Archive | January 9, 2013

Monster Black Hole Burp Surprises Scientists

Astronomers have discovered what appears to be colossal belch from a massive black hole at the heart of adistant galaxy. The outburst was 10 times as bright as the biggest star explosion, scientists say.

The potential super-sized black hole burp find came as astronomers studied the galaxy NGC 660, which is located 44 million light-years away in the constellation Pisces.

“The discovery was entirely serendipitous. Our observations were spread over a few years, and when we looked at them, we found that one galaxy had changed over that time from being placid and quiescent to undergone a hugely energetic outburst at the end,” study researcher Robert Minchin of Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico said in a statement.

To determine whether the outburst was from a supernova — the explosive end of a star —  or the galaxy’s core, the researchers used the High Sensitivity Array, a global network of telescopes that includes the Very Long Baseline Array, the Arecibo Telescope, the NSF’s 100-meter Green Bank Telescope, and the 100-meter Effelsberg Radio Telescope in Germany.

Instead of an expanding ring of material suggesting a supernova event, the researchers found five locations with bright radio emissions clustered around the galaxy’s core.

“The most likely explanation is that there are jets coming from the core, but they are precessing, or wobbling, and the hot spots we see are where the jets slammed into the material near the galaxy’s nucleus,” said Chris Salter, also of the Arecibo Observatory.

 Those jets, the researchers said, would mean the outburst likely came from a supermassive black hole at the heart of galaxy NGC 660. As the black hole devours dust and mass, it pulls a whirling disk of matter into its heart that spews jets of particles as it is consumed.

Supermassive black holes are colossal structures at the cores of galaxies that are between millions and billions of times as massive as the sun. They are much larger than stellar-mass black holes, which are created from the deaths of giant stars and can contain the mass of about 10 suns.

Google exec gets look at NKoreans using Internet

Students at North Korea’s premier university showed Google’s executive chairman how they look for information online: They Google it.

But surfing the Internet that way is the privilege of only a very few in North Korea, whose authoritarian government imposes strict limits on access to the World Wide Web.

Google’s Eric Schmidt got a first look at North Korea’s limited Internet usage when an American delegation he and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are leading visited a computer lab Tuesday at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. Other members of the delegation on the unusual four-day trip include Schmidt’s daughter, Sophie, and Jared Cohen, director of the Google Ideas think tank.

Schmidt, who is the highest-profile U.S. business executive to visit North Korea since leader Kim Jong Un took power a year ago, has not spoken publicly about the reasons behind the journey to North Korea.

Richardson has called the trip a “private, humanitarian” mission by U.S. citizens and has sought to allay worries in Washington.

North Korea is holding a U.S. citizen accused by Pyongyang of committing “hostile” acts against the state, charges that could carry 10 years in a prison or longer. Richardson told The Associated Press he would speak to North Korean officials about Kenneth Bae’s detention and seek to visit the American.

Schmidt and Cohen chatted with students working on HP desktop computers at an “e-library” at the university named after North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. One student showed Schmidt how he accesses reading materials from Cornell University online on a computer with a red tag denoting it as a gift from Kim Jong Il.

“He’s actually going to a Cornell site,” Schmidt told Richardson after peering at the URL.

Cohen asked a student how he searches for information online. The student clicked on Google — “That’s where I work!” Cohen said — and then asked to be able to type in his own search: “New York City.” Cohen clicked on a Wikipedia page for the city, pointing at a photo and telling the student, “That’s where I live.”

Kim Su Hyang, a librarian, said students at Kim Il Sung Universityhave had Internet access since the laboratory opened in April 2010. School officials said the library is open from 8 a.m. to midnight, even when school is not in session, like Tuesday.

While university students at Kim Chaek University of Science and Technology and the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology also have carefully monitored Internet access — and are under strict instructions to access only educational materials — most North Koreans have never surfed the Web.

Computers at Pyongyang’s main library at the Grand People’s Study house are linked to a domestic Intranet service that allows them to read state-run media online and access a trove of reading materials culled by North Korean officials. North Koreans with computers at home can also sign up for the Intranet service.

But access to the World Wide Web is extremely rare and often is limited to those with clearance to get on the Internet.

At Kim Chaek University, instructors and students wishing to use the Internet must register first for permission and submit an application with their requests for research online, Ryu Sun Ryol, head of the e-library, said.

But he said it is only a matter of time before Internet use becomes widespread.

“We will start having access to the Internet soon,” he said in an interview last month. He said North Korea is in the midst of a major push to expand computer use in every classroom and workplace.

The U.S. delegation’s visit takes place as the U.S. pushes to punish North Korea for launching a long-range rocket in December.

Pyongyang celebrates the launch as a peaceful bid to send a satellite into space. The U.S. and other critics, however, condemn it as a covert test of long-range missile technology, and are urging the U.N. Security Council to take action against North Korea.

After arriving in Pyongyang on Monday evening, the group met Tuesday with officials at North Korea’s Foreign Ministry.

Richardson, who has traveled to North Korea several times to negotiate the release of detained Americans, was accompanied by Korea expert Kun “Tony” Namkung. He called it “a good, productive but frank meeting,” but did not divulge further details about the talks. Namkung has worked as a consultant for The Associated Press.

Schmidt, who oversaw Google’s expansion into a global Internet giant, speaks frequently about the importance of providing people around the world with Internet access and technology. Google now has offices in more than 40 countries, including all three of North Korea’s neighbors: Russia, South Korea and China, another country criticized for systematic Internet censorship.

He and Cohen have collaborated on a book about the Internet’s role in shaping society called “The New Digital Age” that comes out in April.

Using science and technology to build North Korea’s beleaguered economy was the highlight of a New Year’s Day speech by leader Kim Jong Un.

New red banners promoting slogans drawn from Kim’s speech line Pyongyang’s snowy streets, and North Koreans are still cramming to study the lengthy speech. It was the first time in 19 years for North Koreans to hear their leader give a New Year’s Day speech. During the rule of late leader Kim Jong Il, state policy was distributed through North Korea’s three main newspapers.

There was a festive air in Pyongyang for another reason: Kim Jong Un’s birthday. Though Jan. 8 is not recognized as a national holiday, like the birthdays of his father and grandfather, and his official birthdate has not been announced, North Koreans acknowledged that it was their leader’s birthday Tuesday.

Waitresses at the downtown Koryo Hotel dressed up in sparkly traditional Korean dresses and decorated the lobby with balloons.

Wife says poisoned lottery winner had no enemies

The wife of a Chicago lottery winner who was poisoned with cyanide said Tuesday she was devastated by his death and cannot believe her husband could have had enemies.

Shabana Ansari spoke to The Associated Press a day after news emerged that 46-year-old Urooj Khan’s death in July was the result of cyanide poisoning and not natural causes, as authorities initially concluded. Prosecutors, Chicago police and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office are investigating Khan’s death as a homicide, but they have not given any details, announced any suspects or said whether they believed the lottery win could have presented a motive.

Ansari would not talk about the circumstances of her husband’s death, saying it was too painful to recall. She said only that he fell ill shortly after they had dinner together.

She described Khan as a hard-working and generous man who would send money to orphanages in their native India.

“I was shattered. I can’t believe he’s no longer with me,” the short, soft-spoken Ansari said tearfully, standing in one of three dry-cleaning businesses her husband started after immigrating to the U.S. from India in 1989.

Khan’s death on July 20 was initially ruled a result of natural causes. But a relative’s request for a deeper look resulted in the startling conclusion months later that Kahn was killed with the poison as he was about to collect $425,000 in winnings. Authorities won’t identify the relative. Ansari, who said she has spoken with police detectives about the case, said she was not the one who asked for a deeper investigation and that she doesn’t know who it was.

“I don’t think anyone would have a bad eye for him or that he had any enemy,” said Ansari, adding that she continues to work at the dry cleaner out of a desire to honor her husband and protect the businesses he built.

Khan planned to use the lottery winnings to pay off mortgages, expand his business and give a donation to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Ansari said her husband did not have a will and the money is now tied up in probate.

She said she hopes the truth of what happened to her husband will come out. She said she could not recall anyone unusual or suspicious coming into their lives after the lottery win became public.

Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told reporters Tuesday that he had never seen anything like Khan’s case in his 32 years of policing in New York, New Jersey and now Chicago.

“So, I’m not going to say that I’ve seen everything,” McCarthy said.

Authorities plan to exhume Khan’s body in the next few weeks in hopes they might be able to test additional tissue samples and bolster evidence if the case goes to trial.

“It’s always good if and when the case goes to trial to have as much data as possible,” said Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina. He added that he did not believe additional testing would change the conclusion that Khan was a homicide victim, saying those comprehensive toxicology results were validated in the lab.

“Based on the investigative information we have now and the (toxicology results), we’re comfortable where we are right now,” he said.

Ansari, 32, moved to the U.S. from India after marrying Khan 12 years ago.

Khan and his wife were born in Hyderabad, a city in southern India, and their story is a typical immigrant’s tale of settling in a new land with big dreams and starting a business. Their daughter, Jasmeen, now 17, is a student here.

“Work was his passion,” Ansari said of her husband, adding that she plans to stay in the U.S. and keep his businesses running.

“I’m just taking care of his hard work,” she said.

She recalled going on the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with her husband in 2010, an awe-inspiring trip that was a first for both of them. One of Islam’s pillars requires every able-bodied Muslim to make the journey at least once in their lifetime.

She said her husband returned even more set on living a good life and stopped buying the occasional lottery ticket.

Nonetheless, he couldn’t resist buying one for an instant lottery game in June while at a 7-Eleven near his home in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on the city’s north side. It was a $1 million winner.

Khan opted for a lump sum of slightly more than $600,000. After taxes, the winnings amounted to about $425,000, said lottery spokesman Mike Lang. The check was issued on July 19, the day before Khan died.

Some other states allow winners to remain anonymous, but Illinois requires most winning ticket holders to appear for a news conference and related promotions, partly to prove that the state pays out prizes. Khan’s win didn’t draw much media attention, and Lang noted that press events for $1 million winners are fairly typical.

“We do several news conferences a month for various amounts,” he said.

Man behind ‘Deport Piers Morgan’ petition has meltdown on Morgan’s show

Alex Jones, the conservative talk radio host who launched a petition to deport CNN prime-time host Piers Morgan over the British citizen’s views on gun control, had what you might conservatively call a wee bit of a meltdown during an interview on Morgan’s show Monday night.

Jones, whose petition has generated more than 100,000 signatures since being posted last month on the White House’s “We The People” website, lashed out at Morgan over his public calls for tighter gun regulations in the wake of last month’s shootings in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people—including 20 children—were killed by a gunman at an elementary school.

“The Second Amendment isn’t there for duck hunting,” a relatively calm Jones said at the beginning of a two-part, 15-minute interview. “It’s there to protect us from tyrannical government and street thugs.”

But things escalated rather quickly, with the interview becoming a one-sided, pro-gun tirade. Jones cut off Morgan at nearly every turn.

“I’m here to tell you,” Jones yelled, pointing his finger at the talk show host, “1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!”

The 38-year-old Texan continued, “America was born on guns and whiskey. It’s true we’re a violent society. … You’re a foreigner. You’re a redcoat. You’re telling us what to do.”

“You finished?” a visibly stunned Morgan asked Jones at one point.

Jones also accused Morgan of fleeing to the U.S. to evade questions about the U.K. phone hacking scandal. “You’re a hatchet man of a New World Order,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, Jones added, England is becoming a police state. “You have hordes of people burning down cities and beating old women’s brains out every day,” Jones stammered. “They arrest people in England if they defend themselves.”