Back Hole gobbles suns — This bloated supermassive black hole has an equally bloated name, QSO SMSS J215728.21-360215.1, or J2157-3602 for short. At 12 billion light-years away, it’s not close, so we’re observing this bright behemoth not as it is today, but as it existed some four billion years after the Big Bang.
Observations show that J2157-3602 is the size of about 20 billion suns, and it’s growing at a rate of 1 per cent every million years. Every two days, this black hole devours a mass equivalent to our Sun, gobbling up dust, gas, bits of celestial debris, and whatever else it can suck in using its powerful gravitational influence.
~ ‘J2157-3602’ for short? I prefer Ancient Sun Gobbler.
Ninth planet — Astronomers have realised that the motions of the objects past our eighth planet, Neptune, imply the existence of the ninth planet we deserve (compared to demoted Pluto, which is smaller than our moon). The theorised planet would be 10 times the mass of the Earth and take a long, eccentric orbit around the Sun. And just this week, scientists reported another strangely moving rock that bolsters the evidence for a ninth planet’s existence.
The new object, called 2015 BP519, takes an elliptical journey around the Sun spanning from 35 to 862 times the radius of Earth’s own orbit. But while the eight known planets orbit the Sun on the same plane, like slot cars on concentric tracks, 2015 BP519 orbits at a 54-degree angle to that plane.
~ Poor Pluto, you were just too little.
Mars helicopter — NASA will be testing heavier-than-air flight on Mars by sending a miniature robot helicopter with the upcoming Mars 2020 rover.
The four-pound helicopter’s rotors will spin at 3000rpms, 10 times faster than helicopters here on Earth, according to a NASA release. That’s because the Martian atmosphere is only about 1% the density of Earth’s.
~ Well, it sounds more like a drone to me. Speaking of which …
Robo-sailboats — A start-up in California called Saildrone has built a fleet of robotic sailboats to gather tons of data about the oceans. The saildrones (main picture, above) rely on a hard, carbon-fibre sail to catch wind, and solar panels to power all of their electronics and sensors. Each drone carries at least US$100,000 of electronics, batteries, and related gear. Devices near the tip of the sail measure wind speed and direction, sunlight, air temperature and pressure, and humidity. Across the top of the drone’s body, other electronics track wave height and period, carbon dioxide levels, and the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field. Underwater, sensors monitor currents, dissolved oxygen levels, and water temperature, acidity, and salinity. Sonars and other acoustic instruments try to identify animal life.
~ Hopefully they also have ship avoidance equipment.
Flying robot-insect — One of the RoboBee’s creators has helped develop RoboFly, which flies without a tether. Slightly heavier than a toothpick, RoboFly was designed by a team at the University of Washington. One member of that team, assistant professor Sawyer Fuller, was also part of the Harvard University team that first created RoboBee. That flying robot receives its power via a wire attached to an external power source, as an onboard battery would simply be too heavy to allow the tiny craft to fly, but instead of a wire or a battery, RoboFly is powered by a laser.
That laser shines on a photovoltaic cell is mounted on top of the robot. That cell converts the laser light to just seven volts of electricity, so a built-in circuit boosts that to the 240 volts needed to flap the wings. That circuit also contains a microcontroller, which tells the robot when and how to flap its wings – on RoboBee, that sort of ‘thinking’ is handled via a tether-linked external controller.
~ It’s slightly larger than a real fly.
Tesla power for Europe — Tesla has unveiled a new large Powerpack energy storage project to be used as a virtual power plant for grid-balancing in Europe. It consists of 140 Powerpacks and several Tesla inverters for a total power output of 18.2 MW. Instead of using gas generators and steam turbines kicking to compensate for losses of power on the grid, Tesla’s batteries are charged when there’s excess power and then discharge when there’s a need for more power.
~ Hopefully they’ll make some money for the scattershot genius.
100,000 gamers prove Einstein wrong — On 30 November 2016, around 100,000 people all over the world logged online and played a video game. The physics that govern the most basic aspects of our universe relies on maths that seems to work really well, but one concept, quantum entanglement, can seem downright upsetting. Entanglement confounded Einstein because of the way it seems to instantly send information faster than the speed of light. Einstein thought perhaps there were some hidden variables that would explain the entanglement without superluminal travel – if you just knew more about a quantum system, you’d be able to predict the properties of two entangled particles.
But the new experiment lead by Morgan Mitchell from the Institut de Ciències Fotòniques in Spain, called the BIG Bell Test, demonstrated that, sorry Einstein, your idea wasn’t right.
~ Because Quantum Mechanics is just weird.
Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome polluted, and the evidence is in Greenland — By drilling deep into Greenland’s ice sheet, an interdisciplinary team of researchers has chronicled the industrial waste produced by the ancient Greeks and Romans over a 1900-year period, linking pollution to economic booms, wars, and even plagues.
An indelible aspect of the ancient Greek and Roman economies involved the mining and smelting of lead and silver ores. The resulting emissions drifted up into the atmosphere, travelled thousands of miles, and eventually settled onto Greenland’s frozen surface. In a cyclical process that lasted for centuries, snow and ice covered this lead pollution, creating numerous sedimentary layers, and by consequence, a geological record extending for hundreds of feet into the ice.
~ Jeeze, imagine the mess our era has left a few layers above, then!