The latest in Ph-word: July 2020

Let’s start by three new things that were seen in the heavens last month. These are:

– A new spot, aka gigantic storm, on Jupiter’s gaseous surface – spotted by an amateur astronomer in S. Africa. It remains to be seen if it will last for centuries, like the famous Great Red Spot.

– The visible light from the merging of two black holes. Mergers are a hot trend lately thanks to the gravitational waves they send us, but this was the first time that light was also seen from them (by the Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar Observatory). To be precise though, it is believed that the two merged holes were found inside the disk of gas surrounding … a larger black hole, because why not; the light that we saw then came from the gas, as the new hole formed and flew away within it. And you thought that soap operas are complicated. Or to put this situation as one of the involved scientists did, “in a supermassive black hole’s disk, the flowing gas converts the mosh pit of the swarm to a classical minuet”.

– And, a brand new wall of galaxies. Galaxies typically appear along huge strands of hydrogen, which connects them like beads on a necklace, only that the necklace tends to be millions of light years long. Now astrophysicists looked carefully at a database with galactic distances and realized that such a strand sits “just outside” the Milky Way (i.e. half a billion light years). The “South Pole Wall” connects thousands of galaxies, bridging them with gas and dust.


Old good quantum mechanics claims that matter can behave as if it is waves. For sure, wave effects such as diffraction and interference are routinely seen in labs using electrons and atoms. A few molecules have also been seen to make diffraction patterns, but things certainly become trickier as one goes to things larger than atoms.

But now researchers at the University of Vienna outdid themselves. They created diffraction patterns with beams of molecules of an antibiotic (made of 41 atoms) and a dye (58 atoms), which definitely count as matter but obligingly behaved like waves.


Finally, the black hole that two months ago was found at the friendly distance of just a thousand light years and sitting in the constellation of Telescopium, might not exist after all. Thought you might like to know.

Its presence was inferred by the weird motion of two stars, seen to move around each other in a way that pointed to a third object. But after the study got public this inference was quickly doubted by several other research groups. Both the necessity of a third object and the necessity of it being a hole have been questioned while a number of alternatives were proposed. The issue will be resolved in a traditional and time-honoured way: taking a better look with interferometry, whenever the Very Large Telescope opens again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *