Category Archives: space

Astronomers Discover 83 Supermassive Black Holes at the Edge of the Universe

"A team of international astronomers have been hunting for ancient, supermassive black holes -- and they've hit the motherlode, discovering 83 previously unknown quasars," reports CNET: The Japanese team turned the ultra-powerful "Hyper Suprime-Cam", mounted to the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, toward the cosmos' darkest corners, surveying the sky over a period of five years. By studying the snapshots, they've been able to pick potential quasar candidates out of the dark. Notably, their method of probing populations of supermassive black holes that are similar in size to the ones we see in today's universe, has given us a window into their origins. After identifying 83 potential candidates, the team used a suite of international telescopes to confirm their findings. The quasars they've plucked out are from the very early universe, about 13 billion light years away. Practically, that means the researchers are looking into the past, at objects form less than a billion years after the Big Bang. "It is remarkable that such massive dense objects were able to form so soon after the Big Bang," said Michael Strauss, who co-authored the paper, in a press release. Scientists aren't sure how black holes formed in the early universe, so being able to detect them this far back in time provides new avenues of exploration.

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‘Halo Drive’ Would Use Black Holes To Power Spaceships

A new study from researchers at Columbia University in New York suggests future spaceships could use black holes as powerful launch pads to explore the universe. The study "envisions firing laser beams that would curve around a black hole and come back with added energy to help propel a spacecraft to near the speed of light," reports Space.com. "Astronomers could look for signs that alien civilizations are using such a 'halo drive,' as the study dubs it, by seeing if pairs of black holes are merging more often than expected." From the report: Study author David Kipping, an astrophysicist at Columbia University in New York, came up with the idea of the halo drive through what he calls "the gamer's mindset." Using what he called a "halo drive" -- named for the ring of light it would create around a black hole -- Kipping found that even spaceships with the mass of Jupiter could achieve relativistic speeds. "A civilization could exploit black holes as galactic waypoints," he wrote in a study accepted by the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society and detailed online Feb. 28 in the arXiv preprint server. The major drawback of a halo drive would be that "one has to travel to the nearest black hole," Kipping said. "It's akin to paying a one-time toll fee to ride the highway system. You have to pay some energy to reach the nearest access point, but after that, you can ride for free as a long as you like." The halo drive works only in close proximity to a black hole, at a distance of about five to 50 times the black hole's diameter. "This is why you have to travel to the nearest black hole first and [why you] can't simply do this across light-years of space," Kipping said. "We still first require a means to travel to nearby stars to ride the highway system. Kipping is now investigating ways to exploit other astronomical systems for relativistic flight. Such techniques "may not be quite as efficient or fast as the halo-drive approach, but these systems possess the deep energy reserves needed for these journeys," Kipping said.

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