moon

Up To 100 Space Missions To The Moon To Take Place In The Next Decade 

Scientists are estimating that as many as 100 lunar missions could be completed within the next decade as interest in the moon heightens. Many nations and private companies have expressed interest in the moon, and cislunar space, referring to the area between Earth and the moon. 

According to the executive director of Astralytical, a space consulting firm based in Atlanta, Laura Forczyk: “We’re already seeing this competing rhetoric between the US government and the Chinese government. The US is pointing to China and saying, ‘We need to fund our space initiatives to the moon and cislunar space because China is trying to get there and claim territory. And then Chinese politicians are saying the same thing about the United States.”

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Both the US and China currently have plans for lunar exploration programs involving bringing astronauts to the moon, as well as researching the possibility of building habitats and infrastructure in the moon’s orbit and on its surface. 

South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, India, and Russia are also interested in planning out lunar missions. Commercial companies such as SpaceX have already begun preparing to launch a private crew on a “tourism flight in lunar orbit” this year as well, according to reports from NBC News

“During the Cold War, the space race was for national prestige and power. Now, we have a better understanding of the kind of benefits that operating in cislunar space can bring countries back home,” said Kaitlyn Johnson, deputy director and fellow of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Forczyk added that “with so many lunar missions planned over the next decade, space agencies and commercial companies will likely be angling for strategic orbits and trajectories.”

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“It might seem like space is big, but the specific orbits that we are most interested in get filled up fast,” Forczyk explained.

“Much of the increased activity in cislunar space owes to substantial decreases in launch costs over the past decade, with advancements in technology and increased competition both driving down the price of sending objects into orbit. At the same time, planetary science missions offered humanity a glimpse of the resources available in space, ranging from ice deposits on the moon to precious metals in asteroids,” said Marcus Holzinger, an associate professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Once people started really thinking through that, they realized that that water-ice can provide substantial resources or enable the gathering or collection of resources elsewhere in the solar system,” he stated.

“If humans intend to establish a permanent presence on the moon, and venture beyond Mars, it will be imperative to prioritize safety, sustainability and transparency, said Jim Myers, senior vice president of the civil systems group at The Aerospace Corporation.

“Those elements have to be there. Unless we do this in a very thoughtful way, unless we plan, we’re going to run into all sorts of trouble.”

wormhole

Physicists Create ‘Baby Wormhole’ Using Quantum Computer

Physicists announced on Wednesday that they had successfully simulated a pair of black holes and created a “theoretical” wormhole on a quantum computer. The researchers were able to transmit a message through the wormhole without affecting space or time, potentially paving the way for future studies of teleportation.

According to a study published in the journal “Nature,” scientists at the California Institute of Technology used the computer to virtually simulate what amounts to a tunnel connecting distant regions of the universe.

The achievement is a small step in understanding the relationship between gravity and quantum mechanics.

Dr. Maria Spiropulu, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, the leader of a consortium called Quantum Communication Channels for Fundamental Physics, and co-author of the report, described that the “holographic” tunnel has the elements of a “baby wormhole.” 

“This is important because what we have here in its construct and structure is a baby wormhole. And we hope that we can make adult wormholes and toddler wormholes step-by-step.”

Of course, scientists did not create a real-life wormhole, but physicists celebrated their work as a spectacular technical triumph. Dr. Spiropulu and her colleagues created the wormhole through an “emergent” two-dimensional space with “quantum fields on the edge of space-time determining what happens within.” 

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The computer-generated cosmic tunnel was built by scientists on Google’s Sycamore quantum processor. Essentially, their system was small enough to be implemented on current hardware while retaining the key properties of a gravitational wormhole.

Experts like Dr. Spiropulu stressed that scientists are still a long way away from being able to teleport any living being through a time-travel portal.

“Experimentally, for me, I will tell you that it’s very, very far away. People come to me and they ask me, ‘Can you put your dog in the wormhole?’ So, no.”

The study’s co-author Dr. Joseph Lykken said, “these ideas have been around for a long time, and they’re very powerful ideas.”

“But in the end, we’re in experimental science, and we’ve been struggling now for a very long time to find a way to explore these ideas in the laboratory. And that’s what’s really exciting about this.”

Dr. Daniel Jafferis, a physics professor at Harvard, said that the “key question, which is perhaps hard to answer, is: Do we say from the simulation it’s a real black hole?”

“I kind of like the term ’emergent black hole.’ We are just using the quantum computer to find out what it would look and feel like if you were in this gravitational situation.”

M.I.T. physicist Dr. Daniel Harlow, who was not involved in the experiment, told the New York Times that the study’s foundation was an extremely simplistic and unrealistic model of quantum gravity.

“So I’d say that this doesn’t teach us anything about quantum gravity that we didn’t already know. On the other hand, I think it is exciting as a technical achievement, because if we can’t even do this, and until now we couldn’t, then simulating more interesting quantum gravity theories would certainly be off the table.” 

According to Dr. Harlow, Developing computers capable of handling these simulations might take 10 or 15 years.

Dr. Leonard Susskind, a Stanford University physicist who was also not involved in the study, agreed with Dr. Harlow.

“They’re learning that they could do this experiment. The really interesting thing here is the possibility of analyzing purely quantum phenomena using general relativity, and who knows where that’s going to go.”

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The concept of a wormhole was first born from physicist Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity in 1935. Einstein and a fellow physicist, Nathan Rosen, showed how shortcuts connecting black holes through space and time could theoretically exist. These bridges were later termed to be “wormholes” by physicist John Wheeler in 1957. 

The recent wormhole experiment used the mathematics of general relativity to investigate quantum teleportation in the hopes of illuminating some previously unknown facet of physics or gravity.

In quantum teleportation, researchers can use a set of quantum manipulations to convey a message between two entangled particles, whether separated by inches or miles, without the researchers knowing what the information is. The technique is seen as fundamental to the development of an unhackable “quantum internet” of the future.

In a Nature article accompanying the paper, Dr. Susskind and Dr. Adam Brown, a physicist at Stanford, said the results could help demystify aspects of quantum mechanics.  

“The surprise is not that the message made it across in some form, but that it made it across unscrambled.”

According to Dr. Lykken, the most straightforward explanation is that the message went through a “really short” wormhole. 

In quantum mechanics, the shortest conceivable length of a wormhole in nature is 10⁻³³ centimeters, which is also known as the Planck length. Dr. Lykken calculated that the wormhole in the study was no more than three Planck lengths long.

“It’s the smallest, crummiest wormhole you can imagine making. But that’s really cool because now we’re clearly doing quantum gravity.”

graves

Genes That Helped People Survive the Plague Linked to Autoimmune Disorders in Descendants

Scientists have discovered that the same genetic characteristics that helped people survive the Black Death more than 700 years ago are now linked to an elevated risk of developing certain autoimmune disorders.

Using the DNA of victims and survivors of the Black Death from the 14th century, scientists have discovered that Europeans with a variation of the gene called ERAP2 had a substantially better chance of surviving the disease. The mutations provided protection against the Black Death pathogen Yersinia pestis, which went on to kill off nearly half of Europe’s population.

These results, published in the Journal “Nature,” provide insight into how the Black Death influenced the development of immunity genes like ERAP2 and laid the groundwork for how some people react to disease today. For instance, inheritors of the gene have a higher risk for autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease and arthritis.

Luis Barreiro, professor of genetic medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center and co-author of the study, believes this study provides new insight into the true evolutionary impact of the plague.

“This is, to my knowledge, the first demonstration that indeed, the Black Death was an important selective pressure to the evolution of the human immune system.”

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The study was carried out on more than 500 ancient DNA samples collected from the teeth of people who had died before, during or after the plague. Some samples were taken from skeletons buried in London’s East Smithfield plague pits. According to Barreiro, the pits were used for mass burials in 1348 and 1349 when people were dying so quickly that the city’s cemeteries were running out of space.

“So the king [Edward III], at the time, bought this piece of land and started digging it. There’s basically layers and layers of bodies one on top of each other.”

Samples that contained two copies of the ERAP2 gene indicated an ability to produce functional proteins, which helped the immune system to recognize an infection. The variant also helped immune cells neutralize the virus more efficiently, making the person 40% more likely to survive the plague than their peers. However, the mutations enhanced the body’s inflammatory response, making people more susceptible to autoimmune disorders.

Hendrik Poinar, professor of anthropology at McMaster University in Canada and co-senior author of the study, said the study showed the ability of pandemics to alter genome sequences in the long-term without being detected in modern populations.

“These genes are under balancing selection – what provided tremendous protection during hundreds of years of plague epidemics has turned out to be autoimmune-related now. A hyperactive immune system may have been great in the past, but in the environment today, it might not be as helpful.”

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Evolutionary biologist David Enard from the University of Arizona said the speed of the adaptation over just a few decades had other implications. The 40% survival advantage the variant bestowed is the most significant evolutionary advantage recorded in humans.

“The evolution is faster and stronger than anything we’ve seen before in the human genome. It’s really a big deal. It shows what’s possible [for humans], in terms of adaptation in response to many different pathogens.”

According to paleogeneticist Maria Avila Arcos, the study still has its limitations by only being carried out on a narrow population. The plague also affected parts of Asia and North Africa.

“There might be way more cellular mechanisms people used to cope with this devastating outbreak, but we’re just seeing the mechanisms shared across the English and Danish.”

mars

Ancient Mars May Have Been Teeming With Life

Ancient Mars may have had the right environmental conditions to support a subterranean world filled with microscopic organisms, researchers say. These microbes are known to thrive in extreme conditions on earth.

Scientists at the University of Arizona determined that if primary life forms did ever exist on Mars, they would have drastically altered the planet’s atmosphere, resulting in an ice age that would have led to their own extinction.

The study, which was published in the journal Nature Astronomy, analyzed the habitability of Mars around 4 billion years ago. Lead author Boris Sauterey and his team used climate and terrain models to simulate the temperatures at the surface and crust of the red planet.

“This allowed us to evaluate how plausible a Martian underground biosphere would be. And if such a biosphere existed, how it would have modified the chemistry of the Martian crust, and how these processes in the crust would have affected the chemical composition of the atmosphere.”

At the time, the planet is believed to have had a much denser atmosphere, rich in carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The temperate climate would have likely led to a planet teeming with water, capable of better sustaining life than it is today.

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The areas that were free of ice could have housed these organisms in a manner similar to early earth. Methanogens, known to exist in low-oxygen, extreme temperature and high-pressure conditions on earth, may have thrived underneath a thick layer of dirt protecting them from incoming radiation.

The atmosphere would have been thrown off kilter with the amount of hydrogen consumed from its carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere, causing temperatures to drop by nearly 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The atmosphere “would have been completely changed by biological activity very rapidly, within a few tens or hundreds of thousands of years,” Sauterey said.

The microorganisms living near the surface would have burrowed deeper into the crust in an effort to survive the rapidly dropping temperatures.

“The problem these microbes would have then faced is that Mars’ atmosphere basically disappeared, completely thinned, so their energy source would have vanished, and they would have had to find an alternate source of energy. In addition to that, the temperature would have dropped significantly, and they would have had to go much deeper into the crust. For the moment, it is very difficult to say how long Mars would have remained habitable.”

This evolution of the atmosphere would have been different from earth, where microbes helped maintain the proper temperatures in an atmosphere dominated by nitrogen.

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Kaveh Pahlevan of the SETI Institute led another study that suggested Mars had warm oceans that persisted through millions of years. The hydrogen-dense atmosphere would have served as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat. Much of the hydrogen would eventually rise and dissipate into the atmosphere.

“This finding is significant because H2 is known to be a strong greenhouse gas in dense environments. This dense atmosphere would have produced a strong greenhouse effect, allowing very early warm-to-hot water oceans to stabilize the Martian surface for millions of years until the H2 was gradually lost to space. For this reason, we infer that—at a time before the earth itself had formed—Mars was born wet.”

The University of Arizona study analyzed the influence microbes had on Mars’ atmosphere during a different period when it was primarily dominated by carbon dioxide.

Pahlevan added in an email to The Guardian, “what their study makes clear, however, is that if life were present on Mars” during this earlier period, “they would have had a major influence on the prevailing climate.”

Future exploration projects on Mars may provide a clearer picture of potential life on early Mars. Researchers identified Hellas Planitia, a plain formed by the impact of a giant asteroid early in Mars’ history, as a site for possible evidence. However, the plain is home to some of the planet’s strongest dust storms, making it too challenging to be explored by autonomous rovers right now.

ocean

New Battery-Free, Wireless Underwater Camera From MIT Engineers Could Help Scientists Further Explore The Ocean 

According to MIT News, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have potentially advanced the way that scientists can explore unknown regions of the ocean, track pollution, and/or monitor climate change. 

Scientists currently estimate that more than 95% of the oceans on Earth have never been explored. One of the biggest obstacles researchers face is the high cost of powering an underwater camera that can withstand the environmental changes that come from the extreme depths of the ocean. 

Typically, researchers need to have the underwater cameras that currently are in use to observe the ocean tethered to a vessel or need to send a ship out to recharge the batteries of the camera. 

Now, MIT researchers have developed a battery-free wireless underwater camera that is “100,000 times more energy efficient than other undersea cameras.” 

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The device is said to take color photos, even in dark underwater environments, and can transmit the data from the images wirelessly through the water.

The camera itself is powered by sound, and works by converting mechanical energy from sound waves traveling through the water into electrical energy that can then be used to power its imaging and communication systems. Once the camera captures an image, it uses the sound waves to transfer data to a receiver on land that will reconstruct this image taken.

The scientists behind the camera also think the device is so impressive because it doesn’t need a power source, meaning it can be underwater capturing images for weeks before it needs to be retrieved. This will allow researchers to explore new depths for longer periods of time. 

“One of the most exciting applications of this camera for me personally is in the context of climate monitoring. We are building climate models, but we are missing data from over 95 percent of the ocean. This technology could help us build more accurate climate models and better understand how climate change impacts the underwater world,” explained Fadel Adib,  senior author of a report on the device published in Nature Communications. 

Sayed Saad Afzal, Waleed Akbar, and Osvy Rodriguez are co-lead authors on the study as well, as well as Unsoo Ha, Mario Doumet, and Reza Ghaffarivardavagh. 

Adib explained how initially, the group was “trying to minimize the hardware as much as possible, to create new constraints on how to build the system, send information, and perform image reconstruction. It took a fair amount of creativity to figure out how to do that.” 

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The camera uses red, green, and blue LED lights to reflect on the white parts of the image, which can then “reconstruct the color image taken,” according to Akbar. 

“When we were kids in art class, we were taught that we could make all colors using three basic colors. The same rules follow for color images we see on our computers. We just need red, green, and blue — these three channels — to construct color images,” he explained. 

According to the report, the researchers tested the camera in several different underwater environments. Through those trials they were able to take high-quality photos of fish and plants in dark environments that are typically very difficult to capture. 

Now that they have a working prototype, the next step will be for the researchers to enhance the device to be used in more real-world settings. Overall, they want to increase the camera’s memory, extend its range, and ability to stream images and potentially videos in real time. 

“This will open up great opportunities for research both in low-power IoT devices as well as underwater monitoring and research,” says Haitham Al-Hassanieh, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

fossil

Scientists May Have Solved the Mystery of an Ancient ‘Alien Goldfish’

Scientists may have finally figured out where an ancient sea animal fits into the “tree of life.” The animal, known as Typhloesus wellsi, perplexed scientists for nearly 50 years, leading them to dub it the “alien goldfish.”

Typhloesus was just 90 mm long when it was alive. It had no fins other than a singular large tail fin. Bizarrely, it also had no backbone, anus, eyes or shell.

Scientists previously thought the creature was a conodont, a group of jawless vertebrates that resembled eels. Upon closer inspection, scientists realized that the Typhloesus fossil specimen actually showed the animal had the remains of a conodont inside its digestive tract, indicating the Typhloesus ate conodonts.

The recent discovery of a tooth-covered ribbon-like structure in the Typhloesus helped scientists figure out its possible taxonomic placement. Paleontologists believe they were most likely a marine mollusk and an ancient relative of gastropods like sea slugs.

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Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron and Dr. Simon Conway Morris, paleontologists at the University of Cambridge, made the discovery after examining several Typhloesus fossil specimens taken from a 330-million-year-old fossil deposit in the Bear Gulch Limestone site in Montana, US.

Dr. Caron found the toothed tonguelike structure under a high-powered scanning microscope. The structure was similar to that of a radula, an anatomical structure snails and mollusks use to scrape food into their mouths.

The scientists believe the structure was likely attached to a retractable trunk. The alien goldfish would extend it whenever it was feeding, much like a lizard. The existence of the Typhloesus’ radula led scientists to deduce that the mysterious creature may be a mollusk.

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Dr. Caron believes the creature was similar to a sea slug, which swims through water, sticking its radula through trunklike proboscis to hunt prey. Typhloesus also had a flexible body and large tail. They were likely good swimmers and did not move along the sea floor.

Professor Mark Purnell from the Center for Paleobiology at the University of Leicester in the UK suggests that scientists cannot definitively say “the very strange animal” is a mollusk.

“[The researchers] have found some tantalizing new information, but it is far from being a slam-dunk case in terms of definitely knowing what this weird thing is.”

Typhloesus fossils predate the rest of the swimming snail fossil record by over 100 million years. Dr. Christopher Whalen, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, said that since sea slugs lacked shells and other features commonly imprinted in fossils and quickly swam in the water, they are not as present in fossil records.

Understanding the Typhloesus will help paleontologists learn more about the evolution of mollusks, the planet’s second largest group of invertebrates.

According to Dr. Caron, studying the strangest creatures often unearths the most valuable discoveries.

 “They are enigmatic, but they reveal a lot of important evolutionary information.”

asteroid

NASA To Slam Probe Into Asteroid for Planetary Defense Test

On Sept. 26, NASA will slam a probe into an asteroid during its Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission. The mission is part of NASA’s larger planetary defense plan against any asteroids that may someday impact the Earth.

If an asteroid were to hurl toward Earth in the future, a probe like the one used in DART should be able to realign its trajectory or destroy it, neutralizing its threat.

One of the engineers orchestrating the mission acknowledges, “this is an amazing moment for our space program.”

“For the first time, we will move a celestial body intentionally in space, beyond Earth’s orbit! This test goes beyond international borders and really shows what we can accomplish if we all work together as one team and as one on Earth.”

NASA mapped the orbits of 30,000 nearby asteroids and determined that, as of right now, most of them are unlikely to collide with Earth or are so small that they would burn up in the atmosphere before any significant impact.

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The last time an asteroid collided with Earth, it ended the age of dinosaurs some 66 million years ago. The 6-mile wide asteroid Chicxulub killed over 75% of the Earth’s species, triggering a mass extinction event. Earthquakes reverberated throughout the crust; wildfires spread in all directions from the asteroid’s impact, and mammoth tsunamis engulfed dry land.

NASA does not want to rule out that an asteroid may hit Earth in the future. The probe will impact an asteroid named Dimorphos, which orbits another asteroid named Didymos, nearly the Earth’s size. Its mission is to realign Dimorphos and change the duration of its orbit by 11 minutes.

The agency says this will determine if a strategy like DART would successfully prevent planetary threats posed by asteroids by gauging how asteroids respond to kinetic impact. The stakes of the test are low since it poses no threat to Earth, but the agency says the difficulty of the maneuver will remain the same.

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During a news conference, Andrea Riley, a program executive at NASA, spoke on the importance of the DART test. The probe will only be able to detect Dimorphos an hour and a half before impact, making this an accurate test of its precision. Once the probe detects the asteroid, it will autonomously guide itself into a collision.

“If it misses, it still provides a lot of data. This is a test mission. This is why we test; we want to do it now rather than when there is an actual need.”

NASA will hold a televised briefing for the test at 6 p.m. on Sept. 26. NASA TV will then provide live coverage of the impact, predicted to be at 7:14 p.m. EDT the same day.

glacier

Doomsday Glacier Could Melt Rapidly With’ Just a Small Kick,’ Scientists Say

A glacier the size of Florida could melt at a faster rate than previously anticipated. The Thwaites Glacier, located in Antarctica, has been dubbed the “doomsday” glacier because of its potential to markedly raise already rising sea levels.

The glacier could raise sea levels by 2 feet or more if melted. Its precarious location in contact with warm ocean currents makes it even more susceptible to collapse.

Scientists made the discovery after a team of researchers from the U.S., Sweden, and the United Kingdom conducted a study to determine the fastest rates the glacier has retreated in the past. Dr. Robert Larter, one of the study’s co-authors, noted the significance of the findings in the study’s release.

“Thwaites is really holding on today by its fingernails, and we should expect to see big changes over small timescales in the future — even from one year to the next — once the glacier retreats beyond a shallow ridge in its bed.”

The glacier is the widest on earth, sitting at 80 miles wide. It protects the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, acting as a buffer between the sheet and warming waters. The entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet could raise sea levels by up to 16 feet.

For the study, the researchers sent an autonomous vehicle to the glacier’s former grounding zone. The grounding zone of a glacier is where an attached ice shelf transitions into a floating ice shelf. The autonomous vehicle, named Rán, was equipped with two geophysical sensors and used to produce 3D scans of the underwater surface.

These scans allowed scientists to map the glacier’s movements throughout the last 200 years. Previously, scientists could only see its movements within the past 30 years because of satellite imagery limitations.

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The study aimed to learn about the glacier’s past retreat rates to more accurately predict the rate at which it may continue to retreat. The scientists found that the glacier is capable of retreating more rapidly than previously thought. Sometime in the last 200 years, it had retreated at twice the rate it did between 2011 and 2019.

The leader of the mission, University of Florida’s Dr. Alastair Graham, warned that while the slower rate is seemingly positive, the findings confirm that the glacier is highly perceptible to changes in climate. Since the rate of the glacier retreating has pulsated, it is likely to happen again.

“Our results suggest that sustained pulses of rapid retreat have occurred at Thwaites Glacier in the past two centuries. Similar rapid retreat pulses are likely to occur in the near future when the grounding zone migrates back off stabilizing high points on the sea floor.”

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Dr. Graham said that once the glacier retreats beyond a certain point, it has the potential to shrink at an even greater rate. In fact, “just a small kick to Thwaites could lead to a big response,” Dr. Graham predicted.

These findings rebut the hope once held by scientists that the Antarctic ice sheets would be more resilient to climate change.

black hole

NASA Releases Footage Found From A Black Hole That Leaves An Ominous Sound

In a recent tweet from NASA, they revealed some mysterious audio from a galaxy cluster that can be found 240 million lightyears away from Earth.

The new sound waves that have been released were previously identified, but now for the first time they can actually be heard. 

Scientists say the black hole sends out pressure waves that cause ripples in the hot gas, which can be translated into a note,” according to Wesh.com

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The actual note can’t be heard by a normal human ear. The note is roughly 57 octaves below that of middle C. 

The black hole has been associated with the sound ever since 2003. 

Astronomers figured out that the waves that were coming from the black hole ended up causing ripples within the hot gas which translated into the ominous note that was and can now be heard.

“The misconception that there is no sound in space originates because most space is a ~vacuum, providing no way for sound waves to travel. A galaxy cluster has so much gas that we’ve picked up actual sound. Here it’s amplified, and mixed with other data, to hear a black hole” 

NASA ended up scaling the sounds up to their true pitch that way everyone would be able to hear the sound coming from within the black hole. 

According to Business Insider, the scaled up sound is actually 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times higher than what the actual frequency is. 

The news broke across the internet and the outpouring of peoples reactions at being able to hear the interior of the black hole was astounding.

One tweet from CNN anchor Jim Sciutto wrote, “This is cool-and really, really spooky.”

“Everyone is talking about how eerie this is, but, to me the way it just cuts off is by far the creepiest part,” said astronomy blogger Phil Plait. 

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Another Twitter account noted that the black hole actually sounded like “a billion souls being tortured.”

When the clip was originally published, NASA shared a more pleasant version of the noise from M87 which was released by the Event Horizon Telescope project in 2019. 

The incorporated music also came from Chandra telescope’s X-ray data along with audio of optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Atacma Large Milimeter Array in Chile. 

When listening, the loudest part of the M87 music goes along with the brightest part of the image shown which is right where the black hole can be found.

moderna

UK Approves Updated Covid-19 Vaccine From Moderna, Targets Omicron And Original Strain 

The United Kingdom has become the first nation to approve an updated version of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine booster, meant to target the omicron strain as well as the original virus that first appeared in 2020. 

“An updated version of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna that targets two coronavirus variants (known as a “bivalent” vaccine) has today been approved for adult booster doses by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after it was found to meet the UK regulator’s standards of safety, quality and effectiveness,” read an official government release.

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“Half of the booster, called Spikevax bivalent Original/Omicron, targets the original coronavirus strain while the other half targets Omicron,” it said.

The MHRA, the UK government’s independent expert scientific advisory board, endorsed the decision to approve of the new vaccine after carefully reviewing the evidence. 

The clinical trial by Moderna reported that the booster targets Omicron and showed a stronger immune response against the variant in addition to the original strain. The company said the “updated booster showed a potent response against BA.4 and BA. 5 sub variants.” 

“The side effects are the same as for the original Moderna booster dose and found to be typically mild and self-resolving. No serious safety concerns were identified,” the UK government release said.

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MHRA Chief Executive Dr. June Raine said that “the new Moderna booster will help keep communities protected.

“The first generation of COVID-19 vaccines being used in the UK continue to provide important protection against the disease and save lives. What this bivalent vaccine gives us is a sharpened tool in our armory to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve.”

The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization will advise on the vaccine’s rollout, as it is not yet clear who will be offered the booster or when. 

Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna, said on Twitter he was “delighted the vaccine had been approved.”

“This represents the first authorization of an Omicron-containing bivalent vaccine, this bivalent vaccine has an important role to play in protecting people in the UK from Covid-19 as we enter the winter months.”

Besides Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech have been testing two Covid-19 vaccine boosters that will also target the Omicron variant.