What Do You Call a Bunch of Black Holes: A Crush? A Scream?

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The New York Times 22 April, 2021 - 04:00am 25 views

When is the next spacex launch?

The launch – postponed from April 22 due to weather conditions – is now scheduled for Friday, April 23, 2021. It will blast off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 5:49 a.m. EDT (09:49 UTC) from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. EarthSkyWatch rescheduled SpaceX-NASA Crew-2 launch April 23

There are pods of whales and gaggles of geese. Now astronomers are wondering which plural term would best suit the most enigmatic entity in the cosmos.

What do you call a black hole? Anything you want, the old joke goes, as long as you don’t call it late for dinner. Black holes, after all, are nothing but hungry.

But what do you call a collection of black holes? The question has taken on an urgency among astronomers inspired by the recent news of dozens of black holes buzzing around the center of a nearby cluster of stars.

In the last few years, instruments like the LIGO and Virgo gravitational-wave detectors have recorded space-time vibrations from the collisions of black holes, making it clear beyond doubt that these monstrous concentrations of nothingness not only exist but are ubiquitous. Astronomers anticipate spotting a great number of these Einsteinian creatures when the next generation of gravitational-wave antennas are deployed. What will they call them?

There are gaggles of geese, pods of whales and murders of crows. What term would do justice to the special nature of black holes? A mass? A colander? A scream?

Jocelyn Kelly Holley-Bockelmann, an astrophysicist at Vanderbilt University, and colleagues are developing an international project called the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, or LISA, that will be able to detect collisions between all sizes of black holes throughout the universe. She was trying to run a Zoom meeting of the group recently “when one of the members said his daughter was wondering what you call a collective of black holes — and then the meeting fell apart, with everyone trying to up one another,” she said in an email. “Each time I saw a suggestion, I had to stop and giggle like a loon, which egged us all on more.”

The question was crowdsourced on Twitter recently as part of what NASA has begun calling black hole week (April 12-16). Among the many candidates so far: A crush. A mosh pit. A silence. A speckle. A hive. An enigma. Or a favorite of mine for of its connection to my youth: an Albert Hall of black holes.

The number of known black holes will only grow. LISA will be able to detect so-called primordial black holes, if there are any, left over from the early moments of the Big Bang, as well as more recent ones, presenting researchers with “basically a black hole smorgasbord,” Dr. Holly-Bockelmann said. The antenna won’t fly until 2034, she added, “so there is time to figure out the term if and when we need it!” The International Astronomical Union, which regulates cosmic nomenclature, has no rules on “collectives,” she added, so it is up to the people to decide.

The previous black hole week was in the fall of 2019, when NASA replayed some of the scarier-sounding cosmic news, involving black holes exploding, eating stars or preparing to consume their neighborhoods. Now, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, black holes offer a respite and reminder of how small and fleeting our own troubles are in the grandest scheme. Black holes have become the cat videos of astronomy.

So last week, NASA served up another smorgasbord of black hole news and public service announcements, like this animated video from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

You can’t tour a black hole, of course, but two years ago astronomers provided the next best thing: the first-ever image of one. The supermassive black hole — 6.5 billion suns worth of disappeared mass — sits at the center of the galaxy Messier 87.

The image was taken by a worldwide network of radio telescopes known as the Event Horizon Telescope in April of 2017. Last month, the Event Horizon team refined that image to show the surrounding vortex of magnetic fields that streams gas and energy across space at nearly the speed of light.

But there is more. While that first 2017 image was being taken, 19 other observatories in space and on the ground were collectively studying this jet of energy from M87. Their data has now been published along with a video of the jet as seen in different kinds of light and at different scales, from the most intimate dimensions of the black hole out to intergalactic space.

The results, astronomers said, would help clarify how black holes work their violent magic, further test the predictions of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and perhaps shed light on the origin of cosmic rays.

For its part, the Event Horizon team has just concluded a new series of observations of the black holes — in M87, at the center of our own galaxy and elsewhere — said Shep Doeleman, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and founding director of the telescope collective.

“Each day we gather at 2 p.m. E.D.T. to review all the weather and readiness at the sites, then make the call,” Dr. Doeleman said in an email. “Sometimes it’s a piece of cake: good weather, everyone’s ready. Or, just as clear, weather at key sites is awful or there is a major technical issue to be run down. Some of the time it’s pure agony.”

If you don’t have a rocket or a telescope, there’s plenty new to read about black holes. “Hawking Hawking: The Selling of a Scientific Celebrity,” by Charles Seife, is an unvarnished look at the cosmologist and black-hole expert Stephen Hawking, who died in 2018. The book, rich in reporting about Dr. Hawking’s breakthroughs and his life (and written in reverse chronological order), seeks to separate the man and his science from the Einstein-like aura of sagacity that he let envelope his public persona.

And “Black Hole Survival Guide,” by Janna Levin, an astrophysicist at Barnard College of Columbia University, and illustrated by artist Lia Halloran, is a pocket-size tone poem to these cosmic curiosities.

“Black holes are nothing,” the opening line reads. At the end, Dr. Levin contemplates the possibility of Earth and whatever remains on it eventually falling into the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

“That is where our data, our scraps of quantum information, may end up,” she writes. “Everything will wash down the central vortex, flashing spectacularly bright, the last desperate blasts of concentrated light in the cosmos, until all vanishes in a darkening silent storm in space-time.”

And we might as well call the whole universe a graveyard of black holes. A smorgasbord of screams — just another black hole week.

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Astronauts flying reused SpaceX rocket, capsule for 1st time

NBC News 22 April, 2021 - 09:01am

Astronaut Megan McArthur takes special pleasure in the reused spacecraft set to soar Thursday morning. In “a fun twist,” she’ll sit in the same seat in the same capsule as her husband, Bob Behnken, did last spring for a test flight to the International Space Station.

“It’s kind of a fun thing that we can share. I can see him and say, ‘Hey, can you hand over the keys. I’m ready now to go,’ “ she said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

While their 7-year-old son, Theo, is becoming a pro at parent launches, McArthur said “he’s not super excited” about her being gone for six months. That’s how long she and her three crewmates will spend at the space station.

This will be SpaceX’s third crew flight for NASA from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in under a year. The commercial flights ended the U.S.’s reliance on Russian rockets launched from Kazakhstan to get astronauts to and from the space station after the shuttles retired.

Some highlights of the SpaceX flight:

Both the Dragon capsule and Falcon rocket for this mission have soared once before.

The capsule launched the first SpaceX crew last May, while the rocket hoisted the second set of astronauts, who are still at the space station. For SpaceX, recycling is key to space exploration, Reed said, lowering costs, increasing flights and destinations, and allowing more kinds of people to jump on board.

Each capsule is designed to launch at least five times with a crew. SpaceX and NASA are assessing how many times a Falcon can safely launch astronauts. For satellites, Falcons can be used for 10 flights.

The company uses the same kind of rocket and similar capsules for station supply runs, and recycles those, too.

This is the most internationally diverse crew yet for SpaceX

. NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, a retired Army colonel, is the spacecraft commander, with McArthur, an oceanographer, as his pilot

. Thomas Pesquet, a former Air France pilot, is representing the European Space Agency

. Engineer Akihiko Hoshide has worked for the Japanese Space Agency for nearly 30 years and helped build the space station

. All but McArthur have already visited the 260-mile-high (420-kilometer-high) outpost. But she’s ventured 100 miles (160 kilometers) higher on the space shuttle, taking part in NASA’s final Hubble Space Telescope mission in 2009

. The four have started a new recycled-rocket tradition for SpaceX crews, writing their initials in the soot of their boosr.

With French and Japanese astronauts flying together, dining promises to reach new heights. Hoshide is taking up curry and rice, as well as canned fish and yakitori — grilled and skewered chicken — but no

sushi. Pesquet had a Michelin-starred chef whip up some French delicacies: beef with red wine and mushroom sauce, truffled potato and onion tart, and almond tart with caramelized pears. There are also Crepes Suzette. Pesquet said last weekend he had “some national pressure” to fly French c

uisine. His crewmates also had high expectations: “OK, we’re flying with a Frenchman, it better b

Five days after this crew’s arrival at the space station, the one Japanese and three U.S. astronauts who have been up there since November will strap into their Spa

ceX capsule to come home. NASA wants some time in orbit between the two crews, so the newcomers can benefit from their colleagues’ experience up there. SpaceX is targeting an April 28 splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast

of Tallahassee, Florida. The company already is conferring with the Coast Guard to prevent pleasure boats from swarming the area like they did for the first SpaceX crew’s splashdown in August. More Coast Guard ships wiiastic about space travel.

NASA-SpaceX launch set for ISS

ABC 7 Chicago 22 April, 2021 - 09:01am

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