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Archaeologists Discover Lost Egyptian City Said to Rival Pompeii

A new discovery on the west bank of the Nile, near the iconic Valley of the Kings, has archaeologists buzzing about what may be the most important archaeological find since the location of Tutankhamun’s tomb. An entire lost city has been found, with workshops, palaces, a cemetery, and living quarters. The site is said to be in excellent condition.

“There’s no doubt about it; it really is a phenomenal find,” Salima Ikram, an archaeologist who leads the American University in Cairo’s Egyptology unit, told National Geographic. “It’s very much a snapshot in time—an Egyptian version of Pompeii.”

The archaeologists have found multiple artifacts stamped with the seal of Amenhotep III or dated to year 37 of his reign, when Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV are believed to have ruled side-by-side. According to Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, the team that found the lost city was actually searching for the mortuary temple of Tutankhamun after locating the mortuary temples of both Horemheb and Ay in the same area.

“The city’s streets are flanked by houses… some of their walls are up to 3 meters high,” Hawass continued. “We can reveal that the city extends to the west, all the way to the famous Deir el-Medina.”

Deir el-Medina is the name of the town where generations of artisans and laborers worked to carve rock tombs out of the Valley of the Kings. Wikipedia notes that Deir el-Medina is “laid out in a small natural amphitheater, within easy walking distance of the Valley of the Kings to the north, funerary temples to the east and south-east, with the Valley of the Queens to the west. The village may have been built apart from the wider population in order to preserve secrecy in view of sensitive nature of the work carried out in the tombs.” If the new city stretches all the way to Deir el-Medina, it means the village of workers may have been less isolated than previously thought.

Some of the decorative objects found at The Rise of Aten. Image by Zahi Hawass

The find is being described as “The lost golden city of Luxor,” but that appellation risks confusion. Luxor is a modern Egyptian city and its present-day boundaries are already known to include the ruins of Thebes, the ancient Egyptian capital. This new lost city, known in ancient times as Rising of the Aten, is inside the borders of modern-day Luxor, on the west bank of the Nile, not far from the Valley of the Kings. While described as a city, it’s not a large location.

Zoomed out view, showing the location of The Rise of Aten within Luxor.

Hawass identifies the site as “sandwiched between Rameses III’s temple at Medinet Habu and Amenhotep III’s temple at Memnon.” Google Maps (above) shows that this specific area isn’t very large, but here’s a zoomed-in view showing the relationship between the new finds and existing structures.

A zoomed-in view, showing the lost city in relationship to other nearby locations and the Valley of the Kings.

Rising of the Aten was built on the west bank of the Nile and occupied during the reign of Amenhotep III, but it was apparently abandoned suddenly during the reign of his son, Amenhotep IV, also known as Akhenaten, father of Tutankhaten / Tutankahmun. The changing titles of both pharaohs hints at the cultural upheaval in Egypt during their reigns.

Ancient Egypt was mostly polytheistic, but not entirely. During the reign of Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten, the capital of Egypt moved from Thebes to a new city he founded 250 miles to the north, named Akhetaten, which means “Horizon of the Aten.” At the same time, the nature of Egyptian religion changed.

Prior to the reign of Amenhotep IV, the Aten was the disk of the sun and considered one aspect of the Egyptian sun god Ra. Under Amenhotep IV, Aten became the sole deity Egyptians worshipped and the pharaoh renamed himself as Akhenaten. This was controversial, to put it mildly.

Akhenaten’s son, Tutankhaten, appears to have changed his name to Tutankhamun after his father’s death, possibly to signal allegiance to the old religious orders and to affirm Amun-Ra as leader of the Egyptian pantheon. He took multiple actions to restore the religious orders his father had disfavored, including abandoning Akhetaten and returning the seat of Egyptian power to Thebes. After his death, he was succeeded by Ay, who was possibly his great-uncle.

The Amarna period is known for its artistic experimentation. But Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, and Ay were all associated with what ancient Egyptians viewed as religious heresy. The pharaoh who came after Ay, Horemheb, practiced damnatio memoriae against his predecessors. Damnatio memoriae is Latin for “condemnation of memory” and refers to systemic efforts to exclude mention or depiction of a person from history. The efforts the ancient Egyptians made to keep the later rulers of the 18th Dynasty out of the history books have complicated our efforts to understand their lives today, despite the fact that Tutankhamun’s burial treasure represents the most complete trove of royal ancient Egyptian artifacts ever discovered.

ExtremeTech reached out to professor Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture and Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA, to better understand the implications of the find.  “This is one of the biggest things to happen to domestic architecture and settlement archaeology in some time,” Cooney said. “The town is beautifully preserved, even past one story, in mudbrick, which shouldn’t survive. What is astounding is all that comes with the town, tools, pottery, texts, as if the town was left suddenly, which is what archaeologists think happened.”

“Mudbrick isn’t preserved like this elsewhere,” Cooney continued. “They [archaeologists] are worried about preserving this site. Once rainstorm will do untold damage. This is a special and amazing find that must be carefully studied and preserved.”

The Rise of Aten could shed new light on a tumultuous period of time in Ancient Egypt when artistic and religious standards were changing. Reports indicate the city has been found “packed” with artifacts and everyday objects, many of which may help us understand the lives of the people that lived there. It is not clear if the site was used when Tutankhamun returned to Thebes. We may find clues to that decision as work on the site progresses.

One other thing we want to mention. There have been claims that the recent Rising of the Aten discovery reported by Zahi Hawass is an inadvertent duplication of French archaeological finds that date back to the 1930s. This appears to be unlikely. A follow-up investigation comparing the French expedition work to the Rising of the Aten site found that they occurred in two different locations, though both date to the reign of Amenhotep III. The two sites may or may not be related, but the claims of a previously-unknown Egyptian Pompeii are holding up thus far.

Every now and then, the discoveries we make in these long-lost places dramatically reshapes what we know of the past. Some of our knowledge of ancient writers and thinkers comes from just one place — a library in Herculaneum, buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Rising of the Aten may hold similar secrets, kept safe and untouched for thousands of years.

Feature image by Zahi Hawass

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Astronomers Discover Closest Black Hole to Earth Yet

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Black holes have a reputation for being voracious monsters that tear apart stars and wreak easily recognizable havoc across the universe. However, most of them are pretty quiet and hard to spot. As such, astronomers haven’t found many of these objects near Earth, but a team from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) just found one that’s much closer than any previous recorded black hole. It’s a mere 1,000 light-years away in the constellation Telescopium. Despite the name, you don’t actually need a telescope to see this solar system. 

Spotting black holes is harder than you might think. A black hole is, by definition, black — they don’t release any detectable energy because anything that passes the event horizon remains inside it. The characteristic X-ray signature of black holes comes from the super-hot material spiraling toward the event horizon in the accretion disk. If black holes aren’t actively “feeding,” they’re effectively invisible. It took months of observations with the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile to confirm there was a black hole lurking in the HR 6819 system (also known as QV Telescopii). 

The key to identifying the HR 6819 black hole was the effect it has on the two main-sequence stars in the system. We can watch these stars move through space, and the gravitational interactions make it clear this is not a binary system, but a trinary with two “normal” stars and a black hole. Based on the behavior of the two stars as they orbit the unseen mass every 40 days, the ESO team estimated that the invisible third element has about four times the mass of the sun. That can only be a black hole. 

Wide-field image of QV Telescopii (center) in the constellation Telescopium. Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey

Before this discovery, the closest known black hole was about 3,000 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros. Naturally, you can’t see the HR 6819 black hole with even the most powerful telescopes in the world. However, you can see the two stars with the naked eye, provided you’re in the southern hemisphere. 

QV Telescopii might not enjoy the distinction of being the closest black hole for long. The ESO believes this discovery lays the groundwork for finding more invisible black holes in nearby solar systems. As long as there’s a visible star in the same system with a black hole, it should be possible to use its orbit to pinpoint its unseen companion.

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Scientists Discover Black Hole Too Massive for Current Theories

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Scientists have found many truly massive black holes in the cosmos, some of which weigh in at millions of billions of times the mass of our sun. These monsters lurk at the heart of galaxies like the Milky Way and M87, but smaller stellar-mass black holes can be anyplace. Astronomers have spotted one of these black holes in our galactic backyard, but it’s a bit heftier than it ought to be. In fact, it strains our theoretical understanding of black holes by sitting between the stellar mass and supermassive varieties. 

The mystery started when a team led by Jifeng Liu, deputy director-general of the National Astronomical Observatories of China, spotted a star called LB-1 a mere 13,800 light-years away. The team used China’s Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST) to identify the star. While many black holes produce detectably x-ray or gamma signals, Liu’s team used LAMOST to hunt for inactive black holes with stars in stable orbits. They found LB-1 was orbiting such a black hole, but it wasn’t at all what they expected to see. 

The star orbits the black hole once every eight days. While the black hole is not visible, we know LB-1’s mass (about eight times the sun) and can, therefore, estimate the black hole’s heft. Surprisingly, the invisible black hole in this system seems to be 68 times more massive than the sun. Clearly, this is not the heaviest black hole in the universe — astronomers regularly clock supermassive black holes many thousands of times larger. However, a stellar-mass black hole that exists after a large star collapses should top out around 25 solar masses. 

The M87 supermassive black hole imaged earlier this year.

Our current models of star life cycles predict that a large star will lose most of its mass in powerful stellar winds as it runs out of fuel. Thus, the resulting black hole will be smaller than the star’s original mass — that’s how we get to 25 solar masses as the approximate ceiling. Finding a black hole significantly larger than 25 solar masses is perplexing, to say the least. Although, this does match with some other preliminary results. The LIGO gravity wave detector recently detected black hole collisions in a distant galaxy, and these objects appear to be past the 25-solar-mass barrier. 

It’s going to take some work before we fully grasp what’s going on with LB-1’s black hole companion. It could be that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of black hole formation. It’s also possible the distance measurement for LB-1 is off. If it’s closer, and therefore less luminous, then it’s also less massive. That could mean the black hole is also smaller than calculated. Other teams will have to make their own observations to confirm the Chinese team’s results.

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Woman who feels no pain has genetic mutation, scientists discover

Jo Cameron smells her smouldering flesh before realizing she has even been burnt and scoffs down chilli peppers with ease — and now doctors believe the 71-year-old could hold the key to new treatments for chronic injuries after discovering she feels virtually no pain.

The former teacher has a rare genetic mutation that means she feels less pain, heals faster and experiences less anxiety than most people.

From broken limbs and cuts to childbirth and surgery, Cameron — who resides in Inverness in northeast Scotland — should be no stranger to discomfort.

But for the first 65 years of her life, she was blissfully unaware of her condition.

It wasn’t until she underwent serious surgery on her hand that doctors sensed something was amiss.

“When [the doctor] found I hadn’t had any [painkillers], he checked my medical history and found I had never asked for painkillers,” Cameron told the BBC.

‘It would be nice to have warning’

Cameron was referred to pain geneticists at University College London (UCL), who looked into her DNA to determine what made her so unique.

The results, published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia this month, revealed two mutations that simultaneously suppressed pain and anxiety and encouraged happiness, wound healing and memory loss.

The first mutation lessened the activity of a gene called FAAH, which is central to regulating pain sensation, mood and memory.

The second discovery, however, took researchers by surprise.

Its been dubbed FAAH-OUT — and while scientists previously thought it was a “junk gene” that was not functional, they now believe it “mediates FAAH expression.”

To put it simply, it acts as a volume control on pain, mood and memory.

As part of her mutation, Cameron has a “microdeletion,” which prevents that control from working normally.

“She reported numerous burns and cuts without pain, often smelling her burning flesh before noticing any injury, and that these wounds healed quickly with little or no residual scar,” the report noted.

“She reported long-standing memory lapses … she also reported never panicking, not even in dangerous or fearful situations, such as in a recent road traffic accident.”

People with rare insensitivity to pain can be valuable to medical research as we learn how their genetic mutations impact how they experience pain.–  James Cox

Researchers believe the mutation may have been passed down from Cameron’s father, who himself “had little requirement for painkillers.”

Further testing revealed that her son also exhibited some signs of pain insensitivity, though the same traits were not observed in her daughter.

For Cameron, the revelation has been enlightening. While able to reflect on events like childbirth as “quite enjoyable really,” she believes her condition means she has missed “alarm bells” along the way.

“It would be nice to have warning when something’s wrong,” she told the BBC.

“I didn’t know my hip was gone until it was really gone, I physically couldn’t walk with my arthritis.”

What the discovery means

Researchers say the discovery could help shine a light on the role of genetics in pain management — and believe there could be more people out there with the same mutation.

“People with rare insensitivity to pain can be valuable to medical research as we learn how their genetic mutations impact how they experience pain,” one of the study’s lead researchers, James Cox, said in a statement.

Cameron is continuing to work with the research team in order to better understand the pseudogene, including undergoing further tests in cell samples.

Calgary scientist ‘shocked’

At Matthew Hill’s lab at the University of Calgary, scientists work on the biochemistry of endocannabinoids.

Cameron’s blood was tested by Hill, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Neurobiology of Stress. He worked to quantify Cameron’s loss of FAAH function. 

“When we processed the blood and looked at the data, I was shocked,” said Hill, a co-author of the study.

Hill said research on mice lacking FAAH function were insensitive to capsaicin, the component of chili peppers that generates a burning sensation in our mouths. 

“I suggested to the doctors that they bring the woman back in and see how she reacted to eating a chili pepper. They brought her back in and had her eat a Scotch bonnet pepper, to which she described as a pleasant tingle.”

Overall, Hill called it a fascinating case.

“I think [it] helps us understand even more so how endocannabinoid function regulates pain, emotion and memory in humans and helps to support the future investigation of drugs which target this system as possible therapeutics for the treatment of pain and anxiety,” he added in an email.

Devjit Srivastava, co-lead author of the paper, said the findings point towards a novel painkiller discovery that could contribute to post-surgical pain relief and accelerate wound healing. 

“We hope this could help the 330 million patients who undergo surgery globally every year,” Srivastava said.

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Scientists surprised to discover meteor exploded over Bering Sea in December

On Dec. 18, 2018, a large meteor streaked across the sky over the Bering Sea before exploding with 10 times the strength of the atom bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Despite having an estimated diameter of 10 metres, the meteor entered our atmosphere unnoticed by astronomers at an estimated speed of 32 kilometres per second. It exploded with the energy of 173 kilotons of TNT, 300 kilometres off the coast of Kamchatka, Russia. 

"It's an unusual event," said Peter Brown, a meteor expert and professor of physics and astronomy at Western University. "We don't see things this big very often."

The explosion was initially detected by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) shortly after it occurred. The organization looks for signs of potential nuclear missile activity. It does so with the help of monitoring stations around the world that measure infrasound, which is acoustic waves with low frequencies.

However, because it wasn't a nuclear concern, the group simply catalogued it and moved on.

The blast went unnoticed by astronomers who track meteors. Almost three months later, Brown learned about the explosion while looking at CTBTO's data. At the same time, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Cali., also added the Bering Sea explosion to its online fireball database. The blast received significantly more attention this past weekend at the Lunar and Planetary Space conference held just outside Houston.


Seen from space

Satellites confirmed the meteor's path and explosion with images from space.

Watch as satellites captured the dust trail left after a large meteor broke up over the Bering Sea on December 18, 2018.

If there had been anyone in the vicinity of the meteor, they would have heard a massive explosion, similar to the meteor that exploded in the skies over Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15, 2013, Brown said. In that case, roughly two minutes after people witnessed the meteor, an airburst caused windows to explode, injuring 1,000 people.

The Chelyabinsk meteor entered at roughly 19 km/s, which Brown said is a little more typical for meteors of this size.

Brown has some reservations about JPL's estimate that this latest meteor was travelling so much faster, at 32 km/s.

"My suspicion is that the velocity is too high," he said. "But I have no data to support that."

This illustration shows all fireballs — from objects entering our atmosphere — over time, including the Chelyabinsk and Bering Sea meteors. (JPL/CNEOS)

He points out that a recent study published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society compared velocities of meteors reported by JPL and ground-based observations. The paper found that the velocities reported by JPL have a large margin of error.

Cosmic shooting range

As Earth moves through space, it is constantly bombarded with rocky objects left over from the formation of our solar system. We see small grains of dust burn up in our atmosphere as meteors streak across the sky. But larger ones can enter the atmosphere without burning up completely, with pieces raining down on the ground (once they reach the ground, they are called meteorites). Large ones that are about 10 metres in diameter hit once every decade or so.

There are asteroids and comets that cross Earth's orbit, referred to as potentially hazardous objects (PHAs), but astronomers around the world are keeping a close eye out for them.

"The public should not be concerned," said Canadian Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at JPL. "Because these events are normal. Asteroids impact Earth all the time, though it's usually much smaller than this size."

NASA is constantly monitoring the skies for these near-earth objects. Experts estimate roughly 90 per cent of objects in our solar system that are one-kilometre wide or larger have been found, and the U.S. Congress has set a goal of discovering 90 per cent of objects 140 metres in diameter or larger.

Approximately 2,000 near-Earth objects are discovered every year, Chodas said.

This chart shows all the known near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) over time. Totals are shown for NEAs larger than 140 metres in diameter and those larger than one kilometre. (JPL/CNEOS)

The only reason the one over the Bering Sea wasn't detected is because it came from a northerly angle, where fewer telescopes are focused.

Once in a while you may hear or read about an asteroid passing "dangerously" close to Earth, such as asteroid 2019 EA2. This 24-metre-wide rock will pass within the moon's orbit at 9:53 p.m. on March 21, but it will still be more than 300,000 kilometres from Earth.

If there is an asteroid that poses a danger to Earth, scientists would likely know about it far in advance.

For now, astronomers continue to scan the skies, with newer telescopes that will be able to see dimmer objects and farther out into space.

"In time, eventually they will all reveal themselves," Chodas said of the near-Earth asteroids. "It's just a matter of continuing to search for them."

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Astronomers Discover ‘Farout’ Dwarf Planet at Edge of Our Solar System

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Our simplistic nine-planet view of the solar system was shattered years ago when scientists learned Pluto was not unique in the outer solar system. We have since discovered more “dwarf planets,” and an international team of astronomers has just spotted the most distant such planetoid yet. The object known as “Farout” is 120 times farther from the sun than Earth, putting it far beyond the orbit of Pluto. There is some hope that learning more about Farout could point the way to a true ninth planet.

Astronomer Scott Sheppard from the Carnegie Institution for Science imaged Farout for the first time on Nov. 10th with the help of researchers from the University of Hawaii and Northern Arizona University. They used the Subaru 8-meter telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii for that initial observation, which the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile confirmed earlier this month. Based on the data we have so far, the team has made educated guesses for Farout’s size, brightness, color, and approximate location.

Farout is between 500 and 600 kilometers (310-370 miles) in diameter, so its mass should be sufficient to make it spherical. So, scientists consider it a dwarf planet and not a very large comet. Farout has a pinkish hue, indicating the surface is icy — no surprise at that distance. Ice tends to turn pink or red after long-term exposure to solar radiation.

At 120 AU (an AU is the distance from Earth to the sun), Farout is the most distant dwarf planet so far discovered in the solar system. Previously, the dwarf planet Eris held that distinction at 96 AU. Pluto is a mere 34 AU from the sun. Farout, which is officially known as 2018 VG18, is so far away that it takes light almost 17 hours to reach it.

We can’t be sure of Farout’s orbit just yet. Most trans-Neptunian objects have eccentric orbits, and we don’t know which way Farout is going to swing. It may take as long as 1,000 Earth years for it to complete a single orbit, so we will need several years of observation to estimate its path. 120 AU might be as far away as it gets from the sun, or it could travel even farther out before drifting closer.

Astronomers hope that Farout can help pin down the location of the theorized ninth planet, sometimes called Planet X or Planet Nine. The orbit of trans-Neptunian objects like Farout suggest there’s something massive out there — at least several times heavier than Earth. Farout is so far out that it may fill in a lot of gaps. There are two options, the more interesting of which is that Farout was dragged into its distant orbit by Planet X. If future observations suggest it swings in close to the orbit of Neptune, it’s also possible an encounter with the eighth planet flung it out there instead. It’ll take time to figure out which it is.

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Archaeologists Discover Unspoiled Egyptian Tomb, Sealed For 4,400 Years

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When it comes to Egyptian archaeology, unspoiled tombs are vanishingly rare. Even the tomb of King Tutankhamun, KV62, which survived to the present day relatively intact, was actually penetrated and despoiled twice in antiquity prior to being buried and forgotten. The farther back in time you go, the more unusual it is to find a tomb that was truly forgotten, particularly if said tomb belonged to someone of high rank. (The pyramids, of course, functioned as fairly effective advertisements to tomb robbers). But Egyptian archaeologists have announced an incredible find — a 4,400-year-old tomb of an Egyptian high priest, Wahtye, who lived during Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty.

The Fifth Dynasty is the era in which the oldest copies of Egypt’s Pyramid Texts — the religious texts guiding the transformation of the Pharaoh from his old life into his new role — were first carved into the pyramids themselves. Wahtye lived during the rule of Pharaoh Neferirkare Kakai, who built his own burial pyramid at Abusir, between Saqqara and the Giza Plateau. Wahtye’s tomb is in Saqqara and contains extensive depictions of family scenes, including repeated mentions of the high priest’s mother, Merit Meen, and his wife, Weret Ptah. There are five shaft tombs within the tomb complex and two false doors. One of the shafts was open and unsealed, but the other four were sealed. The tweets below contain additional images of the tomb and its decorations:

The tomb is roughly 10 meters long from north to south, three meters wide from east to west, and roughly three meters tall. Such tombs were typically reserved for high-ranking individuals — carving tombs out of rock with hand tools isn’t easy, though the difficulty pales in comparison with building giant pyramids (the Old Kingdom style of pyramid building, which remains famous today, actually began drawing to a close during the Fifth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom). According to Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the tomb of Wahtye is one of a kind discovered in recent decades.

“The color is almost intact even though the tomb is almost 4,400 years old,” Waziri said.

The intact paintings and statuary are an incredible find for archaeologists, even if no other grave goods survived the centuries. While water and time have still inflicted damage on the surviving artworks, the opportunity to study relatively pristine examples of ancient Egyptian art from this period is unparalleled. The ride where Wahtye’s tomb was found is only partially uncovered, raising the possibility that more pristine tombs may yet be found. Finding the tomb of a high priest may not rank quite as high as the tomb of a Pharaoh such as Tutankhamun, but this discovery will be remembered as one of the most prominent of the 21st century and beyond.

Top image credit: The Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt, via Twitter

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Astronomers Discover Tiny Galaxy Harboring Monster Black Hole

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Astronomers are accustomed to seeing supermassive black holes at the heart of large galaxies like our own Milky Way and neighboring galaxies like Andromeda. However, a new analysis suggests there’s a giant black hole hiding in a most unusual place: inside one of the smallest galaxies known to exist. Fornax UCD3 is a tiny galaxy, but it has a monster black hole in the middle.

Fornax UCD3 is what’s known as an ultracompact dwarf galaxy. These objects have a total mass in the tens of millions of solar masses. That might sound like a lot, but keep in mind the sun is a rather small-ish star. There are plenty of stars that weigh in at hundreds of solar masses all on their own. The radius of an ultracompact dwarf galaxy rarely goes beyond 300 light years, making them the densest stellar regions in the known universe.

According to Anton Afanasiev from the Sternberg Astronomical Institute at Moscow State University, the black hole at the center of UCD3 has a mass of roughly 3.5 million suns. The entire galaxy is just a few dozen million solar masses. The team came to this conclusion using data from SINFONI, an infrared spectrograph installed at one of the Very Large Telescope (VLT) facilities in Chile. The giveaway was an unusual pattern in angular velocity within UCD3. When stars get near a massive object like a black hole, they begin accelerating in different directions. The average speed doesn’t change, but “velocity dispersion” does.

Scientists compared the velocity dispersion in UCD3 with established models of black holes. The most likely mass for the object is 3.5 million solar masses. The team also ran simulations with no black hole, but that possibility was ruled out with more than 99 percent confidence.

This is the fourth black hole discovered in an ultracompact dwarf galaxy, but it’s the largest with about 4 percent of the galaxy’s total mass. In larger galaxies, the central black hole is less than a percent of the total mass. This discovery lends credence to an increasingly popular explanation for the existence of ultra-compact dwarf galaxies. Astronomers think that average galaxies made close passes with much more massive ones early in their evolution. As a result, most of their stars were pulled away, leaving the core with a large black hole.

To add further weight to this hypothesis, astronomers need to detect more ultra-compact dwarf galaxies with supermassive black holes. The Moscow State University team plans to do just that in the coming years.

Now read: Neutrino From Supermassive Black Hole in Another Galaxy Detected in AntarcticaSupermassive Black Holes May Eventually Sterilize Galaxies, and Astronomers Are Watching a Black Hole Tear a Star Apart in Another Galaxy

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Researchers Discover Incredibly Rare Asteroid Binary in Near Earth Orbit

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When scientists discovered the asteroid 2017 YE5, they first thought they’d found an ordinary NEO (near-Earth object) that passed within 16 lunar distances on June 21, 2018. This close approach — the closest YE5 has been in 170 years — gave us an unprecedented look at the small asteroid and allowed us to discover it isn’t one asteroid at all: It’s two. They rotate around a common center.

There’s nothing unusual about binary pair asteroids; about 15 percent of all known asteroids are binary pairs. Asteroids, like planets, are also capable of retaining very small moons if the parent body is above a certain size, though these captures may be unstable and persist only until the pair encounter a larger asteroid that perturbs their relationship. Only four equal mass NEOs are known to exist, including 2017 YE5.

Researchers discovered this contact binary by combining the resources of multiple Earth observatories. First, the team at Arecibo (already planning to observe the asteroid) spoke to astronomers at Goldstone, who had picked up on the pair’s unusual properties. They then teamed up with researchers at Green Bank to run a series of tests in which Arecibo would send the initial signal and Green Bank would return it. This bi-static radar configuration allowed the telescopes to map the asteroids size and configuration:

PIA22559-500x250

If you prefer to see the image in a 3D model, we’ve got that as well:

PIA22556-BinaryAsteroid-2017-YE5-Animation-20180712

The reason the two objects rotate around each other in a stable configuration is because the barycenter — the center of mass within the two-body system — is located in between the two asteroids. The rule holds true for larger bodies. Jupiter is just a fraction of the mass of the Sun, for example, but it’s still large enough to orbit a point outside the Sun rather than the Sun itself. Pluto and Charon are another example of a system where both orbit a point outside themselves. The Earth and Moon are in a similar configuration, though in our case the point the Earth-Moon system circles is still within the Earth itself — it just isn’t at the exact center.

Pluto-Charon_System

Pluto is much larger than Charon, but Charon is large enough to pull Pluto’s barycenter out from the planet.

Another interesting finding from the Arecibo / Green Bank observations is that the two asteroids reflect radar differently. This hints at different compositions (or at least different surface deposits). The JPL writes:

The Goldstone images taken on June 21 also show a striking difference in the radar reflectivity of the two objects, a phenomenon not seen previously among more than 50 other binary asteroid systems studied by radar since 2000. (However, the majority of those binary asteroids consist of one large object and a much smaller satellite.) The reflectivity differences also appear in the Arecibo images and hint that the two objects may have different densities, compositions near their surfaces, or different surface roughnesses.

Scientists estimate that among near-Earth asteroids larger than 650 feet (200 meters) in size, about 15 percent are binaries with one larger object and a much smaller satellite. Equal-mass binaries like 2017 YE5 are much rarer. Contact binaries, in which two similarly sized objects are in contact, are thought to make up another 15 percent of near-Earth asteroids larger than 650 feet (200 meters) in size.

The great thing about studying the universe is that we literally find out incredible new things almost every time we turn our instruments skyward. It’s taken decades of work and constant technological iteration, but our ability to peer into the heavens — or into our own solar system — continues to reveal subtle wonders and small secrets, along with the occasional confirmation of long-standing scientific theories.

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'Best Christmas present': Lifelong best friends discover they're actually brothers

Two Hawaii men who grew up as best friends recently learned that they’re actually brothers and revealed the surprise to family and friends over the holidays.

Alan Robinson and Walter Macfarlane have been friends for 60 years. Born in Hawaii 15 months apart, they met in the sixth grade and played football together at a Honolulu prep school.

Macfarlane never knew his father. Robinson was adopted. Separately, they sought answers about their ancestry.

Macfarlane turned to family history and DNA-matching websites after unsuccessful searches on the internet and social media, Honolulu news station KHON-TV reported .

“So then we started digging into all the matches he started getting,” said his daughter, Cindy Macfarlane-Flores.

A top match — someone with identical X chromosomes — had the username Robi737. Robison’s nickname was Robi and he flew 737s for Aloha Airlines, Macfarlane-Flores said.

It turned out Robinson used the same website to find answers about his family. They later learned they have the same birth mother.

‘Best Christmas present I could ever imagine’

“It was a shock,” Macfarlane said.

They revealed the relationship to friends and family during a party Saturday night.

“It was an overwhelming experience, it’s still overwhelming,” Robinson said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take for me to get over this feeling.”

They have plans to travel and enjoy retirement together.

“This is the best Christmas present I could ever imagine having,” Robinson said.

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