November 2020 In Science Highlights: 8 News Stories That You Must Know. 3

November 2020 In Science Highlights: 8 News Stories That You Must Know.

Every month, there happens a lot in science: discoveries, new speculations, new theories, new advancements, and a lot more. And November 2020 was nothing short of a canvas of vibrant and unexpected revelations. So let’s have a look at some of the most breakthrough scientific events that took place in November 2020!

Primordial Black Hole:

Primordial black holes are tiny black holes that formed moments after the big bang. In a recent study,  researchers have highlighted the possibility of the swarms of these primordial black holes filling our universe.

Researchers had proposed that there might have been some moments where all space-time was intensely curved during inflation before it flattened out. Those brief curvatures, however, would have probably produced some fluctuations in the expanding universe. The fluctuations were intense enough to form a large population of Earth-mass black holes eventually. Moreover, researchers wrote that the easiest way to detect PBHs is via gravitational waves. The future gravitational wave detectors would hopefully be sensitive enough to pick these signals.

Contact with Voyager 2:

After a long radio silence of almost eight months, with no way of making contact with Voyager 2, NASA has finally reestablished communications with its exemplary interstellar spacecraft. The breakdown in communications that started in March wasn’t due to some rogue malfunction; rather, it was more like a part of the spacecraft’s routine maintenance.

November 2020 In Science Highlights: 8 News Stories That You Must Know. 6
An artist’s concept of NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft. Credit: NASA

The radio antenna Deep Space Station 43 (DSS-43) that sends commands to the craft required critical upgrades, and hence a shut down was required. Although DSS-43’s renovation is still underway and will continue until February 2021, enough upgrades have been installed for preliminary testing to start. Eventually, mission operators sent their first communications to Voyager 2 since March, and Voyager 2 successfully returned a signal confirming it had received the instructions and executed the commands without issue. Voyager 2 is so far away in space that it took over 17 hours for the signal to get there!

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Goodbye! Arecibo Radio Telescope

On November 19, 2020,  NSF announced that the iconic Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico will soon be dismantled as its structure is fearing collapse.

Boasting a radio dish that’s 305 meters (1,000ft) wide, the Arecibo is one of the largest radio telescopes known to date, and this news has undoubtedly come as a blow to many for obvious reasons. The radio dish is accompanied by a 900-tonne instrument platform that hangs 137m (450ft) above. This platform is further suspended by cables connected to three towers.

November 2020 In Science Highlights: 8 News Stories That You Must Know. 7
Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico captured in November 2020 shows a large gash in the main dish (Image: planetary.org)

In its 57 years of operation, the telescope has witnessed a lot. It has endured hurricanes, endless humidity, and a recent string of strong earthquakes. However, it suffered a major setback when one of its support cables snapped in August. Although,  The University of Central Florida came up with a solution to stabilize the structure. But on 6 November, another cable broke down.

This acted nothing short of the last nail in the telescope’s coffin. Engineers concluded that the remaining cables were probably weaker than previously thought. And the telescope is probably “in danger of a catastrophic failure.” Moreover, studies have stated that any attempts at repairs will put workers in life-threatening danger. So, dismantling Arecibo with a heavy heart seems to be the only option left!

Birth of a Magnetar:

Astronomers believe that they have witnessed the birth of the most powerful magnet in the universe for the first time: the birth of a magnetar.  A magnetar is a rapidly spinning neutron star having gravity a billion times stronger than Earth’s and magnetic fields a quadrillion times more powerful than Earth’s.

Astronomers have observed an unusual and massive burst of gamma rays that took less than one second to release more energy than our Sun will generate over its entire existence. Normally,  when two neutron stars collide, the glow left over from the collision has two parts: a short-lived “afterglow,” that lasts for a couple of days and results from material speeding away from the collision and slamming at high velocity into the dust and gas between stars. And then there’s the “kilonova” glow of stirred-up particles swirling around the collision site.

Although the recent event, called GRB 200522A, had a visible kilonova, something was different. GRB 200522A was much brighter, particularly in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is not expected out of a normal Kilonova. This made the scientists conclude that the neutron stars merger has actually led to a magnetar’s unexpected birth instead of an expected birth of a black hole. The research has been accepted by The Astrophysical Journal and will be published online later this year.

November 2020 In Science Highlights: 8 News Stories That You Must Know. 8
This artist’s concept of short gamma-ray burst 200522A (Image: NASA / ESA / D. Player (STScI))

Ancient Fragment of the Pacific Ocean

Scientists have identified an old piece of the Pacific Ocean, stretching a few miles beneath China. This rocky slab, which is generally used to mark the lower part of the Pacific Ocean, is a remnant of the ocean’s lithosphere. Earth’s lithosphere refers to the outermost layer of the earth’s surface composed of the upper part of the crust and the hardest outer parts of the upper crust.

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The upper surface layer consists of several fragmented tectonic plates. These plates gradually move closer to the surface and occasionally move with each other. During this collision, a geological process called subduction can occur, in which one plate is forced into the subduction zones below the other and moves deeper into the planet. A recent study has indicated that scientists in China and the United States have now witnessed this epic phenomenon occurring deeper than ever witnessed before.

November 2020 In Science Highlights: 8 News Stories That You Must Know. 9
Seismic imaging of the Pacific plate subducted to depths of 660 kilometres. (Image: sciencealert)

Earlier, scientists recorded this activity at depths of about 200 kilometers (roughly 125 miles). However, thanks to a giant network of over 300 seismic stations spread around northeastern China, researchers have now been able to see this event at a much lower point, at depths ranging between 410–660 kilometers (254–410 miles) below Earth’s surface. With the new advancements in observations, scientists are now getting a better idea of what happens to a subducted slab when it reaches this part of the transition zone, how much deformed it gets, and how much water content it loses from its oceanic crust!

A catalog of 39 gravitational-wave signals detected by LIGO:

Stellar Graveyard Physicists have released a catalog of 39 gravitational-wave signals detected by LIGO. This is one of the most vibrant catalogs released to date as it cites some of the exciting observations that include the most violent mergers detected to date. It is expected that this catalog will enable physicists to understand stellar collisions in a better way.

Fast Radio Bursts:

In April 2020, scientists detected some Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) from a source within the Milky Way. Well, FRBs are bright bursts of radio waves. Their durations lie in the millisecond-scale, because of which it is difficult to detect them and determine their position in the sky. However, scientists have now confirmed these FRBs’ source to be a magnetar that lies within our own galaxy.

November 2020 In Science Highlights: 8 News Stories That You Must Know. 10
Artist’s impression of a fast radio burst FRB 181112 traveling through space and reaching Earth (Image: Wikipedia)

Precisely, the source of this FRB is a magnetar, called SGR 1935+2154 or SGR 1935. It is located in the constellation Vulpecula and is estimated to be between 14,000-41,000 light-years away from us.

Super Planet: 

Sometimes referred to as failed stars, the brown dwarfs or super-planets are the celestial bodies that are too small to be considered stars yet too big to be considered planets. Usually, these celestial objects are discovered using infrared surveys.

However, for the first time, observations from the Low-Frequency Array, or LOFAR radio telescope, have led to the detection of a brown dwarf, designated as BDR J1750+3809 and nicknamed Elegast. For the first time, this has happened that the presence of a super planet has been indicated using radio waves.

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