New Delhi: Scientists from the University of Manchester in the UK have discovered a pair of supermassive black holes locked in a cosmic waltz 9 billion light years away.
The two giant bodies orbiting each other are each hundreds of millions of times more massive than our sun, and the objects are separated by a distance roughly 50 times greater than that between our sun and Pluto.
When the pair merge in roughly 10,000 years, the titanic collision is expected to shake space and time itself, sending gravitational waves across the universe.
This is now the second known candidate for a pair of supermassive black holes caught in the act of merging. The first candidate pair is circling every nine years as opposed to the new pair, which takes two years. Read more
Closest source of mysterious fast radio bursts identified
Astronomers from the University of Toronto and McGill University in Canada have identified the closest known source of the mysterious flashes in the sky known as fast radio bursts. The team tracked some repeating bursts to their origin among old stars in the nearby spiral galaxy M81.
Fast radio bursts are unpredictable, extremely short flashes of light from space. Astronomers have struggled to understand them ever since they were first discovered in 2007. So far, they have only ever been seen by radio telescopes.
Each flash lasts only thousandths of a second — but each one sends out as much energy as the Sun gives out in a day. Several hundred flashes go off every day, and they have been seen all over the sky. Most lie at huge distances from Earth, in galaxies billions of light years away.
Researchers made high-precision measurements of a repeating burst source discovered in January 2020 in the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear.
When they analysed their measurements, the astronomers discovered that the repeated radio flashes were coming from somewhere no one had expected.
They traced the bursts to the outskirts of the nearby spiral galaxy Messier 81 (M 81), about 12 million light years away. That makes this the closest ever detection of a source of fast radio bursts. Read more
Artificial neuron used to control Venus flytrap
In a first, scientists created an artificial organic neuron — a nerve cell — that can be integrated with the carnivorous Venus flytrap, with electrical pulses from the artificial nerve cell causing the plant’s leaves to close.
The neuron is made from printed organic electrochemical transistors. Organic semiconductors can conduct electrons and ions, and can thus mimic the mechanism of pulse generation in plants.
In this case, a small electric pulse of less than 0.6 V can cause the leaves of a Venus flytrap to close.
The team at Linköping University in Sweden chose the Venus flytrap so that they could clearly show how biological systems can be steered with the artificial organic system.
The same team was the first to develop printable organic electrochemical circuits in 2018. This made it possible to build the printed organic electrochemical transistors
The group has subsequently optimised the organic transistors, so that they can be manufactured in printing presses on thin plastic foil. Thousands of transistors can be printed on a single plastic substrate.
The hope is that eventually, these artificial nerve cells can be used for sensitive human prostheses, implantable systems for relieving neurological diseases, and soft intelligent robotics. Read more
Transparent glass beads spotted on the Moon
Chinese scientists have spotted several translucent spherical and dumbbell-shaped glassy globules in images beamed back by China’s lunar mission, Chang’e-4.
The team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Sun Yat-sen University examined images taken by the panorama camera onboard the Yutu-2 rover.
Perching on the surface, the globules are transparent to translucent, and exhibit a light brownish colour. This is the first time such centimetre-sized translucent glass globules have been found on the Moon.
These are most likely impact glasses like tektites and microtektites, which form during terrestrial impact events. However, the team did not expect to see such translucent globules at the Chang’e-4 landing region.
Centimetre-sized glassy globules were collected by Apollo astronauts decades ago, but they were mostly dark and opaque.
Another Chinese mission, Chang’e-5, has also collected opaque globules from the Moon, all measuring less than a centimetre.
At least two translucent globules were confirmed along the less than 700-metre route the Chang’e-4 mission’s Yutu-2 rover covered in its first 12 lunar days, and another two possible cases are awaiting confirmation due to inadequate image resolution.
The team found that the globules are consistent with being impact glasses sourced from materials that have low iron content. Read more
New spray can improve crop without genetic modification
Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science (CSRS) in Japan have developed a way to improve crop quality without needing to create genetically modified plants. Rather than changing plant genomes, the new technique relies on a spray that introduces bioactive molecules into plant cells through their leaves.
The new technology could be used to help crops resist pests or become more resistant to drought — in less time and at less cost than creating genetically modified crops.
The technique uses a bioactive compound taken into the plant’s cells by a carrier that can penetrate the cell walls, instead of using gene editing.
Many types of nanoparticles can penetrate plant cells. The researchers focused on cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) because they can also target specific structures inside plant cells, such as chloroplasts. Read more