We Could Be Just Days Away From Seeing the First-Ever Photo of a Black Hole

An artist's rendering of a growing supermassive black hole
An artist's rendering of a growing supermassive black hole
NASA/CXC/M.Weiss, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Lots of people have created simulations and illustrations of black holes based on what is currently known about these incredibly dense objects, but to date, the public has never seen an actual picture of one.

As NBC News reports, that could change next Wednesday, when a team of international scientists releases the “groundbreaking result” of a project that has set its sights on capturing the first image of a black hole. Six simultaneous press conferences will be held around the world, and the U.S. announcement in Washington, D.C. will be livestreamed starting at 9 a.m. on April 10.

The reason black holes are so hard to see is because no light can escape from them. However, scientists know they exist because of the gravitational pull they exert on nearby objects, including stars and gas. The latest endeavor to observe a black hole, dubbed the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project, has built a “virtual Earth-sized telescope” by creating a network of eight radio observatories around the world.

It is believed that the announcement will concern a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way called Sagittarius A* (pronounced “Sagittarius A-star”). If scientists are successful in capturing an image of the distant black hole, it would be the equivalent of “standing in New York and counting the individual dimples on a golf ball in Los Angeles,” according to an EHT video.

As for what Sagittarius A* might look like, that remains to be seen. “We might see a crescent, brightened on one side—or a bipolar, jet-like structure,” Dan Marrone, an experimental astrophysicist at the University of Arizona, told Mental Floss in 2017. “We honestly don’t know.”

To livestream the press conference on Wednesday, visit the National Science Foundation's website.

[h/t NBC]

Does the Full Moon Really Make People Act Crazy?

iStock.com/voraorn
iStock.com/voraorn

Along with Mercury in retrograde, the full moon is a pretty popular scapegoat for bad luck and bizarre behavior. Encounter someone acting strangely? Blame it on the lunar phases! It's said that crime rates increase and emergency rooms are much busier during the full moon (though a 2004 study debunked this claim). Plus, there's that whole werewolf thing. Why would this be? The reasoning is that the moon, which affects the ocean's tides, probably exerts a similar effect on us, because the human body is made mostly of water.

This belief that the moon influences behavior is so widely held—reportedly, even 80 percent of nurses and 64 percent of doctors think it's true, according to a 1987 paper published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine [PDF]—that in 2012 a team of researchers at Université Laval's School of Psychology in Canada decided to find out if mental illness and the phases of the moon are linked [PDF].

To test the theory, the researchers evaluated 771 patients who visited emergency rooms at two hospitals in Montreal between March 2005 and April 2008. The patients chosen complained of chest pains, which doctors could not determine a medical cause for the pains. Many of the patients suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts.

When the researchers compared the time of the visits to the phases of the moon, they found that there was no link between the incidence of psychological problems and the four lunar phases, with one exception: in the last lunar quarter, anxiety disorders were 32 percent less frequent. "This may be coincidental or due to factors we did not take into account," Dr. Geneviève Belleville, who directed the team of researchers, said. "But one thing is certain: we observed no full-moon or new-moon effect on psychological problems."

So rest easy (or maybe not): If people seem to act crazy during the full moon, their behavior is likely pretty similar during the rest of the lunar cycle as well.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Rare Harvest ‘Micromoon’ Will Appear on Friday the 13th

pattier/iStock via Getty Images
pattier/iStock via Getty Images

The first Friday the 13th of 2019 is coming this September, coinciding with a spooky full moon—and that unlucky event will also be a harvest micromoon, Newsweek reports. Here's everything you need to know about the lunar spectacle.

What is a harvest micromoon?

Harvest moon describes the full moon that appears in September. You may have heard that the harvest moon is larger and deeper in color than full moons that appear at different times of the year, but this isn't the case. The name harvest moon has nothing to do with its size or appearance. Many people observe the harvest moon just as it surfaces above the horizon—the time when it looks biggest due to the moon illusion, and reddish or orange-y through the filter of Earth's atmosphere. But as the moon climbs higher in the sky throughout the night, these characteristics fade away—just as they would at any other time of year.

This year, the harvest moon will actually look smaller compared to other full moons. On Friday, September 13, the celestial body reaches its apogee, or the point in its orbit where it's farthest from Earth. It has been dubbed a micromoon, which is the opposite of a supermoon.

When to see the harvest micromoon

Besides its scaled-down appearance, Friday's moon won't look any different from a regular full moon. But its rare conjunction with Friday the 13th makes it an event that anyone with a superstitious side won't want to miss. The moon will achieve maximum fullness at 12:33 a.m. the morning of Saturday, September 14 in the Eastern time zone (earlier the further west you go), but it will appear full and bright the previous and following nights. To catch the mini-moon on the 13th, look up late Friday night in a place with minimal light pollution. And if you want the full harvest moon effect, look to the horizon just after moonrise at 7:33 p.m.

[h/t Newsweek]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER