If Earth Collided with a Black Hole

 

Worlds Collide

A new online tool calculates just how much cosmic destruction a run-in between the Earth and a black hole would cause.
The aptly-named Black Hole Collision Calculator determines how much a black hole would expand and the amount of energy it would release if it absorbed the Earth — or any other object, since the calculator is totally customizable, Space.com reports.
 

Big Kaboom

Particle physicist Álvaro Díez created the tool, which is hosted on the calculator database project Omni Calculator. Based on his calculations, a black hole swallowing the Earth would release some 55 quintillion times the planet’s annual energy consumption.
But even that destructive event would be a light snack for a supermassive black hole — its event horizon would only expand by a hundredth of a trillionth of a percent, per the calculator.
The main flaw with the calculator? The artistic rendering of a black hole obliterating the Earth that pops up next to the results doesn’t change to match any increasingly goofy collisions.
 

READ MORE: See What a Black Hole Would Do to Earth with Online ‘Collision Calculator’ [Space.com]
More on cosmic annihilation:Two Supermassive Black Holes Are on a Devastating Crash Course
 

Smallest Dwarf Planet in Solar System

 

Moving On Up

The asteroid Hygiea just got a promotion.

Using European Southern Observatory’s SPHERE instrument at the Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers were able to get their most detailed look yet at Hygiea, an object in the asteroid belt.

And based on what they saw, they think the asteroid deserves reclassification as a dwarf planet — making it the smallest one yet identified in the entire solar system.

Four For Four

To be classified as a dwarf planet, an object must meet four requirements: it must be spherical, it must orbit the Sun, it can’t be a moon — and it must not have cleared the neighborhood around itself, which would make it a proper planet.

Astronomers already knew that Hygiea met the latter three requirements, and the new VLT data allowed them to confirm the first.

“Thanks to the unique capability of the SPHERE instrument on the VLT, which is one of the most powerful imaging systems in the world, we could resolve Hygiea’s shape, which turns out to be nearly spherical,” lead researcher Pierre Vernazza said in a news release. “Thanks to these images, Hygiea may be reclassified as a dwarf planet, so far the smallest in the Solar System.”

READ MORE: ESO Telescope Reveals What Could be the Smallest Dwarf Planet Yet in the Solar System [European Southern Observatory]
More on dwarf planets: Astronomers Just Found a Dwarf Planet Three Times As Far Away As Pluto

Crops in Martian Soil

 

Astronaut Farmer

Martian and Moon soil is surprisingly fertile, and new research suggests it may someday be possible to harvest crops grown at off-world colonies.

When Wageningen University scientists tried to grow ten different crops in soils developed by NASA to mimic that found on Mars and the Moon, nine of them grew edible parts and viable seeds, according to research published this month in the journal Open Agriculture.

While future off-world farmers will have to grapple with countless other problems — like, uh, the lack of an atmosphere — the experiment is still a tentative good sign for the future of off-world settlements.

First Steps

The plants grown in simulated Martian or lunar soil weren’t as successful as those grown in normal Earth conditions, and in most cases the mock Martian crops fared better than the Moon plants. Still, vegetables like tomatoes, radishes, rye, and quinoa grew in both types of space soil, with spinach as the lone casualty.

“We were thrilled when we saw the first tomatoes ever grown on Mars soil simulant turning red,” project leader Wieger Wamelink said in a press release. “It meant that the next step towards a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem had been taken.”

READ MORE: Soil on moon and Mars likely to support crops [De Gruyter via Phys.org]
More on Mars farming: Contaminating Mars With Microbes Could Kickstart Colonization
</small

Super-Smart Designer Babies

 

In November, a company called Genomic Prediction announced that it had  developed a multi-gene screening technique for embryos. This method, the company claimed, allowed it to scan an embryo for conditions or traits impacted by numerous genes, including intelligence, and give it a “polygenic score.”

The company said this was so parents could avoid using an embryo with an abnormally low score for in-vitro fertilization. However, it quickly raised concerns about parents using the tech to have super-smart designer babies.

But now it seems that fear was premature: A new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics debunks the accuracy of the technique.

Today, having fertilized embryos undergo genetic testing prior to implantation is a fairly common option for people using in-vitro fertilization. This can allow them to avoid using an embryo that likely wouldn’t lead to a successful pregnancy, or one that would produce a child with birth defects or certain single-gene disorders, such as cystic fibrosis.

The key to that type of testing is that it focuses on individual genes — in the case of cystic fibrosis, for example, the doctor would look for mutations in the CFTR gene.

To test the viability of Genomic Prediction’s multi-gene screening technique, a research team led by Hebrew University of Jerusalem statistical geneticist Shai Carmi created computer models of five hypothetical embryos by combining the DNA profiles of two people. In some cases, the researchers knew the heights of both parents and, in others, their IQs.

They then created “virtual genomes” for the embryos and gave each embryo a polygenic score predicting the height or IQ of the person that would theoretically be born from it.

The researchers found that the technique produced only slight gains — hypothetical children produced by the highest scoring embryos were approximately 2.5 centimeters taller and 2.5 IQ points smarter.

They then put the technique to the test again, this time giving polygenic height scores to all of the offspring in 28 families with an average of 10 children.

In just seven of the families was the child with the highest height score the tallest. And in five families, that child was actually the shortest of the siblings — meaning had their parents used the polygenic screening technique, they may well have ended up with a shorter child than if they’d left height up to chance.

So, while Genomic Prediction’s technique could still allow parents to identify embryos likely to produce children with intellectual disabilities, it doesn’t appear poised to lead to the creation of super-smart designer babies any time soon.

5G Might Actually cause Cancer

 

As 5G cellular network tech looms, conventional wisdom dictates that cell phone radiation is more or less safe for humans.

But writing for the widely respected magazine Scientific American, University of California, Berkeley, public health researcher Joel Moskowitz argues that we don’t yet understand the risks — and that more study is necessary before we roll out 5G infrastructure.

Moskowitz’s main concern: there just isn’t any research on the health effects of 5G. But he also points to a swathe of studies that suggest that the existing standards 2G and 3G are more dangerous than generally believed.

“Meanwhile, we are seeing increases in certain types of head and neck tumors in tumor registries, which may be at least partially attributable to the proliferation of cell phone radiation,” he wrote in SciAm. “These increases are consistent with results from case-control studies of tumor risk in heavy cell phone users.”

It’s hard enough to quantify the health effects of things that have already been deployed, nevermind an upcoming technology. But in SciAm, Moskowitz argues that regulators should listen to the 250 doctors and scientists who recently signed the 5G Appeal, a petition for a moratorium on public rollout of the tech until the health implications are better understood.

“As a society, should we invest hundreds of billions of dollars deploying 5G, a cellular technology that requires the installation of 800,000 or more new cell antenna sites in the U.S. close to where we live, work and play?” he asked. “Instead, we should support the recommendations of the 250 scientists and medical doctors who signed the 5G Appeal that calls for an immediate moratorium on the deployment of 5G and demand that our government fund the research needed to adopt biologically based exposure limits that protect our health and safety.”