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Black holes, quasars & supernova: The most astounding phenomenon in outer space
Everything you wanted to know about black holes, supernova, and quasars but were afraid to ask.
In the vast outreach of space, there exist cosmic events so unbelievably strange and powerful, they’ve changed the way we view the universe and ourselves in it. The inhuman distances make dimensional and spatial comparison difficult to accomplish. But that hasn’t stopped us from looking out into the stars and trying to make sense of it all. Over the past nearly three decades, we’ve used the Hubble Space Telescope to look out into the universe.
Current estimates for some time have pointed to there being some 100 - 200 billion galaxies in our observable universe. Some astrophysicists believe that this could be underselling the real estate of the cosmos and think that there could actually be 2 trillion galaxies in total. Either way, the observable universe as we know it is unfathomably big, and that’s without taking into account string theory and other possible dimensions. Within this great universe nestled in the heart of faraway galaxies and outer rims of places millions upon billions of light years away, we look into some of the most fascinating phenomena in outer space. The quasar pistons that fire off from the mysterious black hole engines of your universe, cascading and dying stars that shine brighter than a whole galaxy for a few universal moments; these are the giants of the macrocosm.
Black holes and the quasar blast
Black holes are objects that have an incredible amount of mass and density, so much that not even light can escape the confines of its gravity. The theory of black holes’ existence has been around for nearly two centuries. While it’s still impossible to directly see a black hole, the advent of space telescopes with special tools allowed us to detect them. We’re able to find black holes due to the effects of gravitational attraction on the stars and planets around them. Scientists have proved that there is most likely a supermassive black hole at the center of every galaxy.
Black holes come in varying sizes. Some can be as small as a single atom, but its mass as dense as a mountain range. Stellar black holes are around the mass of our Sun, these are usually created when a large star explodes in a supernova. Supermassive black holes are many million times the mass of the Sun.
One of the latest natures of black holes to be discovered was the blast of star-like objects emitting from galactic centers. This is the quasar, which is a jetlike stream of energy in epic proportion compared to other space objects around it. These two occurrences in the universe go hand-in-hand. Hubble has been able to get a better grasp on both supermassive black holes and quasars. Some black holes are 3 billion times the mass of the Sun with equally powerful quasars jets and glowing discs of material surrounding it. European Space Agency (ESA) astronomer Duccio Macchetto stated that:
"Hubble provided strong evidence that all galaxies contain black holes millions or billions of times heavier than our sun. This has quite dramatically changed our view of galaxies. I am convinced that Hubble over the next ten years will find that black holes play a much more important role in the formation and evolution of galaxies than we believe today. Who knows, it may even influence our picture of the whole structure of the Universe...?"
For a long time, one of the most perplexing questions in astrophysics was the mechanism behind quasars which are intrinsically linked with these black holes. Short for “quasi-stellar radio source,” a quasar is one of the brightest known objects in the universe. Some are believed to produce 10 to 100 times more energy than the entire Milky Way in a space confined to the size of our solar system.
A majority of quasars are billions of lightyears away from earth and are monitored by measuring the spectrum of their light. While we don’t know the exact operations behind a quasar, we do have a few ideas. Current scientific consensus leads to astronomers to agreeing that quasars are produced by supermassive black holes which are consuming the matter around them. As the matter is sucked into the hole and spins around, large amounts of radiation in the form of x-rays, visible light rays, gamma rays and radio waves are blasted off. This type of churning chaotic friction created by the gravitational pull and stresses then erupts and the escaping energy forms the quasar. The connections between quasars and black holes are intrinsically linked. Supernovas are also responsible for the creation of black holes. The way that all of this adds up is slowly coming together as scientists and astronomers put the cosmic pieces in their place.
Historical discoveries of quasars and supernova
Quasars were discovered in 1963 by Caltech astronomer Maarten Schmidt, this discovery was instrumental in supporting the Big Bang theory. Schmidt spotted the first quasar while working at the Mt. Palomar Observatory. It was at first mistaken for a star as it was billions of light years away. Thanks to the telescopes at Mount Palomar at this time and the advances in radio astronomy, the universe was beginning to become a lot bigger of a place –nearly increasing tenfold at the time.
Maarten Schmidt was studying radio waves emitting from something called Source 3C 273. He thought it peculiar that the radio signals seemed to be coming from a star. The spectrum produced bright spectral lines and hydrogen gas emissions that were shifting into different wavelengths. Redshift and blueshift describe how lights shift towards different wavelengths to determine if the objects are moving closer or further away from us.
Hubble's Law states that:
“An object with that red shift must be located billions of light-years away. It must be brighter than a million galaxies to appear as bright as a star at that great distance.”
This would lead to 3C 273 becoming known as the first quasar. Following this discovery, many more quasars throughout the universe would be found – some even further away than 3C 273. As we gazed back in time, scientists garnered further evidence for the big bang and were able to chart out the history of younger galaxies in the early universe.
But this wasn’t the first time that distant objects in the night sky were mistaken for stars. Various times in human history, even before the telescope was invented – humans discovered supernova which they mistook for regular stars.
A supernova is an exceedingly bright start that lasts for only a moment in time. It is the end of a star’s life. A supernova can briefly outshine a whole galaxy and produce more energy than the Sun in a matter of moments. NASA considers the supernova to be the largest explosion that takes place in space.
One of the first recorded supernovas was logged in 185 A.D. by Chinese astronomers. It’s currently called the RCW 86. According to their records, the star stayed in the sky for eight months. There have been a total of seven recorded supernovas before telescopes according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
One famous supernova that we know today as the Crab Nebula, was seen throughout the world around 1054. Korean astronomers recorded this explosion in their records and Native Americans may have been inspired by it according to their rock paintings dated to that time. The supernova was so bright that it could be seen during the day.
The term supernova was first used in the 1930s, by Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky when they witnessed an exploding star called S ANdromedae or SN 1885A.
A supernova is the death of a star and there are a whole lot of stars in the universe. On average, it’s predicted that a supernova occurs once every 50 years in a galaxy like the Milky Way. That means that a star is likely exploding every second somewhere in the universe.
How a star dies depends on the size of it. For example, the Sun isn’t large enough to explode and become a supernova at the end of its lifetime. It will, on the other hand, grow into a red giant at the end of its lifetime in a couple of billion years. Stars go supernova accordingly to their mass, there are two types of ways a star can do this.
Type I Supernova: A star gathers matter from nearby neighbors and causes a runaway nuclear reaction which ignites its explosion.
Type II Supernova: A star runs out of nuclear fuel and then collapses upon itself, usually causing a black hole.
Scientists are getting better at witnessing these types of events. In 2008, astronomers witnessed the initial act of the explosion. For years they’d predicted an outburst of X-rays, which was confirmed as they watched the evolution of the explosion right from the start.
As our telescopes grow larger and become more advanced, we will be able to dive into the secrets and intricacies that these phenomenon display. They may be distant but are important to understanding the pillars and foundations of what holds up our universe.
Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.
- Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
- One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
- EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
The achievement is an important milestone in quantum computing, Google's scientists said.
- Sycamore is a quantum computer that Google has spent years developing.
- Like traditional computers, quantum computers produce binary code, but they do so while utilizing unique phenomena of quantum mechanics.
- It will likely be years before quantum computing has applications in everyday technology, but the recent achievement is an important proof of concept.
How quantum computers differ from traditional computers<p>Like traditional computers, quantum computers produce binary code to execute computing functions. But instead of using transistors to represent the ones and zeroes, as traditional computers do, quantum computers like Sycamore use quantum bits, or "qubits."</p><p>Qubits are extremely tiny pieces of hardware that act like subatomic particles, utilizing quantum phenomena like entanglement, superposition, and interference. Qubits can represent ones and zeroes. But thanks to superposition, qubits are also able to represent multiple states at the same time, meaning they can make calculations much faster than traditional computers. That's what helped Sycamore recently outperform a supercomputer.</p><p>Sycamore achieved "quantum supremacy," which occurs when a quantum computer can do something that a traditional computer cannot. To pass this benchmark, Google engineers pit Sycamore against the world's leading supercomputer, Summit, which is housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.</p><p>"Summit is currently the world's leading supercomputer, capable of carrying out about 200 million billion operations per second," William Oliver, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote in a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03173-4" target="_blank">"News and Views" piece</a> for <em>Nature</em>.</p><p>But the contest between Sycamore and Summit involved a highly specific task, one that was specifically designed to give a competitive edge to a quantum computer like Sycamore.</p>
Beating the world's leading supercomputer<p>The task involved estimating how likely it was that a processor would produce some "bitstrings" more often than others. As you continue to add information to the equation, it becomes exponentially difficult for traditional computers to conduct the calculations. (You can read more about the experiment <a href="https://ai.googleblog.com/2019/10/quantum-supremacy-using-programmable.html" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p><p>"We performed a fixed set of operations that entangles 53 qubits into a complex superposition state," Ben Chiaro, a graduate student researcher in the Martinis Group, which conducted the experiment, told <em><a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191023133358.htm" target="_blank">Science Daily</a></em>. "This superposition state encodes the probability distribution. For the quantum computer, preparing this superposition state is accomplished by applying a sequence of tens of control pulses to each qubit in a matter of microseconds. We can prepare and then sample from this distribution by measuring the qubits a million times in 200 seconds."</p><p>"For classical computers, it is much more difficult to compute the outcome of these operations because it requires computing the probability of being in any one of the 2^53 possible states, where the 53 comes from the number of qubits -- the exponential scaling is why people are interested in quantum computing to begin with," Brooks Foxen, another graduate student researcher in the Martinis Group, told <em>Science Daily</em>. "This is done by matrix multiplication, which is expensive for classical computers as the matrices become large."</p><p>But the specific nature of this task has led some to question the utility of quantum computers like Sycamore.</p><p>"One criticism we've heard a lot is that we cooked up this contrived benchmark problem—[Sycamore] doesn't do anything useful yet," Hartmut Neven, a Google engineering director said at a press event on Wednesday. "That's why we like to compare it to a Sputnik moment. Sputnik didn't do much either. All it did was circle Earth. Yet it was the start of the Space Age."</p>
A proof of concept for quantum computing<p>Although it could be decades until we see quantum computing powering everyday devices, Sycamore serves as a proof of concept that there exists a form of computing that has the potential to be vastly superior to traditional computing.</p><p>"This demonstration of quantum supremacy over today's leading classical algorithms on the world's fastest supercomputers is truly a remarkable achievement and a milestone for quantum computing," Oliver wrote in his piece for <em>Nature</em>. "It experimentally suggests that quantum computers represent a model of computing that is fundamentally different from that of classical computers. It also further combats criticisms about the controllability and viability of quantum computation in an extraordinarily large computational space (containing at least the 253 states used here)."</p>
A study published Friday tested how well 14 commonly available face masks blocked the emission of respiratory droplets as people were speaking.
- The study tested the efficacy of popular types of face masks, including N95 respirators, bandanas, cotton-polypropylene masks, gaiters, and others.
- The results showed that N95 respirators were most effective, while wearing a neck fleece (aka gaiter) actually produced more respiratory droplets than wearing no mask at all.
- Certain types of homemade masks seem to be effective at blocking the spread of COVID-19.
Fischer et al.<p>A smartphone camera recorded video of the participants, and a computer algorithm counted the number of droplets they emitted. To establish a control trial, the participants spoke into the box both with and without a mask. And to make sure that the droplets weren't in fact dust from the masks, the team conducted more tests by "repeatedly puffing air from a bulb through the masks."</p>
Fischer et al.<p>The results, published Friday in <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/08/07/sciadv.abd3083" target="_blank">Science Advances</a>, showed that some masks are pretty much useless. In particular, neck fleeces (also called gaiters) actually produced more respiratory droplets compared to the control trial — likely because the fabric breaks down big droplets into smaller ones.</p><p>The top three most effective masks were N95 respirators, surgical masks, and polypropylene-cotton masks. Bandanas performed the worst, but were slightly better than wearing no mask at all.</p>
Fischer et al.<p>Research on mask efficacy is still emerging. But the new results seem to generally align with <a href="https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2020/04/Testing-Shows-Type-of-Cloth-Used-in-Homemade-Masks-Makes-a-Difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">prior tests</a>. For example, a study from June published in <a href="https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/5.0016018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Physics of Fluid</a> found that bandanas (followed by folded handkerchiefs) were least effective at blocking respiratory droplets. That same study also found, as <a href="https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2020/04/Testing-Shows-Type-of-Cloth-Used-in-Homemade-Masks-Makes-a-Difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">others have</a>, that masks made from multiple layers of quilter's fabric were especially effective at blocking droplets.</p><p>The researchers hope other institutions will conduct similar experiments so the public can see how well different masks can block the spread of COVID-19.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is a very powerful visual tool to raise awareness that a very simple masks, like these homemade cotton masks, do really well to stop the majority of these respiratory droplets," Fischer told CNN. "Companies and manufacturers can set this up and test their mask designs before producing them, which would also be very useful."</p>
Sharing QAnon disinformation is harming the children devotees purport to help.
- The conspiracy theory, QAnon, is doing more harm than good in the battle to end child trafficking.
- Foster youth expert, Regan Williams, says there are 25-29k missing children every year, not 800k, as marketed by QAnon.
- Real ways to help abused children include donating to nonprofits, taking educational workshops, and becoming a foster parent.
Real ways you can help stop child trafficking<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21fc2dc85391501eec28c4bf46d7db15"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/AXL0q9jNZGU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Williams is the founder and CEO of <a href="http://www.seenandheard.org/" target="_blank">Seen and Heard</a>, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps foster youth develop character through the performing arts. She's been involved with foster youth for years; I <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/child-sex-trafficking" target="_self">wrote about her work</a> in child trafficking just over a year ago. Tragically, since that time, the situation for these children has only gotten worse, in large part because of QAnon.</p><p>Williams says child trafficking is an easy cause to rally people together. Fear is also a powerful unifying force, one that QAnon believers are already primed for via the news they consume. Almost every parent cares about their children, making them the ideal target to solidify groups. </p><p>The real problem, she says, is that the youth she works with are falling for these conspiracy theories. Trauma is a particularly powerful tool for indoctrination. If you're a teenager that's been abducted or abused, your trust level is already extremely low. Then you read about a global cabal of powerful men (and a few women) secretly abusing children, and the narrative seems ready-made for your personal history.</p><p>When Williams tried to "lovingly and kindly correct" the youth she was working with after learning about the Wayfair conspiracy, the girls' response was, "well, who owns the media?" </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"She goes from this small little thing to a QAnon talking point. I've been thinking about why she would believe such a preposterous idea—and there are others; it's not just one student, and they're in in deep. I think that when something horrific happens to you as a child, it's a lot easier to distance yourself from the immediate reality that it was an uncle or a parent or a sibling that hurt you. By detaching from that immediate person, they project it onto Bill Gates or Chrissy Teigen. Then it's not so personal, it's global." </p>
A man wear a shirt with the words Q Anon as he attends a rally for President Donald Trump at the Make America Great Again Rally being held in the Florida State Fair Grounds Expo Hall on July 31, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images<p>As Williams mentions, there are over 30,000 kids in foster care in the Los Angeles area alone. It's easy to fall through the cracks. The systems in place aren't perfect; they're certainly underfunded. When you're in a system trying to support you yet isn't capable of doing so, viewing the world as imperfect, and even harmful, becomes the lens through which you see reality. Again, this makes for a perfect indoctrination tool.</p><p>One popular QAnon talking point is that 800,000 children are missing. As Williams says, child trafficking experts "don't buy this for a minute." The number makes for a good meme but a poor representation of the problem. </p><p>To source better data, Williams turns to the <a href="https://www.missingkids.org/" target="_blank">National Center for Missing and Exploited Children</a> (NCMEC) and the <a href="https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/ncic" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">National Crime Information Center</a> (NCIC). An important factor when reading data: if a teacher <em>and</em> a caregiver report a missing child to NCIC, that counts as two children, not one, which accounts for some of the fluctuations in numbers. In total, between 25,000 and 29,000 kids go missing every year. Importantly, 94 percent of those children are recovered within four to six weeks. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They're not documenting the recovery rate. It's not like these numbers are perpetually hanging out there. So this 800,000 number is just ludicrous." </p><p>Williams compares what's going on to Black Lives Matter. Blacking out your Instagram profile picture is performative. It signals that you actually care, which is great, but if you're not supporting Black-owned businesses, for example, there are no teeth to your activism. </p><p>Of course, blacking out your profile doesn't cause the real-world harm the QAnon virus does. Sharing misinformation is ultimately harmful to the children in need of help. Williams offers the resources below—ranging from donations to nonprofits to educational trainings to becoming a foster parent—for people that actually want to do something to help victims of sexual and physical abuse. They might not make a great Twitter meme, but in the actual world, this support makes all the difference. </p><p><strong>To report abuse/neglect, call the child abuse hotline: 800.540.4000 (LA county) / 800.422.4453 (National)</strong></p><ul><li>Support anti-trafficking organizations by donating to <a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://savinginnocence.org/" target="_blank">Saving Innocence</a>, which runs the continuum of care from rescue to recovery, <a href="http://gozoe.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Zoe</a>, a reputable faith-based organization, and <a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="https://withtwowings.org/" target="_blank">Two Wings</a>, which helps to rehabilitate female survivors</li><li><a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://www.nolabrantleyspeaks.org/" target="_blank">Nola Brantley</a> offers in-person and online trainings to help combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children</li><li><a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://instagram.com/imrebeccabender" target="_blank">Rebecca Bender</a> is a trafficking survivor that runs "Myth Busters," which combats conspiracy theory disinformation</li><li>The <a href="https://www.instagram.com/missingkids/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">National Center</a> of Missing and Exploited Children</li><li>Operation <a href="https://www.instagram.com/ourrescue/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Underground Railroad </a></li><li><a href="https://www.instagram.com/defendinnocence/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Defend Innocence</a> offers tips for parents and caregivers to keep kids safe</li></ul><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>