Aug 20, 2019

A black hole eats a neutron star

The LIGO detector in Louisiana. Photo: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

Astronomers think they've detected the ripples in space and time sent out by a black hole and neutron star colliding.

The big picture: Scientists have detected gravitational waves sent out by 2 black holes merging and 2 neutron stars merging, but if confirmed, this will be the first detection of a black hole and neutron star colliding.

Why it matters: Astronomers hope that the Aug. 14 detection will help them learn more about both black holes and neutron stars, the super dense remnants of dead stars.

Details: Researchers aren't yet sure of the exact size of the black hole or neutron star that sent out the gravitational waves, but further analysis could help determine the masses of the two objects.

  • "[W]e're very confident that we've just detected a black hole gobbling up a neutron star," physicist Susan Scott, of Australian National University, said in a statement.
  • “However, there is the slight but intriguing possibility that the swallowed object was a very light black hole — much lighter than any other black hole we know about in the universe. That would be a truly awesome consolation prize.”

How it works: The two LIGO detectors in Washington state and Louisiana and the Virgo detector in Italy are responsible for listening for gravitational waves emitted by cosmic crashes as they move through our part of space.

  • The sensitive L-shaped observatories use lasers to pick up the moment that the ripples pass through Earth, slightly warping everything they pass through as they go.

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Event Horizon Telescope hopes to produce first-ever moving image of a black hole

The first-ever photo of a black hole. Photo: EHT Collaboration

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration hopes to produce the first-ever moving image of a black hole by the end of the 2020s.

Why it matters: Still images of black holes can give scientists a lot of information about the mysterious and fundamental objects. But videos can help them drill into the details of how black holes consume matter and affect the galaxies they find themselves within, EHT project director Shep Doeleman said.

Go deeperArrowSep 10, 2019

Exclusive: MIT and Jeffrey Epstein's billionaire enablers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Jeffrey Epstein story is going to far outlive Jeffrey Epstein, as is evidenced by Ronan Farrow's latest blockbuster report in the New Yorker about the criminal’s secret ties to the MIT Media Lab, as well as by MIT president Rafael Reif’s latest revelations about the number of university officials who knew about Epstein’s donations.

Why it matters: These raise a lot of questions about the billionaires in Epstein's circle, especially Leon Black and Bill Gates. My reporting, below, answers at least some of them.

Go deeperArrowSep 12, 2019

$21.6 million awarded to scientists for Breakthrough Prizes

The team behind the first photo of a black hole received a $3 million Breakthrough Prize. Photo: EHT Collaboration

The $3 million Breakthrough Prizes were awarded to researchers working at the forefront of math, physics and life sciences — including the scientists behind the first-ever photo taken of a black hole.

Why it matters: Scientists often work on the fringes of popular consciousness, but prizes like these are designed to help bring their discoveries to the public by celebrating their accomplishments.

Go deeperArrowSep 5, 2019