reject mainstream
climate science have cast the debate as a matter of academic freedom.
James Taylor, a senior fellow at
Heartland, an Illinois-based group that dismisses climate change, said
it is encouraging well-rounded classroom discussions on the topic. The
group, which in 2017 sent thousands of science teachers copies of a book
titled “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” is now taking its
message directly to students. A reference book it is planning for
publication this year will rebut arguments linking climate change to
hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme weather.
“We’re very concerned the global
warming propaganda efforts have encouraged students to not engage in
research and critical thinking,” Taylor said, referring to news reports
and scientific warnings.
Neither Discovery nor Heartland
discloses the identities of its donors.
Instruction on the topic varies
widely from place to place, but climate change and how humans are
altering the planet are core topics emphasized in the Next Generation
Science Standards, developed by a group of states. Nineteen states and
the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, and 21 others have
embraced some of the material with modifications.
Still, a survey released in 2016
found that of public middle- and high-school science teachers who taught
something about climate change, about a quarter gave equal time to
perspectives that “raise doubt about the scientific consensus.”
By early February, the Oakland,
California-based nonprofit National Center for Science Education flagged
over a dozen bills this year as threats to the integrity of science
education, more than the organization typically sees in an entire year.
Several of them - including
proposals in Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota - had language
echoing model legislation of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute,
which says teachers should not be prohibited from addressing strengths
and weaknesses of concepts such as evolution and global warming.
Similar measures became law in
Louisiana in 2008 and Tennessee in 2012. In states where they may not be
feasible politically, Discovery has urged legislators to consider
nonbinding resolutions in support of giving teachers latitude to “show
support for critical thinking” on controversial topics. Lawmakers in
Alabama and Indiana passed such resolutions in 2017.
Discovery officials did not respond
to requests for comment.
Florida state Sen. Dennis Baxley is
pressing legislation that would allow schools to teach alternatives to
“There is really no established
science on most things, you’ll find,” the GOP legislator said.
Elsewhere, lawmakers in Connecticut
and Iowa, which both adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, have
proposed rolling them back. Connecticut state Rep. John Piscopo, a
Republican who is a Heartland Institute member, said he wants to
eliminate the section on climate change, calling it “totally one-sided.”
Other bills introduced this year in
such states as Virginia, Arizona and Maine call for teachers to avoid
political or ideological indoctrination of their students.
“If they’re teaching about a
subject, such as climate change, and they present both sides, that’s
fine. That’s as it should be. A teacher who presents a skewed extension
of their political beliefs, that’s closer to indoctrinating. That’s not
good to kids,” said Virginia state Rep. Dave LaRock, a Republican.
While there are many details about
climate science hotly debated among scientists, it is well-established
that global warming is real, human-caused and a problem, said scientist
Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the
“When people say we ought to
present two sides, they’re saying we ought to present a side that’s
totally been disproven along with a side that has been fundamentally
supported by the evidence,” Field said.
EU leaders postpone decision on 2050 climate goal
protest for climate action with a sign reading ‘Save the World Now” during a
‘Friday for Future’ demonstration in Berlin, Germany, Friday, March 22,
2019. (Christoph Soeder/dpa via AP)
Frank Jordans & Samuel Petrequin
Brussels (AP) -
European Union leaders have pushed back a decision on the bloc’s long-term
efforts to fight climate change, with some countries opposing a pledge to
end most emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.
Leaders meeting in Brussels agreed to
discuss the issue again at their next gathering in June, ahead of a U.N.
summit on climate change in the fall. The delay frustrated environmental
campaigners, who argue that the EU should lead global efforts to meet the
2015 Paris accord’s most ambitious target of keeping global warming at 1.5
degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.
“European governments are kicking the
can down the road on climate change,” said Sebastian Mang, a policy adviser
Mang cited warnings from scientists
that sharp cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases
are needed in the coming decades to prevent potentially catastrophic levels
of warming by the end of the century.
“Young people get this,” he said,
referring to recent rallies in cities around the world that drew hundreds of
thousands of students calling for leaders to tackle climate change.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who
two years ago launched the “One Planet Summit” aimed at speeding up the
implementation of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, said Friday that the
bloc’s efforts at fighting climate change “were eminently insufficient.”
“Today, we are not giving a clear
answer to the commitments we made in Paris in 2015, to the scientific
challenges pointed out by the best experts, and to the legitimate impatience
that youngsters are expressing in demonstrations every week in our
capitals,” Macron said. “We will need to wake up, but we have not really
seen that yet.”
Much of the two-day EU meeting in
Brussels was taken up with haggling over the bloc’s future relationship with
Britain. But on the second day, leaders were able to address a number of
other issues, including the EU’s ties with China, industrial policy and
Some countries, including France, Spain
and the Netherlands, had proposed that leaders agree “an ambitious long-term
strategy by 2020 striving for climate neutrality by 2050” in line with the
Paris accord’s climate warming goal. Climate neutrality would require
countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to the level that can be
absorbed again and is sometimes referred to as “net zero.”
Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic
were among those EU nations reluctant to explicitly cite the year 2050 for
curbing emissions, according to position papers obtained by The
Still, a lead author of the Nobel
Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report on
limiting global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial times said that while
the EU declaration was vague, it addressed important points.
“They sharpened the commitment to 1.5
(Celsius),” said Daniela Jacob, director of the Climate Services Center in
The European Parliament recently voted
in favor of raising the targeted emissions cuts to 55 percent by 2030, but
leaders of the bloc’s 28 members have so far refrained from following suit.
In Norway, which is not an EU member
but cooperates closely with the bloc, local media said at least 36,000
people across the country took part in climate protests Friday. Oslo city
council expressed its support for the approximately 10,000 young people who
had gathered outside the Norwegian Parliament, Stortinget, as part of the
global climate protests by students.
“The school strikes for the climate are
a clear signal from the younger generation that we have to act now,” city
council member Raymond Johansen said. “We are the first generation that can
see the climate changes with our eyes and are probably the last generation
that has the possibility to do something about it.”