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Astronomers see a black hole ‘spaghettify’ a star in real time

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Artist’s impression of star being tidally disrupted by a supermassive black hole.  


ESO/M. Kornmesser

It’s one of those astounding events that sounds like science fiction, but is just plain science. Astronomers say they were able to capture in unprecedented detail the process of a star being ripped into strips and devoured by a black hole. 

The powerful phenomenon caught the attention of scientists when a new blast of light near a known supermassive black hole was spotted by telescopes around the world. Months worth of follow-up observations made it clear they were seeing the destruction of a far-off sun as it happened.

“In this case the star was torn apart with about half of its mass feeding — or accreting — into a black hole of one million times the mass of the sun, and the other half was ejected outward,” explained astronomer Edo Berger from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a statement.  

The violent scene is what astronomers call a tidal disruption event, which happens when a star comes too close to a black hole and gets shredded through a process of spaghettification — basically, the gravity of the black hole is so intense that it stretches whatever comes near vertically into long, thin shapes like pieces of spaghetti as it swallows it all up. 

The event, which goes by the catalog entry AT2019qiz and is the closest such flare ever seen at just 215 million light-years away, was caught early enough that scientists have been able to get a relatively unobscured view of the cosmic carnage before a cloud of star guts pulls a veil over the region.

“We

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Science May Be The Real Winner In 2020 Polls

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As the 2020 election looms, an intriguing new poll shows that Americans agree on one key issue: science. The survey published by Research!America shows that Americans overwhelmingly support science, regardless of their political parties.

According to the survey analysis, a strong majority of Americans agree that “the Covid-19 pandemic is a disruptive event and requires urgent refocusing of America’s commitment to science.” 88% believe that science benefits them and 89% believe that America should maintain its global leadership in science. Exactly. 

The unprecedented avalanche of misinformation that has been spread during the Covid-19 pandemic has been discouraging to both scientists and the public they serve. As people struggle to find the information they need to make decisions about life in the pandemic, the survey indicates that they still consider science the standard. 

Not only were survey participants committed to science, they were committed to funding for scientific research. Regardless of political affiliation, 66% of respondents were willing to pay $1 more a week in taxes to support scientific research. And that funding is needed because according to a recent report the U.S. is spending less and less on research. In fact, America is now in tenth place among other OECD nations for the share of GDP spent on research and development. 

“The level of bipartisan public consensus in this survey shows that support for science is much more than an agreement; it’s a mandate to elected officials to do more. It’s time for a national refocus on science so we may address the issues top of mind for Americans and live up to our full potential as a science-strong nation,” said Mary Woolley, Research!America President and CEO and a co-chair of the working group in a press release. 

Do Americans

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‘Real and imminent’ extinction risk to whales

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Humpback whale
A humpback whale jumps to the surface of the Pacific Ocean

More than 350 scientists and conservationists from 40 countries have signed a letter calling for global action to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises from extinction.

They say more than half of all species are of conservation concern, with two on the “knife-edge” of extinction.

Lack of action over polluted and over-exploited seas means that many will be declared extinct within our lifetimes, the letter says.

Even large iconic whales are not safe.

“Let this be a historic moment when realising that whales are in danger sparks a powerful wave of action from everyone: regulators, scientists, politicians and the public to save our oceans,” said Mark Simmonds.

The visiting research fellow at the University of Bristol, UK, and senior marine scientist with Humane Society International, has coordinated the letter, which has been signed by experts across the world.

Growing threats

“Save the whales” was a familiar green slogan in the 1970s and 1980s, part of a movement that helped bring an end to commercial whaling.

While stricken populations in most parts of the world have had a chance to recover from organised hunting, they are now facing myriad threats from human actions, including plastic pollution, loss of habitat and prey, climate change and collisions with ships.

By far the biggest threat is becoming accidently captured in fishing equipment and nets, which kills an estimated 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises a year.

Rally in Mexico to draw attention to the vaquita
Rally in Mexico to draw attention to the vaquita

Hundreds of scientists have expressed the same concern – that we are moving closer to a number of preventable extinctions. And unless we act now, future generations will be denied the chance to experience these intelligent social and inspiring creatures.

They point to the decline of the North Atlantic right