Archive for November, 2012

Record breaking Black Hole discovered

Posted November 30, 2012 By David Kolle

Astronomers say they have possibly found the biggest black hole ever observed, a leviathan with a mass around 17 billion times that of the Sun.

The black hole is as unexpected as it is vast, for it accounts for nearly a seventh of its galaxy’s mass, a finding that may rewrite theories of cosmic formation, they said.

Named NGC 1277, the monster lies 220 million light years away in a small galaxy just a tenth the size of our Milky Way.

The hole’s maw is more than 11 times wider than Neptune’s orbit around the Sun.

It accounts for a whopping 14 per cent of the galaxy’s mass, compared with the 0.1 per cent that is the norm for galactic black holes.

“This is a really oddball galaxy,” said Karl Gebhardt of the University of Texas at Austin in a press release.

“It’s almost all black hole. This could be the first object in a new class of galaxy black hole systems.”

NGC 1277 is already the second biggest black hole ever observed, and it is a strong contender for the top spot, for the current record holder, spotted in 2011, has still not been precisely calculated. It is somewhere between six and 37 billion solar masses.

Black holes are the most powerful known forces in the universe, creating a gravitational field that is so strong that even light cannot escape from it.

A black hole of stellar mass is formed when a very big star collapses in on itself at the end of its life.

It may then grow by gobbling up other stars and merging with other black holes, sometimes creating “supermassive” black holes which scientists say inhabit the centres of galaxies.

NGC 1277 challenges part of the galactic black hole theory because of its size relative to its galaxy.

In addition, it sits at the centre of a small disc-shaped galaxy, whereas a black hole of this size would have been expected in a far bigger blob-like, or “elliptical,” galaxy.

Further work is needed to confirm whether NGC 1277 is a one-off or part of a hitherto-overlooked process of black hole creation.

“The galaxy hosting the new black hole appears to have formed more than eight billion years ago, and does not appear to have changed much since then,” the Max Planck Institute said.

“Whatever created this giant black hole must have happened a long time ago.

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NASA talks down 'Life on Mars' theory

Posted November 28, 2012 By David Kolle

NASA has downplayed talk of a major discovery by its Martian rover after remarks by the mission chief declared it may have unearthed evidence of life that once existed on the Red Planet.

An image taken by the Curiosity rover shows a wind-blown deposit dubbed Excitement is building over soon-to-be-released results from NASA’s Curiosity rover, which is three months into a two-year mission to determine if Mars has ever been capable of supporting microbial life.

Its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments have been sending back information as it hunts for compounds such as methane, as well as hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, that would mean life could once have existed there.

Curiosity's camera ... aka, the Mars Hand Lens Imager.

In an interview with US broadcaster National Public Radio, aired on Tuesday, lead mission investigator John Grotzinger hinted at something major but said there would be no announcement for several weeks.

“We’re getting data from SAM,” he said. ”This data is gonna be one for the history books. It’s looking really good.”

But a spokesman for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managing the project, appeared to pour cold water on the hopes of space enthusiasts looking forward to an earth-shattering discovery.

“John was delighted about the quality and range of information coming in from SAM during the day a reporter happened to be sitting in John’s office last week.He has been similarly delighted by results at other points during the mission so far,” spokesman Guy Webster said.

“The scientists want to gain confidence in the findings before taking them outside of the science team. As for history books, the whole mission is for the history books,” Webster said.

Scientists do not expect Curiosity to find aliens or living creatures but they hope to use it to analyse soil and rocks for signs the building blocks of life are present and may have supported life in the past.

The $US2.5 billion Curiosity rover — which landed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet on August 6 — also aims to study the Martian environment to prepare for a possible human mission there in the coming years.

US President Barack Obama has vowed to send humans to the planet by 2030. Will he still be in office then?

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Facebook: Parents and teens make for awkward friends

Posted November 28, 2012 By David Kolle

A new study shows that many parents are checking their teenagers’ activities on Facebook and other social networks, which is getting a “mixed” reaction from the kids.

The Pew Research Center‘s Internet & American Life Project survey found parents are taking steps to monitor such online activities amid a range of fears, including interactions with strangers and tracking by advertisers.

The study, done in collaboration with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, found 80 per cent of parents whose teens use social networks are themselves users of social media.

“Some youth seem to prefer not to friend their parents,” the study said.

“They friend them only because it’s expected of them.

But the researchers found that other teens “have a positive attitude about being friends with their parents.

Sandra Cortesi of the Berkman Center said teens have “mixed feelings about being friends with their parents” on social networks like Facebook.

“Some teens like the fact that they are friends with their family members,” she said.

“Other young users prefer not to friend their parents but do it anyway because it is expected from them. And yet others keep their profiles secret or restrict parents’ access to information.

About 50 per cent of parents using social networks have commented or responded directly to something that was posted to their child’s profile or account, the researchers said.

The survey suggests parents are monitoring teen online activity because of persistent fears about a number of risks.

While about 53 per cent of parents said they were “very concerned” about how their child interacts online with people they do not know, 46 per cent felt the same way about how much data is collected by online marketers tracking the activities of teens online.

Parents also were concerned that activities on social networks may damage the children’s reputation, and possibly come back to haunt them later in life.

Two-thirds said they were worried about how their child manages his or her reputation online.

Mary Madden, a co-author of the report, said: “Parents are anxious about a wide range of online risks for their children, but it is particularly striking that their current level of worry about data collection by advertisers meets or exceeds other concerns about their child’s online activity.

The researchers found 59 per cent of parents of teen users of social networking sites have talked with their child because they were concerned about something posted to their profile or account.

While nearly four in 10 such parents have helped their child set up privacy settings for a social networking site, 50 per cent have used parental controls or other means of blocking, filtering, or monitoring online activities.

And 42 per cent have searched for their child’s name online to see what information comes up about him or her.

The report was based on a phone survey of 802 parents and their 802 teens aged 12 to 17, conducted between July 26 and September 30.

 

 

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Firefox turns 8 and receives an important security upgrade

Posted November 26, 2012 By David Kolle

8 years ago, Mozilla launched the first version of Firefox, wrote Johnathan Nightingale, vice president of Firefox Engineering, in a blog post .

English: This is a icon for Firefox Web Browser.“Today, on Firefox’s 8th birthday, were proud to say that our mission hasn’t changed, but the Web has, Nightingale added. These days, hundreds of millions of people trust Firefox with their online lives. We still put people first and, with the support of our Firefox fans, we drive the Web towards openness and interoperability”.

Meanwhile, even as Mozilla’s popular Web browser approached this latest milestone, developers last week announced a new security boost for Firefox.

We have added to Firefox a list of hosts that want HSTS enforced by default,wrote Mozilla blogger David Keeler in a recent post on the project’s Security Blog.

HSTS, or HTTP Strict Transport Security, is a mechanism by which a server can require that the browser use a secure connection to communicate with it, thereby enhancing users’ privacy and security.

When a user connects to one of these hosts for the first time, the browser will know that it must use a secure connection., Keeler explained. If a network attacker prevents secure connections to the server, the browser will not attempt to connect over an insecure protocol, thus maintaining the users security.

The preload list used for this feature has been seeded with entries from a corresponding list for Google’s Chrome browser, Keeler noted.

The new feature is now available in the current beta version of Firefox 17, and available for download.

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