Supermassive black holes found hidden in dust, with millions left to find

Five supermassive black holes have been discovered by astronomers for the first time, adding weight to the theory that there are millions yet to be found.

The supermassive black holes were not previously detected as they are hidden from direct view by swathes of dust and gas, but thanks to NASA’s recently launched Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), Durham University astronomers were able to identify the black holes through the high-energy x-rays they emit.

“For a long time we have known about supermassive black holes that are not obscured by dust and gas, but we suspected that many more were hidden from our view,” said study lead author George Lansbury, a postgraduate student at Durham University’s Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy.

“Thanks to NuSTAR for the first time we have been able to clearly see these hidden monsters that are predicted to be there, but have previously been elusive because of their ‘buried’ state.”

NuSTAR depicted in orbit: the 10m mast enables it to focus incoming high-energy x-rays. Image courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech.

NuSTAR depicted in orbit: the 10m mast enables it to focus incoming high-energy x-rays. Image courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech.

NuSTAR, the orbiting high-energy x-ray telescope, was only launched in 2012, before which such a discovery could not have been made.

As a result, the astronomers believe there are far more supermassive black holes left to be discovered, with the number thought to be in the millions.

“Although we have only detected five of these hidden supermassive black holes, when we extrapolate our results across the whole Universe then the predicted numbers are huge and in agreement with what we would expect to see,” said Lansbury.

The five detected supermassive black holes were found following the selection of nine candidate sites, where astronomers thought activity at the centre of galaxies could be attributed to such a black hole.

In the five where they did find supermassive black holes, they were not surprised to discover they were hidden by dust as gas, but were surprised at how bright and active they were; the black holes were guzzling the materials surrounding them, emitting large amounts of radiation and making them brighter than expected.

One of the candidate locations for a possible black hole, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image courtesy of Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA.

One of the candidate locations for a possible black hole, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image courtesy of Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA.

The research is being presented today at the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting, in Llandudno, Wales, and will be published in The Astrophysical Journal later this year.

While undoubtedly an exciting discovery for astrophysicists, the findings are a major success story for NASA’s young telescope array, and suggest NuSTAR could produce far more supermassive black hole findings in the future.

“High-energy X-rays are more penetrating than low-energy X-rays, so we can see deeper into the gas burying the black holes,” said Daniel Stern, NuSTAR project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“NuSTAR allows us to see how big the hidden monsters are and is helping us learn why only some black holes appear obscured.”


Featured image: an artist’s illustration of one of the black holes, feasting on the dust and gas surrounding it. Image courtesy of NASA / ESA.


 

Wanted man captured thanks to facial recognition

A Chinese man who was wanted by police for “economic crimes” – which can include anything from tax evasion to the theft of public property – was arrested at a music concert in China after facial recognition technology spotted him inside the venue.

Source: Abacus News

SpaceX president commits to city-to-city rocket travel

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell has reiterated the company’s plans to make city-to-city travel — on Earth — using a rocket that’s designed for outer space a reality. Shotwell says the tech will be operational “within a decade, for sure.”

Source: Recode

Businessman wins battle with Google over 'right to be forgotten'

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a UK High Court action against Google.. The businessman served six months’ in prison for “conspiracy to carry out surveillance”, and the judge agreed to an “appropriate delisting order".

Source: Press Gazette

UK launched cyber attack on Islamic State

The UK has conducted a "major offensive cyber campaign" against the Islamic State group, the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has revealed. The operation hindered the group's ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.

Source: BBC

Goldman Sachs consider whether curing patients is bad for business

Goldman Sachs analysts have attempted to tackle the question of whether pioneering "gene therapy" treatment will be bad for business in the long run. "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" analysts ask in a report entitled "The Genome Revolution."

Source: CNBC

Four-armed robot performing surgery in the UK

A £1.5m "robotic" surgeon, controlled using a computer console, is being used to shorten the time patients spend recovering after operations. The da Vinci Xi machine is the only one in the country being used for upper gastrointestinal surgery.

Source: BBC

Virgin Galactic rocket planes go past the speed of sound

Virgin Galactic completed its first powered flight in nearly four years when Richard Branson's space company launched its Unity spacecraft, which reached supersonic speeds before safely landing. “We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in an email to Quartz.

Source: Quartz

Google employees protest being in "the business of war"

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses AI to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. The letter, which is circulating inside Google, has garnered more than 3,100 signatures

Source: New York Times

Computer system transcribes words users “speak silently”

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that transcribes words that the user verbalises internally but does not actually speak aloud. The wearable device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye.

Source: MIT News

Drones could be used to penalise bad farming

A report by a coalition of environmental campaigners is arguing squadrons of drones should be deployed to locate and penalise farmers who let soil run off their fields. Their report says drones can help to spot bad farming, which is said to cost more than £1.2bn a year by clogging rivers and contributing to floods.

Source: BBC

Californian company unveil space hotel

Orion Span, a California company, has unveiled its Aurora Station, a commercial space station that would house a luxury hotel. The idea is to put the craft in low-earth orbit, about 200 miles up, with a stay at the hotel likely to cost $9.5 million for a 12-day trip, but you can reserve a spot now with an $80,000 deposit.

UK mobile operators pay close to £1.4bn for 5G

An auction of frequencies for the next generation of mobile phone networks has raised £1.36bn, says regulator Ofcom. Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three all won the bandwidth needed for the future 5G mobile internet services, which are not expected to be launched until 2020.

Source: BBC