Here’s your quick, fun, sometimes serious, and always interesting daily tech digest, by way of the DGiT Daily newsletter, for Thursday, April 11, 2019!

1. Seeing the unseeable

The incredible first image of Messier 87’s (M87) supermassive black hole, surrounded by a ring of light, is a big moment for our lives:

black hole M87
(Credit: Event Horizon Telescope)

The numbers are mind-blowing:

  • M87 is located about 55 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo.
  • (Yes, that means the photo of the black hole is what it looked like 55 million years ago, not what it looks like today)
  • It weighs approximately 6.5 billion times the mass of the sun.
  • The black hole is the size of our solar system at 62 billion miles across, as this xkcd comic shows:

black hole M87 (xkcd)

  • Even at that size, it’s the equivalent of “taking a picture of a doughnut placed on the surface of the moon,” according to EHT Project Scientist Dimitrios Psaltis, a Professor of Astronomy and Physics at the University of Arizona.
  • (I feel Professor Psaltis forgot to mention that it just so happens the gasses swirling around the center of the donut are superheated!)
  • Given the pentabytes of data involved, hard drive stacks were flown between supercomputers in Germany and the US,
  • Six published scientific papers detailed the observations.
  • 200 scientists worked on the effort.
  • One of those is Dr Katie Bouman (Facebook), who is becoming known as the woman behind the first black hole image (BBC), thanks to her work – along with many others – on the algorithm to piece together the image from a network of eight radio telescopes.
  • Bouman’s TED Talk from November 2016, titled “How to take a picture of a black hole” is one of the best ways to understand the black hole photograph.
  • Also, NASA show off the wider galaxy view around M87 here.

What it means:

First, comments from Dr Christian Wolf, from the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the ANU College of Science in Australia:

  • “The only black holes anyone has seen so far have been works of fiction. We have watched movie heroes battle with the immense gravitational attraction of giant black holes, but what do these black holes really look like?
  • “With my team, I am hunting for black holes that grow and these are ablaze with light. But most black holes in the Universe are dormant, such as the one at the centre of our own Milky Way galaxy. All we can hope to see is their shadow in the darkness of space – that strikes me as one of the hardest pictures to take, ever.
  • “The Event Horizon Telescope team have worked for years to construct a picture of these two black holes, which are the two easiest ones to image. I very much hope this is only the beginning, because there are billions of giant black holes out there, one in the centre of every galaxy.”

Second, Android Authority’s lead technical writer, Robert Triggs, had some grand thoughts, after some unnamed people in our Slack channel complained about the image being fuzzy, and a touch whelming:

  • “The black hole is real! An area where space accelerates towards an infinitesimally small point faster than the speed of light. Where time and space flip dimensional axis. Where particles radiate in and out of existence as if from nothing. It’s insane, it hurts my head, and it’s a real thing out there in the big old universe. And we have a blurry picture to prove it.”

What’s next?

  • Remember how fast we went from Pluto being a fuzzy blur via telescopes, to something we could see and understand?
  • Here’s the first released image of Pluto, to the latest, via NASA:

Pluto

  • Admittedly, that high-resolution shot of Pluto came about by flying a spacecraft out to the dwarf planet. Sending a spacecraft 55 million light years away to get a better photo is slightly less feasible.

2. Breaking: Julian Assange arrested in London (BBC). (Android Authority).


3. Amazon workers are listening to what you tell Alexa (Bloomberg). Amazon admitted and tried to downplay the Bloomberg report, but it reads very badly, with employees sharing “amusing” voice recordings around (Twitter). (Apple and Google also do it, but Bloomberg doesn’t have quite as much dirt.)


4. The first clamshell foldable phone is real, but you’ll need to wait a while for this one (AA).


5. Speaking of, Samsung begins OLED production for Galaxy Fold (ZDNet).


6. You can now use your Android phone as a security key: Here’s how to do it (AA).


7. Are the new AirPods (2019) worth it? (AA).


8. Apple persuades Foxconn and TSMC to use only renewable energy when making iPhones (CNBC).


9. Ford CEO says the company ‘overestimated’ self-driving cars (Engadget).


10. YouTube TV raises monthly price to $50, but adds Discovery channels (The Verge).


11. Scientists are gearing up to drill some of the oldest ice on the planet (Earther).


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