Einstein’s relativity tested by giant star and monster black hole

A giant star near the center of our galaxy hints, once again, that Albert Einstein was correct about gravity.

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A group of astronomers in Germany and the Czech Republic observed three stars in a cluster near the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Using data from the Very Large Telescope in Chile, among others, the researchers tracked how the stars moved as they went around the monster black hole.

One of the stars, called S2, showed slight deviations in its orbit that might indicate relativistic effects, scientists said. If the observations are confirmed, then it shows that Einstein’s theory of general relativity holds even under extreme conditions — in gravity fields produced by objects like the galactic center’s black hole, which contains the mass of 4 million suns. General relativity says that massive objects bend the space around them, causing other objects to deviate from straight lines they would follow absent any forces on them. [The Strangest Black Holes of the Universe]

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“Most relativity tests are done with our sun and the stars, so they are in the 1-solar-mass or few-solar-mass[es] limit,” Andreas Eckart, a professor of experimental physics at the University of Cologne in Germany, who led the research team, told Space.com. “Or with the [Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory] recently, that’s a few 10s of solar masses.”

The stars used in the observations are so close to the black hole that they move at 1 or 2 percent the speed of light, Eckart said, and they approach to within only about 100 times the Earth-sun distance of the black hole itself, which is quite close by galactic standards, he said. (Pluto averages about 39 times the Earth’s distance from the sun, which is about 93 million miles or 150 million kilometers).

 

Using orbiting bodies to show relativistic effects is not new; observations of the planet Mercury in the 19th century showed that its movements deviated from what Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity predicted. At first, astronomers thought they had evidence of another planet, which they dubbed Vulcan. Einstein was able to show in 1915 that relativity could explain the deviation.

Mercury’s motions proved Einstein correct, but the sun’s gravity is weak compared to that of a supermassive black hole. This is why Eckart and his team set out to see if Einstein’s theory held up in a more extreme environment. While gravitational lensing, the bending of light by massive objects, shows that massive objects bend space, the recent research is the first time anyone has taken precise measurements of any object orbiting so close to a black hole.

The measurement itself is not as precise as it might be, Eckart said. Future work will get a better read on the stars’ positions and narrow down the result. He said one plan is to get better spectrographic measurements, which would reveal S2’s movement more precisely.

‘Alesi,’ the 13-million-year-old baby monkey, could be mankind’s earliest ancestor

The skull of an infant ape buried by a volcano 13 million years ago has preserved intriguing clues about the ancestor humans shared with apes — including a likely African origin, scientists say.

A previously-unknown creature that shared an extended family with the human forefather, had a flat face like that of our far-flung cousin the gibbon, but did not move like one, its discoverers wrote in the journal Nature.

They named it Nyanzapithecus alesi after “ales” — the word for “ancestor” in the Turkana language of Kenya, where the lemon-sized skull was unearthed.

The sole specimen is that of an infant that would have grown to weigh about 11 kilograms in adulthood. It had a brain much larger than monkeys from the same epoch, the researchers said.

“If you compare to all living things, it looks most like a gibbon,” study co-author Isaiah Nengo of the Stony Brook University in New York told AFP.

This does not mean the direct ancestor of living apes necessarily looked like a gibbon, just that a member of its family did at the time.

Assuming a gibbon-like appearance for our ancestor would be similar to scientists from the future unearthing a gorilla skull and concluding that all hominins — the group that also includes chimps and humans — looked like a gorilla.

The location of the extraordinary fossil find, said the team, supported the idea that the ape-human ancestor lived in Africa and not in Asia as some have speculated.

“With this we … put the root of the hominoidea in Africa more firmly,” said Nengo.

 

Hominoidea, or hominoids, is the name for the family of apes. The group is divided in two, with humans, bonobos, chimps, gorillas and orang-utans on the one side (hominids), and agile, tree-swinging gibbons (hylobatids) alone on the other.

The new species belonged to a much older, ancestral group that included the forefather of hominoids, the researchers concluded.

OUT OF AFRICA

That group, which has no official name yet, lived and died millions of years ago.

“The majority of that group, and the oldest members of that group, are African but we would not have been able to resolve all of that without Alesi,” said Nengo.

“Alesi is the one that has allowed us to … know who is in that group … and when we take a close look we see that most of the group are found in Africa.” Alesi’s is the most complete ape skull from the entire Miocene period, which ranged from about 24 million to five million years ago.

“It may be younger (than some other fossil pieces) but it is the only one where you have a face, you have the base of a skull, you have the inside of the skull, so you can see what a representative of them might have looked like,” said Nengo.

Hi-tech scans of the skull showed that Alesi had teeth similar to some gibbon species.

While its baby teeth had been knocked out, Alesi’s adult teeth lay unerupted inside its jaw, and their age could be determined with great precision — the ape was one year and four months old when it died.

The team also established that the balance organs in Alesi’s ear were unlike those of the gibbon, meaning it probably had a different, slower, way of moving.

While a lot is known about human evolution since we split from chimps about seven million years ago, little was known about common ancestors from before 10 million years ago.

Commenting on the study, anthropologist Brenda Benefit of the New Mexico State University described this as a fossil find “that I never thought would be made during my lifetime”.

“This discovery will help to fill in missing information regarding adaptations that influence ape and human evolutionary histories,” she said in comments published by the journal.

“This is an exceptional discovery,” agreed Paul Tafforeau of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, who helped examine the skull.

You Need To Be Verified On Twitter To Use This Dating App

Being verified on Twitter is about more than just popularity. With Blue, a new dating app, it could also be the key to your love life.

wersm-twitter-cardblue

Forget Tinder and other social dating apps. Blue, by Loveflutter, is looking to match you with someone worth of your online popularity: another verified Twitter user.

wersm-twitter-cardblue

Blue is not exactly a new app, but rather the new version of already popular dating app Loveflutter. It works the same, has the same features, but only people who have a verified profile on Twitter can use it to search for love.

Are you verified on Twitter? This dating app is for you, and only you. #Blue
CLICK TO TWEET

So could this be about more than popularity and satisfying egos? Maybe. Being verified means that Twitter has verified – literally – your identity. And that itself should already attract many love seekers who will feel safer knowing their counterpart is more likely to be who they claim to be. Today, only 150,000 of Twitter’s 300 million users are verified today. Over 25% of them are either journalists, media personas or celebrities.

Only 150,000 users have a verified profile on Twitter. What about you?
CLICK TO TWEET

For all of you famous (and beautiful, of course) verified users, Blue is launching in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, London and Tokyo. But don’t get too excited, the app goes live only once it has 1,000 local members…

Is this the future of dating? Probably not. But it comes to show, once again, how much important social currency has become.