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Chris Hadfield
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Astrophysicists discover why black holes and neutron stars shine bright

Researchers find what causes the glow coming from the densest objects in our universe.

Astrophysicists discover why black holes and neutron stars shine bright

Crab Nebula.

Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester (Arizona State University)
  • Columbia University astrophysicists discovered the cause of the unusual glow coming from regions of space with black holes and neutron stars.
  • The researchers ran some of the largest computer simulations ever to reach their conclusions.
  • They found that turbulence and reconnection of super-strong magnetic fields are responsible for the light.


Demonstrating again that space is a limitless reservoir of scientific wonders, a new study discovered why areas hosting black holes and neutron stars emit strange bright glows. Astrophysicists found that turbulence and reconnection of super-strong magnetic fields are behind the cosmic mystery.

The cause of the phenomenon, which illuminates these super-dense parts of space, has been attributed previously to high-energy electromagnetic radiation. Scientists speculated that it's created by electrons moving at just about the speed of light. The new study from researchers at Columbia University explained why these particles accelerate.

Astrophysicists Luca Comisso and Lorenzo Sironi carried out the research by running some of the largest super-computer simulations ever conducted in this area. They managed to calculate the trajectories of hundreds of billions of charged particles.

Comiso, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia, explained their conclusion:

"Turbulence and magnetic reconnection—a process in which magnetic field lines tear and rapidly reconnect—conspire together to accelerate particles, boosting them to velocities that approach the speed of light," said Comisso in a press release.

As Comiso further described, the space region that is home to black holes and neutron stars is also full of a super-hot gas of charged particles. Their chaotic motion affects magnetic field lines and results in "vigorous magnetic reconnection". This, in turn, creates an electric field which accelerates particles to energies that are "much higher than in the most powerful accelerators on Earth, like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN," added Comisso.

Amazing astronomy: How neutron stars create ripples in space-time

Interestingly, the simulations showed that the particles gathered most of their energy through the process of random bouncing at super-high speeds.

"This is indeed the radiation emitted around black holes and neutron stars that make them shine, a phenomenon we can observe on Earth," said Sironi, the study's principal investigator and an assistant professor of astronomy at Columbia.

Next, the scientists plan to confirm their findings by comparing them to the electromagnetic spectrum from the Crab Nebula, a bright remnant of a supernova.

You can check out the study published in the December issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

A massive super-computer simulation demonstrates the strong particle density fluctuations that happen in the extreme turbulent environments home to black holes and neutron stars. The dark blue regions are low particle density regions, and the yellow regions are over-dense regions. Particles are accelerated to extremely high speeds from interacting with turbulence fluctuations.

Credit: Luca Comisso and Lorenzo Sironi

Take your career to the next level by raising your EQ

Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.

Gear
  • 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.
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Yale scientists restore cellular function in 32 dead pig brains

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
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Here’s a map of Mars with as much water as Earth

A 71% wet Mars would have two major land masses and one giant 'Medimartian Sea.'

Just imagine: a Mars that's as wet as Earth.

Image: A.R. Bhattarai, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Maps
  • Sci-fi visions of Mars have changed over time, in step with humanity's own obsessions.
  • Once the source of alien invaders, the Red Planet is now deemed ripe for terraforming.
  • Here's an extreme example: Mars with exactly as much surface water as Earth.
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The entrepreneur's guide to success: Follow these tips

Starting and running a business takes more than a good idea and the desire to not have a boss.

Videos
  • Anyone can start a business and be an entrepreneur, but the reality is that most businesses will fail. Building something successful from the ground up takes hard work, passion, intelligence, and a network of people who are equally as smart and passionate as you are. It also requires the ability to accept and learn from your failures.
  • In this video, entrepreneurs in various industries including 3D printing, fashion, hygiene, capital investments, aerospace, and biotechnology share what they've learned over the years about relationships, setting and attaining goals, growth, and what happens when things don't go according to plan.
  • "People who start businesses for the exit, most of them will fail because there's just no true passion behind it," says Miki Agrawal, co-founder of THINX and TUSHY. A key point of Agrawal's advice is that if you can't see yourself in something for 10 years, you shouldn't do it.

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