“Light precedes every transition. Whether at the end of a tunnel, through a crack in the door or the flash of an idea, it is always there, heralding a new beginning.”
~ Teresa Tsalaky ~
Some of the black holes floating around our universe might actually be something else entirely.
It’s possible that some may be blobs of dark energy, the mysterious theoretical force thought to be pushing the universe’s outward expansion, according to Live Science. A pair of University of Hawaii scientists arrived at the unexpected conclusion when they were trying to make sense of that expansion — and if their work holds up it could rewrite our understanding of the cosmos.
Conventional physics holds that a black hole’s singularity is an infinitely dense point that exerts a gravitational pull so strong that it absorbs anything that ventures too close. But some black holes may actually be dense masses of dark energy that grow larger as the universe expands, whether or not they feed on anything nearby, according to research published in The Astrophysical Journal in August.
In a second study posted on the preprint server ArXiv last month, the team found that the interactions of these theoretical objects could have caused some of the more bizarre and difficult to explain gravitational waves that were detected a few years back, Live Science reports.
In essence, replacing black holes with these so-called Generic Objects of Dark Energy would help explain several mysteries of the cosmos. But theoretical calculations aside, their work hasn’t yet been confirmed.
And other experts are far from convinced. Vitor Cardoso, a physicist at Portugal’s Instituto Superior Técnico told Live Science that the new models are “counterintuitive and hard to digest.”
READ MORE: Black Holes As We Know Them May Not Exist [Live Science]
More on black holes: New “Chameleon Theory” Could Explain Dark Energy, How Galaxies Formed
A group of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory are eager to send a probe into interstellar space, Wired reports. Pending NASA’s approval, they claim the project could launch as soon as 2030.
It could represent “humanity’s first explicit step into interstellar space,” as team member at the Applied Physics Laboratory Pontus Brandt told Wired, years after Voyager 1 became the first-ever human-built spacecraft to reach interstellar space.
The basic outline of their proposal, which arose out of a NASA supported interstellar probe study last year, is to launch a spacecraft that weighs less than 1,700 pounds on NASA’s upcoming — but much delayed and over budget — Space Launch System rocket.
It would then use gravity assist to sling it to speeds over 100,000 miles per hour — fast enough to leave the Solar System. The goal is to travel 92 billion miles from Earth in less than 15 years. In comparison, it took almost 40 years for Voyager 1 and 2 to get to just 13 billion miles.
Leaving the Heliosphere
While Voyager 1 and 2 were only outfitted with basic instruments, the proposed spacecraft will be have a host of sensors that could gain a better understanding of interstellar space — which remains largely mysterious to today’s scientists.
And leaving the heliosphere, the bubble-like region of space around the Sun, could provide additional opportunities.
“We’re sitting inside a bubble trying to figure out what shape it is, which is extremely hard,” Brandt told Wired. “The uniqueness of an interstellar probe is that we can go out and take a picture of our habitable little bubble in space.”
READ MORE: NASA Is Getting Serious About an Interstellar Mission [Wired]
More on interstellar space: After the Moon and Mars, NASA Wants to Head to Alpha Centauri in 2069
Three’s A Crowd
A team of NASA scientists have caught three supermassive black holes in the act of merging together, a billion light-years away from Earth.
“Dual and triple black holes are exceedingly rare,” said researcher Shobita Satyapal, from George Mason University, in a statement. “But such systems are actually a natural consequence of galaxy mergers, which we think is how galaxies grow and evolve.”
Satyapal’s team made the rare discovery using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory telescope, as well as NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer spacecraft and the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona.
It’s an exceedingly rare sight that is unusually hard to spot thanks to giant shrouds of gas and dust surrounding the black holes. But by combining data from the two space telescopes and the Arizona-based telescope back on Earth, the scientists were able to make the discovery.
The team published its findings in the latest issue of The Astrophysical Journal. They used optical light data from the three telescopes.
“Optical spectra contain a wealth of information about a galaxy,” said co-author Christina Manzano-King from the University of California in the statement. “They are commonly used to identify actively accreting supermassive black holes and can reflect the impact they have on the galaxies they inhabit.”
READ MORE: Rare Discovery! 3 Monster Black Holes Are About to Collide [Space.com]
More on black holes: NASA’s New Black Hole Simulation Will Completely Melt Your Brain
If you take into account only naturally occurring phenomena — supervolcanic eruptions, asteroid impacts, and the like — researchers from the University of Oxford recently determined that the probability of our entire species going extinct in any given year is as high as one in 14,000.
Now consider this: In October, a separate team from Oxford published its own paper on human extinction in the journal Scientific Reports — and it found that people don’t seem to see the loss of humanity as uniquely tragic.
The second group of researchers asked more than 2,500 people in the United States and the United Kingdom to rank three possible scenarios from best to worst: no major catastrophe, a catastrophe that wipes out 80 percent of the human population, and a catastrophe that causes complete human extinction.
As you might expect, most people ranked no catastrophe as the best possibility and complete human extinction as the worst. But when asked to think about the difference in “badness” between the possibilities, most people were more bothered by the possibility of losing 80 percent of humanity than losing all of it.
“Thus, when asked in the most straightforward and unqualified way,” the researchers wrote, “participants do not find human extinction uniquely bad.”
When the researchers switched the whole scenario to focus on an animal species, though, survey respondents saw the loss of all zebras as worse than the loss of 80 percent of zebras.
The issue, it seems, is that survey respondents focused a lot on the individual human lives lost in scenario two — and how the deaths might affect those left behind — rather than on the loss of humanity as a whole.
In other words, we tend to think of a world without any zebras as more tragic than a world in which most zebras die. But for humankind, most people believe the reverse.
There was a way to get survey respondents to consider the loss of our entire species as uniquely bad, though: the researchers just had to tell them humanity would be missing out on a long future existence that was “better than today in every conceivable way.”
While there’s seemingly little we could do to prevent an asteroid impact or a volcanic eruption, humanity does have a say in whether we fall victim to nuclear war and the like — and knowing that people are more likely to care about our species’ potential downfall if they’re feeling optimistic about our future could play a role in making sure we don’t go down one of those self-destructive paths.
“People are going to have a lot of influence over what we’re going to do [about the threats of human extinction in our near future],” Stefan Schubert, co-author of the survey paper, recently told Vox. “So it’s important to find out how people think about them.”
READ MORE: Human extinction would be a uniquely awful tragedy. Why don’t we act like it? [Vox]
More on extinction:This Awful Tabloid Predicts a Killer Asteroid Almost Every Day