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Are dogs smarter than cats?

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 9:30am

Yes, that’s the perennial question, and of course it depends on what you mean by “smarter”. Several people (mostly dog owners, of course) have sent me articles touting a recent finding that dogs are smarter than cats because they have more neurons in their brains. For example, this article reports a new article in Frontiers in Neuroanatomy (reference and free abstract at bottom; I haven’t read it as it hasn’t been published beyond the abstract).

“I believe the absolute number of neurons an animal has, especially in the cerebral cortex, determines the richness of their internal mental state and their ability to predict what is about to happen in their environment based on past experience,” says neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel from Vanderbilt University in the US.

Past studies have compared the ‘neural packing density’ in the brains of our favourite carnivorous pets, estimating that cats have about 300 million neurons, roughly doubling the 160 million of dogs.

But now it seems we might have been a little hasty handing the trophy to cats.

The team looked at eight different meat-eating animals, analysing one or two representative specimens of ferret, mongoose, raccoon, cat, dog, hyena, lion, and brown bear.

Based on their results, dogs have closer to 530 million neurons, compared to the 250 million of cats.

What’s more, dogs had the most neurons of any carnivore, even though they didn’t have the largest brains.

Sorry, but this is complete nonsense. Barring data showing that neuronal number has a very tight correlation with intelligence, barring widely accepted definitions of  animal “intelligence”, and barring “intelligence tests” on a diversity of species, all we know is what the paper reports: dogs have more neurons in their brains than do cats. And there could be reasons for that beyond intelligence, like, perhaps, olfaction.

The real way to see which animal is smarter is to devise some test that comports with your definition of animal intelligence, and then apply it to the species in which you’re interested. You also have to be sure that the animal can be trained to take a test—and we know about training of cats versus dogs.

The kicker here, which throws all this garbage out the window, is in the very article above:

The real oddball carnivore is the racoon [sic; these people can’t even spellcheck] – even though it’s close to cats in terms of size, it actually has a similar number of neurons to dogs. Considering raccoons can smash intelligence tests, we’re not surprised.

Racoons >> dogs even though they have the same number of neurons.  Sorry, but I’m not impressed with neuron count.

And here’s another bit of evidence: watch the video below. The “smart” dog can’t figure out to turn the stick sideways. And realize that a cat wouldn’t even pick up a damn stick to please somebody else. Now who’s smarter?


Alvargenga, D. J. et al. 2017. Dogs have the most neurons, though not the largest brain: Trade-off between body mass and number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of large carnivoran species. Frontiers Neuroanatomy, in press.  doi: 10.3389/fnana.2017.00118

Categories: Science

Christianity is not dead

Pharyngula Feed - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 9:09am

An evangelical Christian declares that the death of Christianity in the U.S.

Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals. Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence. The beauty of the gospel message — of love, of peace and of fraternity — has been murdered by the ambitions of Trumpish flimflammers who have sold their souls for expediency. No greater proof is needed of the death of Christianity than the rush to defend a child molester in order to maintain a majority in the U.S. Senate.

I wish Christianity were dying. It’s not. It’s merely reverting to its roots. The Christianity he’s pining for — a beautiful faith of “love, of peace and of fraternity” — only existed briefly in the minds of a tiny fraction of wishful thinkers. It’s as if he thinks that benign Christianity is the eternal truth of the religion, and that this recent controlling, selfish, faith of indignant sanctimony is a recent innovation.

Just go back to the 19th century. Christianity was used to justify colonialism, slavery, the extermination of Indians, manifest destiny (oh, man, Christianity is so tangled up in the very idea of manifest destiny), the whole European expansion. Christianity sailed into China aboard gunboats selling opium. Christian missions were planted in Africa to justify invasion. In North America, Christian schools were tools to destroy Indian culture. Yet now we’re supposed to pretend the bigotry and sleaziness of Roy Moore are an aberration doing great harm to the reputation of the faith? Only if you’re shortsighted and have no appreciation of history at all.

If you insist on more recent examples, though, remember that it was the good Christians of the South who lynched black men for imagined or trivial slights against the propriety of Christian white women, or that even today the Southern Baptist Convention opposes gay rights. These are not exceptions. It’s built right into the bones of Christianity.

I think it’s wonderful that some Christians have struggled against the grain of Christian history to try to build a better, more egalitarian religion. I would wish that they could succeed. But let’s be honest here: you’re trying to do so on a foundation of patriarchal authoritarianism, with 1700+ years of persecution and corruption as a tradition. If you really want to get rid of the hatred and sectarianism and obsolete sexual mores, the first thing you have to dump is the Bible, and then you’re not Christian anymore.

You also have to admit that Roy Moore isn’t anti-Christian at all — he’s following the Bible with more fidelity than someone who accepts modern ideals of tolerance and pacifism and the acceptance of love in all its forms. You just have to recognize that Moore’s religion is a bad thing.

Categories: Science

National Coalition Against Censorship and PEN defend Met’s showing of a “controversial” painting

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 8:30am

Four days ago I reported about an attack of the Pecksniffs on a painting at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art: Balthus‘s Thérèse Dreaming”, created in 1938. Here it is in the gallery:


A New York Pecksniff, one Mia Merrill, launched a campaign to have the painting removed (one call was simply for a “trigger warning”, but the petition—as of this writing signed by over 11,300 Pecksniffs—was to remove the painting. Merrill’s beef, as I said in my previous post, was this (from her petition and her emphasis):

When I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past weekend, I was shocked to see a painting that depicts a young girl in a sexually suggestive pose. Balthus’ painting, Thérèse Dreaming, is an evocative portrait of a prepubescent girl relaxing on a chair with her legs up and underwear exposed.

It is disturbing that the Met would proudly display such an image. They are a renowned institution and one of the largest, most respected art museums in the United States. The artist of this painting, Balthus, had a noted infatuation with pubescent girls, and it can be strongly argued that this painting romanticizes the sexualization of a child.

Rather than cave to these leisure fascists, the Met refused to take it down, with Ken Weine, the Museum’s chief communications officer, saying this:

“Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation, and visual art is one of the most significant means we have for reflecting on both the past and the present and encouraging the continuing evolution of existing culture through informed discussion and respect for creative expression.”

So the painting stayed up, as it should have. Now two other groups have come forward to defend exhibiting the painting. As Time Magazine reports, one is the National Coalition Against Censorship (see their own article here), which said this:

“The idea that this painting suggests that the Met supports, on some institutional level, an unhealthy sexualization of young women misunderstands the role of a cultural institution,” Nora Pelizzari, a spokeswoman for the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), told Newsweek. “Attacking art is counterproductive to the open discussion necessary for us to confront the realities of sexual harassment and abuse,” the NCAC had said in an earlier statement.

The anti-censorship organization applauded the Met’s decision to keep the painting on view. To their mind, said Pelizzari, “Hiding potential sexualizaiton of young girls throughout history does not help…the current conversation around sexual harassment.”

. . . Pelizzari is disturbed by the “escalation of the culture of outrage, as well as the move towards threats of violence as a means of stifling artistic expression and artistic display.” The Whitney’s decision to keep Shutz’s painting up was, in her view, precisely right. The museum engaged in discussions with the protestors and other artists, allowing for “a wider conversation on our interaction on race and history and grappling with our history as a society.”

From the NCAC’s perspective, “the removal or silencing or erasure of art is never good.” That, she said, includes the works of individuals who have sexually harassed or assaulted others, like Louis C.K., although she emphasized that the viewers’ decisions about whose art to consume and support financially is of course up to them.

“Everyone is allowed to react to art in exactly the way they naturally do,” she said. “Where we intervene is when you try to impose your reaction to a piece on others’ ability to see it.”

The other organization was the estimable PEN, dedicated to furthering literature and free expression (do remember, though, that some of its members objected to PEN giving an award to Charlie Hebdo). In its defense of the painting, PEN said this, as quoted by Time:

PEN America, which works to protect literary and artistic expression, agreed. They see such petitions as part of a troubling trend. “We are alarmed about what seems to be a rising tendency to turn to artistic censorship as a way to express social, political, or other grievances,” PEN America said in a statement to Newsweek. “Some advocates seem to have decided that artists and art institutions represent soft targets, more vulnerable to public campaigns than are the actual power structures that perpetuate the ills these campaigners are fighting against.”

Pelizzari is exactly right in her last statement: these kinds of calls or demonstrations—like black activists blocking people’s view of a painting of Emmett Till by a white artist—do nothing to solve problems like pedophilia or racism. They are not attempts to create a dialogue, but to keep people from encountering viewpoints that the activists don’t like. Seriously, does the painting above foster pedophilia and contribute to the sexualization of young women? I don’t think so. It stimulates dialogue, like the kind we had on my post. And does a sympathetic and graphic painting of Emmett Till in his casket, body battered by white racists, somehow promote racism because it was painted by a white woman? You’d have to twist your logic pretty far to conclude that. In fact, demonstrations to prevent people from seeing or reading things just create the “Streisand effect,” making people want to see them all the more, and arouse hostility towards the censors.

I can’t think of a single instance when the censorship of literature or art that doesn’t violate the law (e.g., blatant child pornography) has helped society progress. On the other hand, I can think of plenty of cases in which attempted censorship has been an impediment, as in the unsuccessful case to ban Ulysses. And it goes on. Here’s just a small list of works of literature that schools or libraries have tried to ban in the last hundred years (see more here):

The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
The Catcher in the Rye
The Great Gatsby
The Grapes of Wrath
Invisible Man
The Jungle
Our Bodies, Ourselves
The Words of Cesar Chavez

If you know anything about these books, most of them are actually about oppressed people and explicitly sympathetic to them. It’s insane that people try to keep them out of the hands of others.

Remember three things about censorship.  First, it doesn’t work to suppress art or words that you don’t like. Second, trying to censor something just arouses interest in it, as well as resentment towards those who try to tell others what they can or cannot see. Third, exhibiting art or recommending that students read a book does not mean an endorsement of the image or contents.

But don’t expect Pecksniffery to abate any time soon, at least in America. It goes hand in hand with Authoritarian Leftism (why do you think they call it “authoritarian”?), and Authoritarian Leftism shows no signs of abating. But if we all stand up against those who try to censor things by playing on our guilt—on our liberal sympathies for underdogs—that ideology will eventually wane.

Guilt is the great weapon of the Authoritarian Left, and we must resist it when it comes to endorsing free expression.

h/t: cesar

Categories: Science

The Skeptics Guide #648 - Dec 9 2017

Skeptics Guide to the Universe Feed - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 8:00am
What's the Word: Digitigrade; News Items: Nearly Complete Hominid Skeleton, Before the Big Bang, The Causes of Science Denial, This is Your Head in a Particle Accelerator; Who's That Noisy; Your Questions and E-mails: Chunking, Follow Up on Net Neutrality; Science or Fiction
Categories: Skeptic

The argument can be used for anything!

Pharyngula Feed - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 7:33am

Oh, no — Roy Moore blames drive-by shootings on the fact that evolution teaches that we came from animals. So Republicans all act like babies because we teach that they came from babies?

I need a nap right now because I got up from a bed this morning. That’s always a mistake.

Categories: Science

Caturday felids: Leonardo’s cat studies, traveling cat chronicles, world’s bravest kitty

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 7:00am

Stephen Barnard wrote me this: “I’m reading Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Leonardo da Vinci, so your Caturday post prompted me to google Leonardo’s cat drawings. (As far as I know he never painted cats, or if he did they don’t survive.) I found this image of his cat studies:”

and here [“Study of cat movements and positions” 1517-1518]:


He added this: “As they’re studies, there’s little attempt at realism. The most realistic ones, to my eye, are the sleeping cats. The dynamism and anatomical accuracy of the action studies contrast with the grotesque cats we’re used to seeing in early Renaissance paintings.” Indeed! I’ve long pondered why artists of all ages have been unable to accurately portray cats. This is a welcome exception, but of course it’s Leonardo!


The Guardian calls our attention to a book that might be worth a look: The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (click on the screenshot to go to the Amazon page, where you can read an excerpt):

Here’s the Guardian‘s plot summary:

Nana is the protagonist. A stray cat in Tokyo with a strong survival instinct, he is taken in by a young man named Satoru after being hit by a car. Nana finds he has fallen on his feet. Satoru is a cat lover from youth; gentle and intuitive, he still mourns his first cat Hachi, from whom he was traumatically separated as a child. The name “Nana” derives from na, the Japanese word for seven – the shape of Nana’s tail; Hachi was named after the number eight because of markings on his head. Nana is scornful of Satoru’s literal-mindedness when it comes to naming cats, but he has the usual feline instinct for knowing which side his crispy chicken is battered, and decides to stick around.

Five happy years of cohabitation pass in a single sentence, and then Satoru tells the cat that they must make a journey. They will visit Satoru’s childhood friend Kosuke, with the purpose of rehoming Nana. Satoru is not forthcoming about the reason. “We just can’t live together any more,” he says. I wrote “Oh no, is Satoru ill?” in the margin, but that’s me; I’ve seen a lot of films. At this stage, Satoru’s motives are officially unclear. The reunited Kosuke and Satoru reminisce about the number-eight cat, and we learn about Satoru’s talent for friendship and the shock of his parents’ death. But does Nana stay with Kosuke?

The structure of The Travelling Cat Chronicles is deceptively simple. With alternating sections of third-person and Nana-the-cat narration, it consists of three journeys to friends, followed by a pilgrimage across a beautifully evoked landscape. There is then a heart-breaking last journey that left me in bits. I’ve rarely changed my mind so much about a book in the course of reading it. I started out quibbling with the translation (would a cat that exclaims “Good lord” also say “yada yada”?), but before long, I had surrendered to Arikawa’s powerful emotional agenda, according to which a human’s love for his cat is not delusional but self-fulfilling, just as all loving sacrifice is its own reward.

The reviewer, Lynne Truss, gives two thumbs up, as do nearly all the reviewers weighing in at Amazon:

What Nana observes and experiences through their journeys is Satoru’s huge, lifelong capacity for quiet consideration, which is moving enough in itself. But when the cat responds to his love – well, you ought to laugh, but I couldn’t. “Cats are not so heartless,” declares Nana. “How could I ever leave him?” I know, I know. What a sap I am. But anyone who has ever unashamedly loved an animal will read this book with gratitude, for its understanding of an emotion that ennobles us as human beings, whether we value it or not.

Has anybody read this? This is one cat book I’d consider reading!


And here’s a brave moggie playing with a huge rhinoceros and her baby. I’m surprised they let it in the room with those beasts!


h/t: Snowy Owl

Categories: Science

Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 5:45am

Just a reminder to send in your photos. Today’s come from reader Mark Richardson’s decade-old trip to Alaska. His notes are indented:

These are a mixture of wildlife and landscape photos from a 2006 fishing trip in Alaska. We flew into Anchorage and drove south toward the Kenai peninsula. We met our fishing guides at the Soldatna airport and took a small airplane up the Cook inlet to a secluded fishing cabin. We were fishing for Coho (silver) salmon as they were heading towards fresh water rivers to spawn. Since they were still in the ocean, they were feeding (salmon stop feeding once they hit fresh water). We were catching them using lightweight fly rods. It was a hoot! The first three are photos of wildlife, two of which are common animals seen on WEIT. The rest are landscapes- the first six were taken from the plane. A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) that hung around our camp looking for scraps.  One of the fishing guides fed it pieces of steak, so no wonder it liked to loiter.   A juvenile Grizzly bearUrsus arctos, combing the beach for noms. Grizzly bears were a common sight and this fact kept us all alert.
The ubiquitous (at least in Alaska) bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus. Soldatna seen from the plane shortly after take-off.

A colorful landscape from the plane of an alpine lake. Big country up in Alaska- there is a glacier in the background. A beautiful braided river. A steaming volcano in the far background. The runway at our fishing camp- not cool! Low tide, big sky and two fishermen. Not wildlife…just some essentials for the perfect fishing trip!
Categories: Science

Saturday: Hili dialogue

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 4:30am

It’s the weekend: Saturday, December 9, 2017, and a week before I arrive in India. It’s also Nation Pastry Day and, according to the UN, International Anti-Corruption Day. I’m at work early as I have to do shopping later for India (my friends want some stuff not available there), and I’m waking up with a homemade giant latte in my favorite cup:

On this day in, 1531, The Virgin of Guadalupe made her first appearance: to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in Mexico City.  On December 9, 1793, the first daily newspaper in America, the American Minerva, was established by Noah Webster.  In 1897, Parisian activist Marguerite Durand founded the feminist daily newspaper La Fronde.  Exactly seven years later, France passed the law separating church and state.  On this date in 1946, the Indian Assembly met to begin writing the Constitution of India.  And on December 9, 1960, the first episode of Coronation Street—the world’s longest-running t.v. soap opera (it’s still on), was broadcast in the UK.  And it’s a banner day in science and medicine: on this day in 1979, the World Health organization certified that the smallpox virus had been completely eradicated from the planet—still the only human disease driven to extinction. Here’s the last person to get it: two-year-old Rahima Banu from Bangladesh, who contracted the disease in 1975. She survived, and now has four children of her own:

But we’ve also driven an animal disease to extinction; do you know what it is? Finally, on this day in 1987, the first Intifada began in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Notables born on this day include John MIlton (1608), Peter Kropotkin (1842), Fritz Haber (1868), Joseph Pilates (1883; yes the inventor of the racist discipline of Pilates), Tip O’Neill (1912), Kirk Douglas (1916), Judi Dench (1934), and Donny Osmond (1957). Those who fell asleep on this day include Anthony van Dyck (1641), Edith Sitwell (1964), Branch Rickey (1965), Ralph Bunche (1971), and Mary Leakey (1996).

Here’s a lovely van Dyck:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili’s dialogue is subject to interpretation (she’s not telling), but I’m pretty sure I know what it means.

Hili: Which invention was more important: a bed or a wheel? A: It depends on time of the day. Hili: I’m not sure. In Polish: Hili: Który wynalazek był ważniejszy – łóżko czy koło?
Ja: To zależy od pory dnia.
Hili: Nie jestem pewna.

Here is a tweet from Grania: Roy Moore accuses evolution of corrupting children.

Wanted to share a video of Roy Moore in 1997 arguing that kids commit drive-by shooting because they are taught evolution in school: "They're acting like animals because we've taught them they come from animals."

— Christopher Massie (@chrismassie) December 7, 2017

Tweets from Matthew Cobb:

Red kites (Milvus milvus) in the snow (play video):

Red Kites in the snow today. Superb.

— Drew Buckley (@drewbphoto) December 8, 2017

And the most perfect cat ball:

That's a 10/10 circle cat

— Luv Kittens Daily (@LuvKittensDaily) December 7, 2017

Another cat from reader Charleen:

When you know whats coming, but jump out of your skin anyway


And a video of a kitten that appeared yesterday. LIVING THE DREAM!

Living the dream

— Cute Emergency (@CuteEmergency) December 9, 2017

Categories: Science

Volumetric 3D printing promises nearly instant builds

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 2:18pm
By using laser-generated, hologram-like 3D images flashed into photosensitive resin, researchers have discovered they can build complex 3D parts in a fraction of the time of traditional layer-by-layer printing.
Categories: Science

Producing hydrogen from methane in a cleaner, cheaper way

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 2:17pm
A ceramic membrane makes it possible to produce compressed hydrogen from methane with near-zero energy loss.
Categories: Science

Light from LIGO’s neutron star smashup just got even brighter

New Scientist Feed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 1:43pm
The gravitational wave event from August still has surprises in store. Its light is three times brighter now, which may change how we think of gamma ray bursts
Categories: Science

I guess I just didn’t love my children enough

Pharyngula Feed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 12:59pm

The callow young gentleman in the middle of this line of celebrities (I guess, I don’t know who any of them are) recently celebrated his 18th birthday.

His daddy gave him a nice present.

The party came to a total of about $4 million. And for his birthday gifts? The birthday boy received a full loaded blue Ferrari, an IWC Portugieser Tourbillion watch and a custom-made painting from Alec Monopoly.

Whoa. I betcha Donald Trump is giving the whole family a great big tax break, too.

Welcome to the world of wealth inequity!

Categories: Science

The Mueller Sanction

Why Evolution is True Feed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 12:30pm

I don’t know who made this video, or how they got it to look so realistic, but it’s pretty cool. The Trump investigation as a James Bond story!
Categories: Science

Revolutionizing electronics using Kirigami

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 12:23pm
A research team has developed an ultrastretchable bioprobe using a 'Kirigami' designs. The Kirigami-based bioprobe enables one to follow the shape of spherical and large deformable biological samples such as heart and brain tissues. In addition, its low strain-force characteristic reduces the force induced on organs, thereby enabling minimally invasive biological signal recording.
Categories: Science

Revolutionizing electronics using Kirigami

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 12:23pm
A research team has developed an ultrastretchable bioprobe using a 'Kirigami' designs. The Kirigami-based bioprobe enables one to follow the shape of spherical and large deformable biological samples such as heart and brain tissues. In addition, its low strain-force characteristic reduces the force induced on organs, thereby enabling minimally invasive biological signal recording.
Categories: Science

Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration, ion transport into cells

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 12:23pm
Nanometer-scale pores etched into layers of graphene can provide a simple model for the complex operation of ion channels, researchers have demonstrated.
Categories: Science

Too Big, Too Soon. Monster Black Hole Seen Shortly After the Big Bang

Universe Today Feed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 12:10pm

It is a well known fact among astronomers and cosmologists that the farther into the Universe you look, the further back in time you are seeing. And the closer astronomers are able to see to the Big Bang, which took place 13.8 billion years ago, the more interesting the discoveries tend to become. It is these finds that teach us the most about the earliest periods of the Universe and its subsequent evolution.

For instance, scientists using the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and the Magellan Telescopes recently observed the earliest Supermassive Black Hole (SMBH) to date. According to the discovery team’s study, this black hole is roughly 800 million times the mass of our Sun and is located more than 13 billion light years from Earth. This makes it the most distant, and youngest, SMBH observed to date.

The study, titled “An 800-million-solar-mass black hole in a significantly neutral Universe at a redshift of 7.5“, recently appeared in the journal Nature. Led by Eduardo Bañados, a researcher from the Carnegie Institution for Science, the team included members from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Las Cumbres Observatory, and multiple universities.

Artist’s impression of ULAS J1120+0641, a very distant quasar powered by a black hole with a mass two billion times that of the Sun. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

As with other SMBHs, this particular discovery (designated ULAS J1120+0641) is a quasar, a class of super bright objects that consist of a black hole accreting matter at the center of a massive galaxy. The object was discovered during the course of a survey for distant objects, which combined infrared data from the WISE mission with ground-based surveys. The team then followed up with data from the Carnegie Observatory’s Magellan telescopes in Chile.

As with all distant cosmological objects, ULAS J1120+0641’s distance was determined by measuring its redshift. By measuring how much the wavelength of an object’s light is stretched by the expansion of the Universe before it reaches Earth, astronomers are able to determine how far it had to travel to get here. In this case, the quasar had a redshift of 7.54, which means that it took more than 13 billion years for its light to reach us.

As Xiaohui Fan of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory (and a co-author on the study) explained in a Carnegie press release:

“This great distance makes such objects extremely faint when viewed from Earth. Early quasars are also very rare on the sky. Only one quasar was known to exist at a redshift greater than seven before now, despite extensive searching.”

Given its age and mass, the discovery of this quasar was quite the surprise for the study team. As Daniel Stern, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a co-author on the study, indicated in a NASA press release, “This black hole grew far larger than we expected in only 690 million years after the Big Bang, which challenges our theories about how black holes form.”

This illustration shows the evolution of the Universe, from the Big Bang on the left, to modern times on the right. Image: NASA

Essentially, this quasar existed at a time when the Universe was just beginning to emerge from what cosmologists call the “Dark Ages”. During this period, which began roughly 380,000 years to 150 million years after the Big Bang, most of the photons in the Universe were interacting with electrons and protons. As a result, the radiation of this period is undetectable by our current instruments – hence the name.

The Universe remained in this state, without any luminous sources, until gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies. This period is known as the “Reinozation Epoch”, which lasted from 150 million to 1 billion years after the Big Bang and was characterized by the first stars, galaxies and quasars forming. It is so-named because the energy released by these ancient galaxies caused the neutral hydrogen of the Universe to get excited and ionize.

Once the Universe became reionzed, photons could travel freely throughout space and the Universe officially became transparent to light. This is what makes the discovery of this quasar so interesting. As the team observed, much of the hydrogen surrounding it is neutral, which means it is not only the most distant quasar ever observed, but also the only example of a quasar that existed before the Universe became reionized.

In other words, ULAS J1120+0641 existed during a major transition period for the Universe, which happens to be one of the current frontiers of astrophysics. As if this wasn’t enough, the team was also confounded by the object’s mass. For a black hole to have become so massive during this early period of the Universe, there would have to be special conditions to allow for such rapid growth.

A billion years after the big bang, hydrogen atoms were mysteriously torn apart into a soup of ions. Credit: NASA/ESA/A. Felid (STScI)).

What these conditions are, however, remains a mystery. Whatever the case may be, this newly-found SMBH appears to be consuming matter at the center of a galaxy at an astounding rate. And while its discovery has raised many questions, it is anticipated that the deployment of future  telescopes will reveal more about this quasar and its cosmological period. As Stern said:

“With several next-generation, even-more-sensitive facilities currentlybeing built, we can expect many exciting discoveries in the very earlyuniverse in the coming years.”

These next-generation missions include the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission and NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). Wheras Euclid will study objects located 10 billion years in the past in order to measure how dark energy influenced cosmic evolution, WFIRST will perform wide-field near-infrared surveys to measure the light coming from a billion galaxies.

Both missions are expected to reveal more objects like ULAS J1120+0641. At present, scientists predict that there are only 20 to 100 quasars as bright and as distant as ULAS J1120+0641 in the sky. As such, they were most pleased with this discovery, which is expected to provide us with fundamental information about the Universe when it was only 5% of its current age.

Further Reading: NASA, Carnegie Science, Nature

The post Too Big, Too Soon. Monster Black Hole Seen Shortly After the Big Bang appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

Three kinds of information from a single X-ray measurement

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 11:30am
The way in which electronic devices operate relies on the interaction between various materials. For this reason, researchers need to know exactly how specific chemical elements inside a computer chip or a transistor diode behave, and what happens when these elements bond. Physicists have now developed an innovative method that enables them to obtain several different types of information simultaneously from the interior of a nanoscale building block, and this while it is in the active state.
Categories: Science

Physicists excited by discovery of new form of matter, excitonium

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 11:30am
Excitonium has a team of researchers ... well... excited! They have demonstrated the existence of an enigmatic new form of matter, which has perplexed scientists since it was first theorized almost 50 years ago.
Categories: Science

Blackbody radiation from a warm object attracts polarizable objects

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 11:30am
You might think that a hot object pushes atoms and molecules away due to radiation pressure. But a research team showed that for a polarizable atom, the opposite occurs: the hot object attracts it. Using an atom interferometer, they found the attraction was 20 times stronger than the gravitational attraction between a tungsten object and a cesium atom. Though negligible in most situations, next-generation gravitational wave experiments may have to take this into account.
Categories: Science


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