In 1950, Morton Sultanoff invented a high-speed camera that took frames at one-millionth of a second. Since then, photography has advanced to the point where now, NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has been able to provide data that allows researchers to observe and study the activity of black holes.
According to NASA, when black holes swallow stars, they release a burst of energy in the form of a flare containing high-energy radiation. The flare consists of space dust, which is only able to survive further out from the origin point of the flare.
However, the human eye doesn’t have the capacity to see that flare. Now, thanks to data from WISE, researchers have been able to observe it for the first time.
Using this data, researchers were able to measure the radiation this “hot dust” gives off.
The dust “shell” formed from the flare extends several trillion miles from the black hole. That’s about half a light year away, according to NASA.
“The black hole has destroyed everything between itself and this dust shell,” Sjoert van Velzen, postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University, said in a NASA news release. “It’s as though the black hole has cleaned its room by throwing flames.”
However, space may be seeing a new addition, including human life, in the not-so-distant future.
China has just launched its second small Tiangong space station into orbit.
Tiangong-2 lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on September 15, aiming for an orbit 240 miles over Earth’s surface.
Beijing’s effort to establish a long-term human presence in space has been noted as commendable, but technologically, China has only just accomplished what the U.S. and Russia did in the 1970s.
“China is currently doing nothing in space that the U.S. hasn’t done already, much sooner, and often with a much higher level of technological sophistication,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, professor at the U.S. Naval War College and space expert.
When compared to the International Space Station, the single-unit stations China has launched simply seem tiny.
However, Tiangong-2 is an improvement from China’s first attempt at a station, Tiangong-1, which could only support two crew for just eight days in 2012 and 12 days in 2013.
Like its predecessor, Tiangong-2 is designed to be temporary. Although China does plan on launching a larger, permanent station around 2020.
Unlike NASA, China is in no hurry to launch their next project.
NASA may not be focused on the space race anymore, but their studies into black hole activity have only amplified excitement.
“Our study confirms that the dust is there, and that we can use it to determine how much energy was generated in the destruction of the star,” Varoujan Gorjian, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-author of the paper, said in the news release.