A New Way to Measure the Rotation of Black Holes

Sometimes, astronomers get lucky and catch an event they can watch to see how the properties of some of the most massive objects in the universe evolve. That happened in February 2020, when a team of international astronomers led by Dheeraj (DJ) Pasham at MIT found one particular kind of exciting event that helped them track the speed at which a supermassive black hole was spinning for the first time.

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Black Holes are Firing Beams of Particles, Changing Targets Over Time

Black holes seem to provide endless fascination to astronomers. This is at least partly due to the extreme physics that takes place in and around them, but sometimes, it might harken back to cultural touchpoints that made them interested in astronomy in the first place. That seems to be the case for the authors of a new paper on the movement of jets coming out of black holes. Dubbing them “Death Star” black holes, researchers used data from the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) and the Chandra X-ray Observatory to look at where these black holes fired jets of superheated particles. And over time the found they did something the fiction Death Star could also do – move.

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Marvel at the Variety of Planets Found by TESS Already

The hunt for new exoplanets continues. On May 23rd, an international collaboration of scientists published the NASA TESS-Keck Catalog, an effort to publicly release over 9000 radial velocity measurements collected by NASA’s space-based Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the ground-based Keck Observatory, located in Hawai’i, and the Automated Planet Finder, located at the Lick Observatory in California. An accompanying analysis of these validated 32 new planetary candidates and found the masses of 126 confirmed planets and candidates with a wide range of masses and orbits. Let’s dig into some details.

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A New Venus-Sized World Found in the Habitable Zone of its Star

The parade of interesting new exoplanets continues. Today, NASA issued a press release announcing the discovery of a new exoplanet in the Gliese 12 system, sized somewhere between Earth and Venus and inside the host star’s habitable zone. Two papers detail the discovery, but both teams think that the planet is an excellent candidate for follow-up with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to try to tease out whether it has an atmosphere and, if so, what that atmosphere is made of.

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Finding The Age Of A Contact Binary “Moon”

There are millions of asteroids floating around the solar system. With so many of them, it should be no surprise that some are weirdly configured. A recent example of one of these weird configurations was discovered when Lucy, NASA’s mission to the Trojan asteroids, passed by a main-belt asteroid called Dinkinesh. It found that Dinkinesh had a “moon” – and that moon was a “contact binary”. Now known as Selam, it is made up of two objects that physically touch one another through gravity but aren’t fully merged into one another. Just how and when such an unexpected system might have formed is the subject of a new paper by Colby Merrill, a graduate researcher at Cornell, and their co-authors at the University of Colorado and the University of Bern.

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After Swirling Around a Black Hole, Matter Just Falls Straight In

On the left, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows Cygnus X-1, outlined in a red box. Cygnus X-1 is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. An artist's illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. New studies with data from Chandra and several other telescopes have determined the black hole's spin, mass, and distance with unprecedented accuracy.

The physics surrounding black holes is just plain weird. A gravitational well so strong that not even light can escape can do some pretty strange things to normal matter. Over the decades, plenty of theories have been put forward about what those strange things might be. And now, a new paper from physicists at the University of Oxford has proved that, once again, Einstein’s theory of gravity was right. 

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New Shepard’s 25th Launch Carries Six to the Edge of Space and Back

Sending tourists to space is still relatively novel in the grand scheme of humanity’s journey to the stars. Dennis Tito took the first-ever paid trip in 2001, but since then, plenty of others have journeyed to the heavens. Increasingly, they’ve done so via systems developed by private companies. On Sunday, May 19th, Blue Origin, originally founded by Jeff Bezos to pursue his dreams of humanity’s future in space, successfully launched its seventh crewed mission – this time containing six first-time astronauts, including one that waited a long time for his day in space.

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Scientists Test for Quantum Gravity

The tension between quantum mechanics and relativity has long been a central split in modern-day physics. Developing a theory of quantum gravity remains one of the great outstanding challenges of the discipline. And yet, no one has yet been able to do it. But as we collect more data, it shines more light on the potential solution, even if some of that data happens to show negative results.

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Gravitational Lenses Could Pin Down Black Hole Mergers with Unprecedented Accuracy

Gravitational wave astronomy has been one of the hottest new types of astronomy ever since the LIGO consortium officially detected the first gravitational wave (GW) back in 2016. Astronomers were excited about the number of new questions that could be answered using this sensing technique that had never been considered before. But a lot of the nuance of the GWs that LIGO and other detectors have found in the 90 gravitational wave candidates they have found since 2016 is lost. 

Researchers have a hard time determining which galaxy a gravitational wave comes from. But now, a new paper from researchers in the Netherlands has a strategy and developed some simulations that could help narrow down the search for the birthplace of GWs. To do so, they use another darling of astronomers everywhere—gravitational lensing.

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Some Clever Ways to Search for Primordial Black Holes

Primordial Black Holes (PBHs) have recently received much attention in the physics community. One of the primary reasons is the potential link to dark matter. In effect, if PBHs can be proven to exist, there’s a very good chance that they are what dark matter, the invisible thing that makes up 85% of the universe’s mass, is made of. If proven, that would surely be a Nobel-level discovery in astrophysics. 

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