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Mon, 11 Dec 2017
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Astronomers have detected the most distant supermassive black hole ever observed

supermassive black hole
© Robin Dienel
Artist’s conceptions of the most-distant supermassive black hole ever discovered, which is part of a quasar from just 690 million years after the Big Bang. It is surrounded by neutral hydrogen, indicating that it is from the period called the epoch of reionization, when the universe's first light sources turned on.
A team of astronomers, including two from MIT, has detected the most distant supermassive black hole ever observed. The black hole sits in the center of an ultrabright quasar, the light of which was emitted just 690 million years after the Big Bang. That light has taken about 13 billion years to reach us - a span of time that is nearly equal to the age of the universe.

The black hole is measured to be about 800 million times as massive as our sun - a Goliath by modern-day standards and a relative anomaly in the early universe.

"This is the only object we have observed from this era," says Robert Simcoe, the Francis L. Friedman Professor of Physics in MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. "It has an extremely high mass, and yet the universe is so young that this thing shouldn't exist. The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big. It's very puzzling."


3.6-million-year-old human skeleton excavated in Africa, 'most complete ever found'

Africa have unveiled what they call
© AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
The virtually complete Australopithecus fossil "Little Foot" is displayed at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Researchers in South Africa have unveiled what they call "by far the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor older than 1.5 million years ever found."
Researchers in South Africa have unveiled what they call "by far the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor older than 1.5 million years ever found."

The University of the Witwatersrand displayed the virtually complete Australopithecus fossil on Wednesday.

The skeleton dates back 3.6 million years. Its discovery is expected to help researchers better understand the human ancestor's appearance and movement. The researchers say it has taken 20 years to excavate, clean, reconstruct and analyse the fragile skeleton.

Fireball 3

Russian govt suggests satellite re-entry behind elevated levels of Ruthenium-106 across Europe

nuclear radiation
© Sergei Konkov/TASS
Ruthenium-106 is used, in particular, in radiation therapy and can also be released in nuclear fuel reprocessing

A satellite that burnt in the atmosphere could have been the source of the radioactive isotope ruthenium-106, whose traces were registered in Russia and some European countries, according to the materials of a probe into the incident released on Friday.

"The source could be attributed, among other things, to the burning in the atmosphere of an artificial satellite or its fragment, on the board of which there was a source of ruthenium-106 with high total activity," says the document released by the inter-departmental commission probing the discharge of the radioactive isotope into the atmosphere.


Newly discovered dino leaves researchers in cold sweat

© AP Photo/ Lukas Panzarin
"Halszkaraptor escuilliei"
A newly discovered dinosaur has made headlines, mostly due to its literally nightmarish appearance, as it turns out to have a bill like a duck and teeth like a croc, coupled with a swanlike neck and double claws - on its hands and feet.

This tiny, turkey-sized dinosaur, dubbed "Halszkaraptor escuilliei" after the late Polish paleontologist Halszka Osmolska, roamed more than 75 million years ago in what is currently Mongolia, a study in the journal Nature suggested.


Luxor: Linen-wrapped mummy found in previously unexplored tomb

mummy discovery
Egyptian archaeological technicians restore a mummy wrapped in linen, found at Draa Abul Naga necropolis on the west bank of the city of Luxor.
Egyptian archaeologists have discovered a mummy in one of two previously unexplored tombs across the Nile from the southern city of Luxor, the antiquities ministry said Saturday.

The tombs were found in the 1990s by German archaeologist Frederica Kampp, though she had only reached the entrance gate "but never entered", the ministry said.

It said that both tombs, which were given numbers by Kampp, were likely to date back to dynasties of the New Kingdom, which lasted several centuries until about 3,000 years ago.

Since Kampp's discovery, "both tombs were left untouched" an Egyptian archaeological mission started work.

Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Enany was in Luxor to announce the discovery in Draa Abul Nagaa necropolis near the famed Valley of the Kings, where many pharaohs, including Tutankhamun, were buried.

Comment: Items found in the tombs, including wooden funerary masks, statuettes and clay vessels, are currently being restored:
tomb artifacts
© REX/Shutterstock
tomb artifacts
© REX/Shutterstock
tomb statuettes


Score for climate realists! University of Arizona must disclose 'hockey stick' climate change emails

climate gate
The University of Arizona has been ordered to surrender emails by two UA scientists that a group claims will help prove that theories about human-caused climate change are false and part of a conspiracy.

Pima County Superior Court Judge James Marner rejected arguments by the Board of Regents that disclosure of the documents would be "contrary to the best interests of the state."

Marner said it may be true that some of the documents sought by Energy & Environment Legal Institute might be classified as unpublished research, manuscripts, preliminary analyses, drafts of scientific papers and plans for future research.

But the judge said the subject matter of the documents has become available to the general public. And that, Marner said, does not allow the university to withhold disclosure under a separate section of the law governing university records.

There was no immediate response from the university.

Comment: From the Arizona Capitol Times:
Richardson said he is not denying that the climate is changing.

"It has been for 4.5 billion years," he said. "The question is what's causing it."

He contends that the research studies putting the entire blame on carbon dioxide emissions is flawed. More to the point, Richardson contends that accepting those findings as truth - and basing public policy on them - would have dire consequences in the United States. He said that already is playing out in Europe where "electricity rates are skyrocketing" because of moves away from carbon-produced fuels.

E & E describes itself as a nonprofit that engages in litigation to hold accountable "those who seek excessive and destructive government regulation that's based on agenda-driving policy making, junk science and hysteria."


Physicists confirmed new form of matter: 'Excitonium'

© unknown
Excitations can be thought of as propagating domain walls (yellow) in an ordered solid exciton background (blue).
Nearly 50 years after it was first theorized, physicists claim they've finally proven the existence of a new form of matter, known as 'excitonium.'
Excitonium is made up of particles known as excitons, which are made from an escaped electron and the hole it left behind.

According to the researchers, excitonium is what's known as a condensate.

This means it exhibits macroscopic quantum phenomenon, like a superconductor, superfluid, or insulating electronic crystal.

It was first theorized nearly 50 years ago, and researchers now say they've confirmed its existence.
In the new experiments, the researchers say they were able to observe the material and the precursor phase, which is said to be the 'smoking gun' proof of its existence.

When an electron gets excited and 'jumps', it leaves behind a hole. And, this hole can behave as though it were a particle itself, with a positive charge. As it has a positive charge, the hole attracts the electron, pairing them to form a composite particle, or boson, known as an exciton.

In the new experiments, the researchers studied non-doped crystals of the transition metal dichalcogenide titanium diselenide (1T-TiSe2).

According to the team from the University of Illinois College of Engineering, they were able to reproduce the results five times on different cleaved crystals. Previous efforts have struggled to distinguish the material from what's known as a Peierls phase, which is unrelated but shares the same symmetry as exciton formation.

To uncover the elusive form of matter, the researchers developed a new technique called momentum-resolved electron energy-loss spectroscopy (M-EELS), which is more sensitive to excitations than other methods. The researchers retrofit an EEL spectrometer with a goniometer, to precisely measure the electron's momentum. And, doing this allowed them to measure excitations of the particles for the first time.


Mathematicians crack the 'cursed curve'

Cursed Curve
© Jennifer Balakrishnan/Sachi Hashimoto
A graph of solutions to the “cursed curve.” Jennifer Balakrishnan and Sachi Hashimoto, plotted using SageMath.
Mathematical proofs are elaborate theoretical arguments that often say little about actual numbers and calculations - the concrete values non-mathematicians think of as "solving a math problem." Occasionally, though, theoretical proofs lead to explicit results. This was the case with an exciting sequence of events that culminated last month.

The story takes place in the mathematical field of number theory. The theoretical side involves some intriguing new ideas from Minhyong Kim, a mathematician at the University of Oxford.

As I explained in a recent article, Kim works in a highly abstract area of mathematics, but the goal of his work is actually quite straightforward: to find a method for identifying all the rational solutions to particular kinds of equations.

The rational numbers, remember, consist of all the numbers that can be written as a fraction. So for the equation x2 + y2 = 1, one rational solution is x = 3/5 and y = 4/5.

The problem Kim is wrestling with dates all the way back to Diophantus of Alexandria, who studied such "Diophantine equations" in the third century A.D. The most significant recent result on the topic provided an important but blunt reframing of the problem: In 1986, Gerd Faltings won the Fields Medal, math's highest honor, primarily for proving that certain classes of Diophantine equations have only finitely many rational solutions (rather than infinitely many).

Comet 2

NASA can't save us! Agency misses asteroid as it skims by Earth

asteroid collision
A whale-sized asteroid has come frighteningly close to the Earth - within one-third of the distance between the Earth and the moon. What's more, NASA failed to spot the space rock until it had already passed.

The rock is estimated to have a diameter of between six and 32 meters, which would translate into enough destructive power to level a major city. The colossal mass came within 73,000 miles (117,480km) of us in early November.

According to The Watchers, a website that monitors the path of asteroids in our solar system, NASA's Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii spotted the asteroid on November 10. However, at that point, it was already heading back out to space after having skimmed the Earth just one day before.

Comment: NASA can't warn us of an asteroid they can't see and using a 'space lasso' to prevent incoming threats probably won't work either. We're on our own, folks!


Study finds gay and straight men have genetic variations that may correlate with sexual orientation

genetic differences homosexuals
© global look press
Not all men who have the “gay” variants of the gene end up that way, however.
Gay and straight men have different variations of at least two genes that somewhat correlate with their sexual orientation, a new study appears to show, lending credence to the theory that sexual preferences are inherited, not chosen.

The study appeared Thursday in the Scientific Reports journal. Scientists at the North Shore University in Illinois compared the genomes of 1,077 gay and 1,231 straight men of "primarily European ancestry," and found differences in two genes.

The first, SLITRK6, is behind brain development and hormone production. It is particularly active in the hypothalamus region of the brain, which previous studies have shown are up to 34 percent larger in gay men. Differences were also found in another gene, TSHR, responsible for thyroid function, which previous studies also linked to sexual preferences as well as weight loss.

Comment: A number of other studies have attempted to find genetic factors that determine sexual orientation, yet findings are often inconclusive or contradictory.
Homosexuality's cause isn't genetics, but the answer does lie in the womb

Genes are spelled out by DNA and are entirely hereditary from one family member to another. However, genes do not explain everything about who a person is. After all, recent research shows that the average person has 400 genetic errors that could lead to a disease - and yet, the overwhelming majority of human beings do not have debilitating illnesses. Epigenetics, or environment influences on the genes, are almost as important as the genes themselves.
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