PARIS: Scientists on Thursday unveiled the most detailed simulation of a black hole yet, solving a mystery dating back more than four decades over how the star-devouring monsters consume matter.
Coming fresh on the heels of the first ever photo of one of the giant objects, which are scattered across the Universe, astrophysicists are now several steps closer to understanding how they form and develop.
A black hole is born when a large star collapses in on itself. Far from being a “hole”, they are instead incredibly dense objects with a gravitational pull so strong that nothing, not even light, may escape them.
As they suck in the matter such as gas, dust and space debris, they form an accretion disk — a churning mass of super-accelerated particles that are among the brightest objects in the Universe — around them.
It is the accretion disk that can be seen as a blurry halo around the image of the black hole released in April from the Event Horizon Telescope.
But accretion disks are nearly always tilted at an angle to the orientation of the black hole, known as its equatorial plane.
In 1975, Nobel Prize-winning physicist John Bardeen and astrophysicist Jacobus Petterson theorized that a rotating black hole would cause the inner region of a tilted accretion disk to line up with the black hole’s equatorial plane.
But no model could ever work out how, precisely, that would happen. Until now.
A team of astrophysicists from Northwestern University, Oxford University, and the University of Amsterdam, used graphical processing units to crunch large sets of data and simulate how black holes interact with their accretion disks.
Crucially, their approach gave them the computing power to account for magnetic turbulence, which occurs when different particles churn at different speeds within the accretion disk.
It is precisely this electromagnetic effect that causes matter to fall to the center of the black hole.
Alexander Tchekhovskoy, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, likened matter accumulating near a black hole to throwing a dart towards the board at random.
“If you don’t really aim it will never hit the bullseye,” he said. “In the same way, when (matter) falls into the black hole it has some rotation but this rotation will have nothing generally to do with how the black hole rotates. The two rotations will not know anything about each other.”
Previous simulations manually predicted the additional friction their creators believed was needed to make matter move towards the black hole.
“Whereas now in our model, we don’t have to postulate this friction,” Tchekhovskoy told AFP. “We put in magnetic fields and these actually cause instability that then causes friction and the disk falls in as a result.”
This might seem like a small detail but it directly affects how fast black holes spin and, consequently, what effect they have on the galaxies that surround them.
The simulation, which produces a disk with two jets of gas and magnetic fields protruding from the center like fountains, shows the inner part of the accretion disk aligning perfectly with the black hole’s equator even as the outer part remains at an angle.
“Before now there was a worry that when you take into account all the complications that come with matter interacting with a black hole, such as magnetic fields, the turbulence in the disk, the swirling motions — those things might kill the alignment effect,” said Tchekhovskoy.
“We found that, no, it doesn’t kill it, actually the inner parts of the disk do align with the black hole and we can now more confidently make predictions about how black holes would look.”
World’s highest operating weather stations installed on Mt. Everest
ISLAMABAD: The National Geographic Society has announced the successful installation of the worlds highest operating weather stations on Mount Everest to provide researchers, climbers, and the public with near real-time information about mountain conditions, the media reported.
“The multi-disciplinary team installed the world’s two highest operating automated weather stations at Balcony area (8,430 m) and South Col (7,945 m), as well as three other weather stations on Mount Everest,” Fae Jencks, Director, Marketing and Communications at the National Geographic Society, said in a statement.
The other stations were placed at Phortse (3,810 m), Everest Base Camp (5,315 m) and Camp II (6,464 m), the statement said, adding that each weather station will record data on temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed, and wind direction, The Himalayan Times reported.
Data from the weather stations and other new research conducted as part of National Geographic and Rolex’s Perpetual Planet Extreme Expedition to Everest will help communities respond to climate risks that threaten the lives and livelihoods of the more than one billion people in the region.
The successful installation aims to break new ground in our monitoring and understanding of climate change as the stations will help continuously monitor the upper reaches of the atmosphere, which is critical to tracking and predicting weather patterns around the globe, the statement added.
“The Balcony weather station is the first weather station installed at an elevation above 8,000 meters, meaning it will also be the first to sample the stratosphere as natural variations in the atmospheric boundaries change over time.”
From April to June, an international team of scientists, climbers, and story-tellers, led by the NatGeo Society and Tribhuvan University and supported in partnership with Rolex, conducted a scientific expedition to Everest, believed to be the most comprehensive single scientific expedition to the mountain in history, it claimed.
With team members from eight countries, including 17 Nepali researchers, the expedition team conducted trailblazing research in five areas of science that are critical to understanding environmental changes and their impacts: biology, glaciology, meteorology, geology, and mapping.
Instagram, PlayStation hit with outages
SAN FRANCISCO: An Instagram outage on Thursday left users of the Facebook-owned social network flocking to Twitter to vent frustration.
The website DownDetector.com showed a spike in reports of Instagram being unavailable in the afternoon, nearly hitting 54,000 before diving back down.
“Earlier today, a technical issue caused some people to have trouble accessing their Instagram accounts. We are now fully recovered and apologize for the inconvenience,” an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement.
The company did not elaborate on the cause or extent of the outage.
People using the #instagram hashtag on Twitter posted that attempts to access the service on mobile apps or computers had been met with messages such as “couldn’t refresh feed” or “something went wrong.”
Along with complaints and animated gifs playing on the inconvenience, some offered words of wisdom.
“Imagine if Instagram and social media closed every day at 6 pm like a shop,” read a tweet from the account of @stevebartlettsc.
“We would all be forced to meet up and speak to each other in real life, to be present with our families, to work out, to go outside, to read, to make art, music… eurghhh, nevermind.”
Meanwhile, some gamers trying to access the PlayStation network on Thursday were also met with error messages.
“We’re aware that some users are experiencing issues logging into PSN. Thank you for your patience as we investigate,” the official Ask PlayStation Twitter account said.
According to DownDetector.com, the outages were concentrated in northern Europe and Britain, as well as in several parts of the United States and Brazil.
Facebook says CEO did not ignore personal data issues
SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not knowingly violate an agreement with the regulator supervising the company’s management of users’ personal data, the social media giant said Wednesday as it addressed an issue that has been under federal investigation for the past year.
Facebook was required to provide the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with emails, some from 2012, suggesting that Zuckerberg was personally aware of but neglected to address the fact that external applications had access to massive amounts of personal data without Facebook users’ knowledge, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The newspaper added that it did not have access to the documents but that anonymous sources had described their contents.
“We have fully cooperated with the FTC’s investigation to date and provided tens of thousands of documents, emails and files,” said a Facebook spokesperson.
“At no point did Mark or any other Facebook employee knowingly violate the company’s obligations under the FTC consent order nor do any emails exist that indicate they did.”
The FTC reopened investigations into whether Facebook violated a 2011 settlement with the regulator on protecting user data following revelations last year that personal data from tens of millions of users was hijacked by the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica as it worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
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