This time spacefans we have the excitement of an image of a black hole, some rocket science, and the sad demise of a spacecraft.
FIRST EVER PICTURE OF A BLACK HOLE
Following on from the discovery of gravitational waves, scientists have been very keen to take pictures of black holes as they are often responsible, but they are elusive beasts, being rather on the dark side! What you see in the now well shared photogragh is in fact its event horizon and was discovered using the unsurprisingly named Event Horizon Telescope. This is an array of telescopes spread out around the world, not just one telescope. They take many images over a period of time and are put together using inferometery that puts all the data together into one picure. Its a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea. The black hole in question is located in the M87 elliptical galaxy 55 million light years away.
“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” Sheperd Doeleman, of Harvard University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said today.
“There’s really a new field to explore,” Peter Galison, a professor of physics and the history of science at Harvard, said in an EHT talk last month at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas. “And that’s ultimately what’s so exciting about this.”
Video Credit: Nature
The amount of data collected by the worldwide team of more than 200 people was phenomenal, with around 1 petabyte gathered per day, hence the length of time its taken to put the image together, plus of course making sure that the data were correct.
“If you’re going to come with a big claim of imaging a black hole, you have to have big evidence, very strong evidence,” Doeleman said at the SXSW event (which served as an explainer of the EHT effort but did not announce any results).
“And on our project, we often think that people like Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington and Karl Schwarzschild are kind of looking over our shoulders,” he added, referring to physicists who helped pioneer our understanding of black holes. “And when you have luminaries kind of virtually checking your work, you really want to get it right.”
Why do this though? Firstly, because we can and secondly, to check if Einstein’s general Theory of relativity needed tweaking. Scientists can in fact predict what they think the event horizon should look like mathematically, so an actual picture will tell them if any revisions are neccessary. So far everything fits those predictions.
“I have to admit, I was a little stunned that it matched so closely the predictions that we had made,” EHT team member Avery Broderick, of the University of Waterloo and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, said during the news conference. “Despite varying across a factor of billion in mass, known black holes are all consistent with a single description,” Broderick said today. “Black holes big and small are analogous in important ways. What we learn from one type necessarily applies to the other.”
We have to of course give big thanks to Dr Katie Bouman who developed the algorithm that put the picture together!
FALCON HEAVY HAS SUCCESSFUL FIRST COMMERCIAL FLIGHT
In a triumph for SpaceX, this is the first time all three rockets landed safely, unlike last time when the core was lost. The craft was lanced to put up an Arabsat communications satellite.
“Arabsat is a 21-member consortium of Arab states, and this satellite is going to be providing communications for the Middle East and North Africa,” Guy Beutelschies, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of commercial satellites, said in an interview with Spaceflight Now before the launch. “So TV, radio, high-definition TV channels, and so forth.”
“This new satellite will strengthen our existing fleet that offers millions of people mobile and landline communications service across the region,” said Khalid Balkheyour, CEO of Arabsat, headquartered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in a press release. “We look forward to completing and launching this state-of-the-art new satellite to offer even greater Internet, television and radio services to our customers.”
Falcon Heavy ranks as the most powerful rocket in the world, with 27 engines creating 5.1 million pounds of thrust—the equivalent of about 18 Boeing 747 aircraft combined, thus it is a massively big beast indeed! If you haven’t watched the launch, you can see it here.
Video Credit: NBC
ISRAELI MOON CRAFT FAILS ON LANDING
The craft, known as Beresheet, almost reached its goal of a soft landing on the Lunar surface, but due to technical problems, suffered what we in the business call ‘lithobreaking’, which never ends well.
“We didn’t make it, but we definitely tried,” said project originator and major backer Morris Kahn. “I think that the achievement of getting to where we got is really tremendous; I think we can be proud,” he said. “We didn’t make it, but at least we tried”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, watching from the control room near Tel Aviv, said: “If at first you don’t succeed, you try again.
The craft was designed to measure the Moon’s magnetism in Mare Serenitatis. It cost a mere $100 million of private funding.