On 10 April, astrophysicists announced that they had captured the first ever image of a black hole. This was exhilarating news, but none of the giddy headlines mentioned that the image would have been impossible without open-source software. The image was created using Matplotlib, a Python library for graphing data, as well as other components of the open-source Python ecosystem. Just five days later, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) rejected a grant proposal to support that ecosystem, saying that the software lacked sufficient impact. It’s a familiar problem: open-source software is widely acknowledged as crucially important in science, yet it is funded non-sustainably.
We’ve received a birth announcement from 20 million light years away, in the form of our first ever glimpse of what seems to be the birth of a black hole. A team led by Christopher Kochanek at Ohio State University in Columbus have glimpsed something very special in data from the Hubble Space Telescope, from when it was watching the red supergiant star N6946-BH1, which is about 20 million light years from Earth.
Twelve thousand light-years from Earth, a star is forming. At first, it had all the marks of an aging star on its way to death. But new evidence published in the Astrophysical Journal shows that the star known as IRAS 19312+1950 is likely a protostar, wrapping its surrounding cloud of dust and ice closer as it coalesces.
Black holes aren’t perfectly black. For the first time, using a model of a black hole that traps sound instead of light, scientists have seen spontaneous evidence of what comes out of them.
These particles are so few and faint that it’s not feasible to observe them for an astrophysical black hole, so Jeff Steinhauer at Technion–Israel Institute of Technology made a tabletop version of a black hole that sucks in sound instead of light.
Using this, he’s the first to see evidence for particles that escape a black hole, called Hawking radiation.
NASA’s Kepler space telescope is a trooper. Even with a broken positioning system, the telescope just discovered 104 new planets, including four Earth-like planets in the same solar system.
A study published this week in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series describes the largest haul of planets so far during K2, Kepler’s second mission. Kepler was originally designed to look at a very tiny area of space, but it was repurposed to look at a wider area when part of its positioning system broke in 2013.
Astrophysicists have released images of the largest swath of the deep universe ever observed. The images gaze 13 billion years back in time and cover an area of the sky four times the size of the full moon.
Omar Almaini, at the University of Nottingham, and colleagues netted infrared observations of 250,000 galaxies, the earliest less than a billion years after the Big Bang. The farther away from Earth you look in the universe, the farther back in time you see.
Do you ever look around your apartment and think, where did all this stuff come from? Maybe some of your clothes or books or tchotchkes are unnecessary, and you could stand to de-clutter. Or, to take the very long view—the universe’s view—not only are your books not necessary, but neither are most of the elements that make up your books, your other possessions, or indeed you yourself. There was a time in the universe’s infancy when these elements didn’t exist, and yet somehow the universe managed to create them all, along with you and everything else you can see.
For the full explanation of how the elements were created, read the full article in Scope.
Our Milky Way galaxy is vast—100,000 light-years across—but even the Milky Way is part of something larger. As astronomers zoom out to larger and larger scales, they see galaxies bunching up into clusters and these clusters into superclusters.
Astronomers have recently mapped our home supercluster and found that it is five times larger than previously thought. The Milky Way is just one peripheral blip out of 100,000 galaxies.