Science Saturday: Measure a Black Hole + Biological Wi-Fi + Daytime Comet + Mars Sample Return + More

Welcome back to an exciting edition of Science Saturday! This week, measure the radius (and more!) of a supermassive black hole; have wi-fi (or, rather, bi-fi) installed in your body; ready for a dazzling comet show in 2013; and bring rocks back from Mars. All this and more, plus our gadget of the week: Wall-Ye, the French wine robot!


Astronomers Make First Measurement of the Radius of a Black Hole
Using a massive array of radio telescopes across Hawaii, California, and Arizona, an astronomy team from MIT have assembled the “Event Horizon Telescope” and measured for the first time the radius of the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy M87. The Event Horizon telescope array can see 2,000 times the detail of Hubble, allowing the scientists to get a fix on the size of a black hole 50 million light years away and 6 billion times more massive than our sun. More than just measuring its size, astronomers will now be able to better understand dynamics of black holes and help to confirm Einstein’s theories of gravitation.

Computer model showing gravitation distortion near the event horizon of M87’s supermassive black hole

Bioengineers create Bi-Fi, the Biological Internet
We all love having wi-fi on our smartphones, but what about inside our bodies? That’s precisely what bioengineers have created in a recent study published in The Journal of Biological Engineering. By altering a non-lethal, rather innocuous virus called M13, researchers have turned M13’s ability to broadcast genetic information into something useful for bioengineers in the future to create complex, multicellular networks that could work together to solve problems in the human body.

M13 is an breakthrough in cell communication, since any kind of message can be sent or received. “If your network connection is based on sugar then your messages are limited to ‘more sugar,’ ‘less sugar,’ or ‘no sugar'” explained Endy, second author of the study. With M13, those messages can become far more complex. Radhika Nagpal, professor of computer science explains, “The ability to communicate ‘arbitrary’ messages is a fundamental leap — from just a signal-and-response relationship to a true language of interaction.”

Are you bi-fi enabled?

Newly Discovered Comet Could Dazzle the Daytime Sky in 2013
A newly discovered comet, called Comet ISON, might just put on a beautiful sky show late next year. It may even be bright enough to be seen in the daytime sky. ISON was announced last Monday by Russians Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok, who detected it in photographs taken three days earlier using a 15.7″ telescope. Upon its discovery, ISON was 625 million miles (1 billion kilometers) from Earth shining at the dim magnitude of 18.8. During its closest approach on Nov 28, 2013, the comet will come within 800,000 miles (1.2 million km) of the sun’s surface.

More at

Comet ISON

NASA to Bring Pieces of Mars Back Home to Earth
NASA’s Curiosity Rover landed on the Red Planet without a hitch, and now NASA’s sights are set on sample return — that’s bringing a bit of Mars back to Earth. Over the course of the next few months, NASA will be mapping out its plans for the next several years, with Mars sample return in the spotlight. Once the White House releases its budget for fiscal year 2014, NASA will announce what method we will use to carry out the sample return mission.

Right now, they are looking at three options: multiple launches with three separate spacecraft — a rover to collect the rock, an ascent vehicle to bring that rock into Mars orbit, and an orbiter that would take that rock and send it back to Earth; a single launch where one complex spacecraft would perform all of these functions; or multiple rovers that would sample different sites on the planet, and then the ascent vehicle would rendezvous with the rover carrying the most interesting samples and send those home. NASA hopes to find rock samples that might contain traces or evidence of past life on Mars.

More at

Artist rendition of a Mars Sample Return Vehicle

Gadget of the Week: Wall-Ye, the French Wine Robot
Meet Wall-Ye, who, just like his namesake, is a robot. But this robot doesn’t mess around watching Hello Dolly, no sir. Wall-Ye is always hard at work tending to grape vines in the vineyards of France. Wall-Ye has been designed with six cameras and vine pruning tools to tend to, prune, and eventually event harvest grapes for wine makers. The robot has been welcomed by small and large vineyards alike to take care of the boring, back-breaking labor associated with tending the fields.

Science Bytes
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.

Follow me on Twitter: @kaylai.

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