'Mirach's Origin

Origin of ‘Mirach’s Ghost’ perplexes black hole scientists –

On the left is Mirach's Ghost as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. On the right, Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) data reveals unprecedented detail of swirling gas in the same region.

On the left is Mirach’s Ghost as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. On the right, Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) data reveals unprecedented detail of swirling gas in the same region.

(Image: © Cardiff University)

 About 10 million light-years from Earth, a blurry galaxy named Mirach’s Ghost may help unravel a dark mystery:  where the largest black holes in the universe came from. But this ghostly galaxy has also deepened the mystery surrounding these objects’ births.

A black hole is a singularity, a region in space-time where matter has gotten too dense to sustain itself, and collapsed into a formless point. Supermassive black holes (SMBHs) are cosmic monsters, often weighing billions of times the mass of our sun, as compared to the mass of heavy stars that form ordinary black holes. They sit at the centers of large galaxies, sucking up gas and whipping stars around with their immense gravities. There’s one at the center of the Milky Way and an even larger one at the center of the Virgo A galaxy that astronomers have photographed. But it’s still not clear how these mammoth objects formed.

Physicists think there are two possibilities: Maybe SMBHs are ancient features of the universe, objects that directly collapsed out of the hot mass streaming through space after the Big Bang. Or perhaps they formed like every other black hole in the universe: as a result of the detonations of dying stars. If the latter explanation were correct, SMBHs would have started small and picked up additional mass over the course of eons by gobbling up dust and other stars.

Related: 9 facts about black holes that will blow your mind

“The problem is that in either case most black holes have grown significantly since their birth, swallowing up clouds of gas and dust that swirl around them,” said Timothy Davis, an astrophysicist at Cardiff University in Wales. “This makes them heavier and makes it difficult to determine the mass they began their lives with.”

So Davis and his colleagues went looking for the smallest SMBHs they could find.

These small-supermassives, he told Live Science, “have not had the chance to consume large amounts of material in their past, [so in studying them we are] getting close to revealing how SMBHs must have looked when they were formed.”

The researchers studied the SMBH at the center of the galaxy “Mirach’s Ghost” (so named because from Earth the galaxy looks like an apparition near the star Mirach), using a new technique to determine its mass.

Related: The biggest unsolved mysteries in physics

Relying on data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, the researchers measured the speed of carbon monoxide gas as it swirled toward the SMBH at the center of the Mirach’s Ghost galaxy.

“Just like water going around a plug-hole, this gas goes faster and faster as it approaches the black hole,” Davis said.

That swirling is a product of the black hole’s mass, so the speed of the swirling — precisely measured — can tell researchers how much the black hole weighs. ALMA’s images, with a resolution of 1.5 light-years (very detailed for such a distant object), made that possible. This SMBH, they found, has a mass less than 1 million times that of our sun — a baby by SMBH standards. Based on estimates of how much it has grown since its birth, it likely weighed less than 500,000 times the mass of our sun when it was born, Davis said.

That doesn’t prove either of the origin stories correct, the researchers found. But it does somewhat tip the balance against the direct collapse model, ruling out more extreme versions of direct collapse theory entirely. Some direct collapse theories don’t allow for SMBHs that small to form at all.

Still, the origin of black holes is a mystery. One problem: Other observations have shown that very large SMBHs existed in their current form very soon after the Big Bang, which defies our assumptions about how quickly black holes can grow.

“We know of two main ways to make SMBHs, and neither of these can make black holes of this size directly. Instead they must have been born smaller and grown to these prodigious sizes. This is really tricky to do, as there is a limit to how much a black hole can swallow in the time available since the universe was created,” Davis said. “Our work reinforces this problem. We have shown that whatever mechanism makes SMBHs allows them to have a mass less than 500,000 times the mass of our sun when they are born.”

While that does tip the scales against the direct-collapse theory, neither theory offers good explanations of where such a small SMBH could have come from. The eventual answer will likely involve some significant modifications to one of the models physicists have right now.

So now physicists know a bit more about what young SMBHs look like. But they still aren’t sure where they came from. The paper describing the black hole at the center of Mirach’s Ghost was published today (July 14) in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Origin starting

Blue Origin is starting to challenge SpaceX on two crucial fronts – Inverse

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown any number of companies into unpredictability, and Blue Origin is no exception. Jeff Bezos’ space-faring firm racked up a number of successes and losses during this moment, but they’re also using the quarantine to catch up to their more prominent competitors: marketing. Blue Origin has finally opened its own online store, complete with merchandise.

First spotted by GeekWire this week, a company like Blue Origin having its own merch store might not seem like the company’s first priority. And it’s not — founded secretly by Bezos in 2000, but only fully brought to the public’s attention in 2016, the company has long valued its privacy. Its motto is even “gradatim ferociter,” which roughly translates from Latin to: “Step by step, ferociously.”

It’s very much the opposite of Blue Origin’s biggest public competition, SpaceX, whose founder, Elon Musk, keeps the company in the headlines constantly with both professional and personal announcements. It’s a strategy that has mostly paid off for SpaceX, which polling shows is among the most popular companies in the world among millennial men. Musk was even photographed wearing an “Occupy Mars” t-shirt produced by the company while holding his newborn son this week.

One selection from the Blue Origin store, which says “Build a Road to Space.”Blue Origin
A graphic tee promoting New Glenn, Blue Origin’s Air Force project.Blue Origin
A shirt from the Blue Origin store showcasing New Shepard, the company’s rocket for space tourism. Blue Origin

Blue Origin has kept busy during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is controversial by itself. In 2018, it won an Air Force contract to develop its New Glenn launch system, which the military branch wants to compete with others before it comes to a final decision on upgrading from Russian-built rockets. That contract has allowed Blue Origin to stay open during the national shutdown, with “its future value to national security,” deemed essential by the Department of Defense.

However, the company — which has seen multiple employees test positive for coronavirus — is not just working on the New Glenn system. It’s also working on New Shepard, a vertical takeoff and vertical landing rocket that the company wants to use for human tourism. “I don’t think that New Shepherd is mission essential to the United States in any way,” an anonymous employee told The Verge.

A lander is in the works — Beyond its own rocket systems, the company is still competing for future contracts. At the end of April, NASA awarded the largest of several human lander contracts to what is being called “the Blue Origin National Team,” which includes fellow advanced technology companies Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper. The BONT will receive $579 million from NASA to develop a lander, the responsibilities of which it will split among its various companies. Blue Origin will develop a descent module.

Explaining its decision a few days later in a Source Selection Statement, NASA said that Blue Origin’s teamwork was crucial in its decision, saying it “strategically draws upon the unique capabilities of each team member.”

It wasn’t a flawless evaluation, though. NASA identified what it called a “noteworthy” weakness in Blue Origins systems: its power and propulsion capabilities. “Technically, the design appears to be sound, but this design can only come to fruition as a result of a very significant amount of development work that must proceed precisely according to Blue Origin’s plan, including occurring on what appears to be an aggressive timeline,“ the report says.

That “aggressive timeline” could be one of the reasons that Blue Origin is feeling the pressure to stay open during this challenging moment, along with the challenges presented from SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, which has another charismatic billionaire (Richard Branson) at its helm. “There’s this insatiable drive to be the first,” one employee told The Verge. “We’re in a race.”

Any big competition usually has fans rooting on the sidelines. In case Blue Origin has any, they’ve now provided them with shirts.

The Inverse Analysis — It’s unclear who the market is for Blue Origin merch. But by creating a store, Blue Origin is asking people to invest in its brand, its ideas, and the success of the company itself. The store is behind the competition — so far they only seem to have shirts and hats, while SpaceX has a wide variety of clothing and even models of its rockets — but it’s a start. The company intends on adding more merch soon.

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Bezos Origin

Bezos to the Moon: Blue Origin joins SpaceX and Dynetics in a three-horse lunar lander race – The Register

NASA selects three contenders for flag-in-Moon prize

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos reveals the Blue Moon lander

With a scant few years remaining until the agency’s 2024 boots-on-the-Moon goal, NASA has named the three US companies that will be dealing with the tricky human landing bit of the mission.

The combined contract award of a cool near-billion dollars over the 10-month base period will be split between Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX.

Big News! The #Artemis generation is going to the Moon to stay. I’m excited to announce that we have selected 3 U.S. companies to develop human landers that will land astronauts on the Moon: @BlueOrigin, @Dynetics & @SpaceX.

— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) April 30, 2020

Two of those will also be making use of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) upcoming Vulcan launch system while the third continues to make big promises about its Starship, which seems to have taken a break from regular explosions and implosions during ground tests.

There was no love for Boeing, however, which has challenges of its own in getting NASA’s monster Space Launch System rocket to the launchpad.

Blue Origin’s pitch is a “national team” with Lockheed Martin dealing with the ascent element of the lander, Draper handling the guidance and navigation systems and Northrop Grumman taking care of transfer duties. Bezos’ crowd will be responsible for the descent portion of the system, with a lander powered by Blue Origin’s BE-7 engine.

The first uncrewed demonstrator is due in 2023, with humans bounding about the surface once more in 2024 should everything go to plan.

NASA’s Source Selection Statement for the Human Landing System (HLS) rated Blue Origin as “Acceptable” on the technical side and “Very Good” for management. However, even though $579m is due to be slung Blue Origin’s way, the selection board worried that “this system is comprised of multiple relatively low technology readiness level (TRL) systems that will be challenging to manufacture, integrate, and test.”

Dynetics scored higher, rated as “Very Good” in both categories, and leads a team with more than 25 subcontractors aimed at producing a launcher-agnostic, low-slung design. It nabbed $253m of the pot.

SpaceX scored $135m, with the selection statement rating it as “Acceptable” both technically and in management terms. However, the report worried that the proposed propulsion system was “notably complex” and did not address the potential for delays particularly well. The company plans to use its Super Heavy Booster to launch a Starship vehicle, which will perform the lunar landing.

At the end of a 10-month period of monitoring and review, NASA will likely whittle the field down further to those it reckons stand the best chance of meeting the increasingly ambitious 2024 deadline. ®

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