May 21, 2022


NASA recorded a black hole’s song, and you can listen to it

If a black hole devours a planet and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? Physicists and astronomers have been trying to map astronomical data through sound for decades—and now we can finally listen to a black hole scream into the void.

Earlier this month, NASA released the first recordings, or sonifications, of what two black holes sound like—and it’s just the kind of noise astronomers and science fiction buffs were expecting: eerie, ethereal, and aurally extraordinary.

The universe is rife with the hum of celestial melodies—but it’s only relatively recently that humans have developed the technology to be able to hear them. A team of scientists at NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory were able to extract and make audible previously identified sound waves from a nearly 20-year-old image of the Perseus galaxy cluster—a collection so full of galaxies, it’s assumed to be one of the most massive objects in the universe. It’s one of the closest clusters to Earth, around 240 light-years away.

Scientists successfully grow plants in soil from the moon

In a NASA-funded study, scientists at the University of Florida grew plants in soil collected from the moon, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Communications Biology.

The study is paramount to NASA's long-term goals in human space exploration, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a press release. The research could also have implications for plants growing in harsh conditions on Earth, he added.

"We'll need to use resources found on the Moon and Mars to develop food sources for future astronauts living and operating in deep space," Nelson said.

In the study, researchers planted the seeds of Arabidopsis thaliana — a plant related to mustard greens, as well as other cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli and cauliflower — in lunar soil, which was sampled directly from the moon from missions Apollo 11, 12 and 17.

A Mission to Uranus and Neptune Is Our Best Hope to Find Dark Matter

Dark matter is strange, mysterious stuff. It might make up as much as 85 percent of the mass of the universe, and its gravity affects everything around it. But we can’t see it with our naked eyes. We’ve never directly observed it with any of our instruments, on Earth or zooming through space on some probe.

Now a Swiss team has drawn up an intriguing plan—a possible way to get a much more precise read on dark matter. It involves shooting probes toward the most distant planets in our solar system, Uranus and Neptune, and carefully logging every force tugging on their trajectories. If we subtract the known forces—the gravitational pull of every nearby planet, moon and asteroid—what’s left should be the effect of dark matter.

It’s a “unique opportunity” to “improve measurements of the standard gravitational parameters in the solar system,” Lorenz Zwick and his team from the Center for Theoretical Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Zurich wrote in a new peer-reviewed study that appeared online on April 22.

A huge solar flare just struck Earth — and there may be bigger ones to come, experts say

The weather on the sun is frightful.

For the past few weeks, solar flares have been violently erupting from the sun, and a few of them have whizzed past Earth. The solar flares have been so strong and powerful that they caused radio blackouts in Australia. One of the solar flares last week was the most powerful in the past five years, according to Space Weather Live.

Though they may seem unusual, the strong solar flares are a side effect of a natural, seasonal cycle that occurs on the sun. Earth's sun has recurrent "seasons," much like Earth — a phenomenon known as the solar cycle, which lasts for about 11 Earth years. Currently, the Sun is going through its 25th solar cycle since counting began in 1755. Scientists track this cycle by counting the Sun's number of sunspots; when the sun has the fewest sunspots, it is in its solar minimum phase of the solar cycle. When the number of sunspots reach their pinnacle, the sun is undergoing its solar maximum phase of its solar cycle. During the solar maximum phase of the sun, solar activity increases — hence, the gusty space storm occurring at the moment.

"A solar flare is an intense eruption of radiation and charged particles in the hot corona above the surface of the sun," Avi Loeb, former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University, explained via email. "Flares occur in active regions and are often, but not always, accompanied by coronal mass ejections."

Scientist discover all ingredients necessary for DNA in meteorite for first time

Exactly how regular matter first transmuted into the organised self-replicating assemblies of molecules that we call life on Earth is the focus of ongoing scientific research across many disciplines.

But a new paper published in the journal Nature Communications strengthens theories that hold the basis of life came from outer space.

Using new techniques of chemical analysis, Japanese researchers have now shown all the amino acids necessary to form DNA and RNA, the genetic basis of life can be found in small meteorites that fall to Earth.

. . .

That material, the study authors write, may have “contributed to the emergence of genetic properties for the earliest life on Earth.”

'Our Universe Was Made By Aliens In A Lab' - Harvard Scientist

Ever considered the notion that everything around you was cooked up by aliens in a lab? Theoretical physicist and former chair of Harvard’s astronomy department, Abraham ‘Avi’ Loeb, has proposed a wild – if unsettling – theory that our universe was intentionally created by a more advanced class of lifeform.

In an op-ed for Scientific American, “Was Our Universe Created In A Laboratory?”, Loeb suggested that aliens could have created a ‘baby universe’ using ‘quantum tunneling’, which would explain our universe’s ‘flat geometry’ with zero net energy. If this discovery were proven true, then the universe humans live in would be shown to be “like a biological system that maintains the longevity of its genetic material through multiple generations,” Loeb wrote.

Loeb put forward the idea of a scale of developed civilisations (A, B, etc.) and, due to that fact that on Earth we currently don’t have the ability to reproduce the astrophysical conditions that led to our existence, “we are a low-level technological civilisation, graded class C on the cosmic scale” (essentially: dumb). We would be higher up, he added, if we possessed the ability to recreate the habitable conditions on our planet for when the sun will die. But, due to our tendency to “carelessly destroy the natural habitat” on Earth through climate change, we should really be downgraded to class D.

Unexpected discovery of mysterious drawings could change the way scientists look at cave art

Massive Native American drawings -- which remained unseen in an Alabama cave for more than 1,000 years -- have been unveiled by a team of scientists. It's the largest known cave art ever discovered in North America.

The art was practically invisible until researchers investigated the cave and used 3D scans to reveal the works, including one stretching for 11 feet (3.4 meters) in length. A study detailing their findings published Tuesday in the journal Antiquity.

. . .

The giant glyphs may depict spirits of the underworld and have been dated to the first millennium AD. The art was created precontact, or prior to the Native Americans encountering outside cultures, according to the study.

. . .

Using photogrammetry in this cave and at other sites could change the way scientists discover and understand Native American cave art, including the intentions and meanings behind the designs.

Hundreds of Native American children died in boarding schools over 50 years, Interior Department finds

Hundreds of Native American children died after being forced into government boarding schools over a 50-year period, the Interior Department said Wednesday in its first investigative report on the program.

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The department thus far identified more than 500 deaths across 19 schools, according to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, but the department expects to identify more. The report identified marked and unmarked burial sites at 53 schools, which are also expected to increase as the analysis continues.

At the schools, children were forced to cut their hair and speak only English rather than their native languages, and were subjected to what Assistant Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland called “militarized and identity alteration methodology.”

Haaland’s grandfather was a survivor of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, whose founder, Richard Henry Pratt, described the institution’s mission as “kill the Indian, save the man.”

Settlement reached in claim Liberty University hid rapes, punished victims

After a year in national headlines for allegations of covering up rape, punishing victims, and using the "Liberty Way" to silence accusers, a settlement has been reached in a lawsuit against Liberty University.

All but two of the 22 women — known as the Jane Does — settled their lawsuit against Liberty.

"The case is now settled," said Jack Larkin, the attorney for the accusers.

Instead of taking the case to a judge or jury, Larkin said both sides came to an agreement, though the terms are confidential.

"While there are large provisions that the plaintiffs will continue to be able to talk about, there is no non-disclosure agreement that would prevent them from telling their stories in the future, but the terms of the settlement itself and the conduct of the mediation are both confidential," Larkin said.

Liberty University faces federal probe, lawsuit alleging it punished student who reported rape

The federal Department of Education has begun investigating Liberty University's handling of student reports of sexual assault. In a statement to ProPublica, the school pledged its "full cooperation" with the investigation.

Last October, ProPublica revealed how the school, which was founded by evangelist Jerry Falwell, had discouraged students who tried to report being sexually assaulted. Some students who came forward were encouraged to sign forms acknowledging they might have broken Liberty's moral code of conduct, "The Liberty Way." Others described being encouraged to pray instead of reporting their cases.

Federal law requires that universities receiving federal funds properly handle claims of sexual assault. Liberty students receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid. Following our story, senators urged the U.S. Department of Education to investigate.

Former Church of Christ minister pleads guilty to child sexual abuse charges

Joshua Henley, former youth minister for the Holladay Church of Christ in Tennessee, pleaded guilty this week to an eight-count federal indictment.

By pleading guilty, Henley admitted that he produced child sexual abuse material involving three minors, transported a minor interstate with the intent to engage in sexual activity with the minor, sent obscene videos and images to a minor, and possessed and transported child sexual abuse material, according to a news release from the court.

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By the time of his arrest, Henley had moved to a youth ministry position with the Washington Avenue Church of Christ in Evansville, Ind. This congregation terminated Henley’s employment immediately after his arrest. He had been with the Washington Avenue church for about three months. Henley had also previously worked with the Elkhart Church of Christ in Kansas, according to the Elkhart church’s Facebook page, which still lists him as the preacher there.

The charges involve Henley’s alleged behavior with three minors whom Henley knew through the basketball team at Holladay Elementary School and church, according to federal court documents. Court documents list the minors’ ages as 12, 14 and 15 at the time of the alleged offenses, which court records show took place between the fall of 2017 and June 2021.

Inside the Megachurch That Has Ex-Members Screaming Cult

His family would not be notified for nearly a week, but on the afternoon of May 14, 2013, a young man named Kwesi Sample drowned off the coast of Holden Beach, North Carolina. The 21-year-old was participating in a GPS-guided scavenger hunt known as “geocaching” with other young adults in his church, an Ohio-based megachurch called Dwell. The group was attempting to swim several hundred meters to locate a particularly difficult “cache,” but by the time they realized the distance was too far, it was too late. “As they swam across the ocean inlet, Sample began to struggle and went underwater,” an Ohio appeals court later wrote. “The others were unable to save him.” (The church has said in court filings that it notified Sample's family within hours of the incident.)

In a wrongful death suit that followed, Sample’s family took aim at Dwell, alleging that church leaders were negligent in organizing the activity. But their complaints went well beyond the day’s tragic events. In various legal filings, the family claimed church leaders exercised far-reaching authority over its members, stretching past Sunday sermons and into almost every corner of their lives. (The church called this idea “absurd” and said Sample’s lawyers took their teachings out of context.) It purposefully recruited impressionable young members, the family claimed, and taught them to blindly follow leaders who were “chosen by God.” Shortly before his death, they said, Sample had even moved into Dwell group housing to receive “spiritual teachings” and “guidance on how to live and worship” from its leaders.

“A lot of people who leave [Dwell] feel [like] they’ve been isolated; they feel like they’ve been manipulated,” Adam Richards, an attorney for the family, told The Daily Beast in a recent interview. “And then one day they wake up. And sometimes it’s too late, and sometimes it’s not.”

From NXIVM to 'The Way Down,' Cults Really Love a Dangerous Diet Culture

“Food,” says University of Pennsylvania lecturer Ori Tavor, who teaches a course on cults and new religious movements, “is a very, rudimentary, basic way to control.”

[Gwen] Shamblin founded her Weigh Down Workshop in 1986, and went on to sell millions of books and VHS tapes based on her diet philosophy. As the group grew into an organization that some former members, and one of the documentary’s creators, now call a cult, it became implicated in crimes as serious as homicide. In 2003, members of the church were convicted of murder for the beating of their eight-year-old son while following a disciplinary regime Shamblin recommended, the church’s critics say. While the HBO Max series was in production, Shamblin and other leaders of the organization died in a plane crash. The two new episodes, which debut Thursday, focus largely on the accident and its aftermath.

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NXIVM, by contrast, wasn’t a religious group, but a self-help multi-level marketing scheme. Still, like the Remnant Fellowship, weight loss seems often to have been placed at the forefront of members’ minds. Women who left the group have described being put on diets that restricted them to just 800 calories per day, less than half of the 2000 calories recommended for adults. In this group, women’s body fat wasn’t an affront to god, but a personal affront to the cult’s founder Keith Raniere, who’s been accused of sexual abuse. Extreme dietary restrictions pop up again and again in stories of cults high-control groups: Jim Jones wired People’s Temple members mouths shut when he deemed them overweight, and Michelle Pfeiffer once described falling in with a controlling group of Breatharians—people who believe they can survive purely on light, without eating food or water. (Unsurprisingly, the ideology has been linked to several deaths.)

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