Most luminous galaxy yet seen shines with 12.5 billion year old light — and probably has a monster black hole at its center

© 2015 Peter Free

Citation — to study

Chao-Wei Tsai, Peter Eisenhardt, Jingwen Wu, Daniel Stern, Roberto Assef, Andrew Blain, Carrie Bridge, Dominic Benford, Roc Cutri, Roger Griffith, Thomas Jarrett, Carol Lonsdale, Frank Masci, Leonidas Moustakas, Sara Petty, Jack Sayers, S. Adam Stanford, Edward Wright, Lin Yan, David Leisawitz, Fengchuan Liu, Amy Mainzer, Ian McLean, Deborah Padgett, Michael Skrutskie, Christopher Gelino, Charles Beichman, and Stéphanie Juneau, The Most Luminous Galaxies Discovered by WISE, The Astrophysical Journal via Cornell University Library — Astrophysics, Astrophysics of Galaxies, arXiv:1410.1751v2 (08 April 2015)

Citation — to press release

University of Leicester, Most luminous galaxy in universe discovered, ScienceDaily (21 May 2015)

The gist

From the University of Leicester:

A remote galaxy shining brightly with infrared light equal to more than 300 trillion suns has been discovered using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer . . . WISE.

The galaxy, which belongs to a new class of objects — nicknamed extremely luminous infrared galaxies . . . ELIRGs — is the most luminous galaxy found to date.

“We are looking at a very intense phase of galaxy evolution,” said Chao-Wei Tsai of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, “This dazzling light may be from the main growth spurt in the size of the galaxy’s black hole”

Supermassive black holes grow by drawing gas and matter into a disk around them. The disk heats up to beyond-sizzling temperatures of millions of degrees, blasting out high-energy, visible, ultraviolet, and X-ray light.

The light is blocked by surrounding cocoons of dust. As the dust heats up, it radiates infrared light.

Because light from the galaxy hosting the black hole has traveled 12.5 billion years to reach us, astronomers are seeing the object as it was in the past.

The new study reports a total of 20 new ELIRGs, including the most luminous galaxy found to date.

These galaxies, which are even more luminous than the ultraluminous infrared galaxies (ULIRGs) reported before, were not found earlier because of their distance, and because dust converts their powerful visible light into an incredible outpouring of infrared light.

“We found in a related study with WISE that as many as half of the most luminous galaxies only show up well in infrared light,” said Tsai.

© 2015 University of Leicester, Most luminous galaxy in universe discovered, ScienceDaily (21 May 2015) (extracts)

The moral? — New detection gizmos equal new discoveries

Just because we could not see it before did not mean that it was not there — fodder for the relativity of human philosophizing.

Four large bottom pockmarks — in Switzerland’s Lake Neuchâtel — appear to be due to freshwater spring activity — fueled by water draining from the lake’s adjacent karst topography

© 2015 Peter Free

Citation — to study

Anna Reusch, Markus Loher, Damien Bouffard, Jasper Moernaut, Franziska Hellmich, Flavio S. Anselmetti, Stefano M. Bernascon, Michael Hilbe, Achim Kopf, Marvin D. Lilley, Gerrit Meinecke, and Michael Strasser, Giant lacustrine pockmarks with subaqueous groundwater discharge and subsurface sediment mobilization, Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1002/2015GL064179 (preprint, 13 May 2015)

Citation — to press release

Peter Rüegg, Pockmarks on the lake bed, ETH Zurich (16 May 2015) (with illustrations)

An obvious phenomenon — but only when you find and think about it

From the abstract:

We present newly discovered giant lacustrine pockmarks in Lake Neuchâtel [see here] (up to 160 m diameter and 30 m deep) that rank among the largest known pockmarks in lakes.

Our multidisciplinary study reveals ~60 m of suspended sediment inside a pockmark. The sediment suspension is 2.6° warmer and isotopically lighter in δ18OH2O by 1.5‰ than the ambient lake water, documenting currently active fluid flow by karstic [see here] groundwater discharge from the Jura Mountain front [see here] into the Swiss Plateau hydrological system.

Strikingly, the levees of the pockmarks comprise subsurface sediment mobilization deposits representing episodic phases of sediment expulsion during the past. They strongly resemble subsurface fluid flow features in the marine realm.

© 2015 Anna Reusch, Markus Loher, Damien Bouffard, Jasper Moernaut, Franziska Hellmich, Flavio S. Anselmetti, Stefano M. Bernascon, Michael Hilbe, Achim Kopf, Marvin D. Lilley, Gerrit Meinecke, and Michael Strasser, Giant lacustrine pockmarks with subaqueous groundwater discharge and subsurface sediment mobilization, Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1002/2015GL064179 (preprint, 13 May 2015) (at Abstract) (paragraph split)

The team was looking for something else at the time

The lead author, Anna Reusch was originally looking for signs of tectonic activity on the lake bottom, when a large crater-like bottom pockmark caught her attention:

The researchers have described the four craters . . . .

The craters measure 80 to 160 metres in diameter and between 5.5 and 30 metres in depth. Researchers nicknamed the largest of them “Crazy Crater” . . . because . . . whereas comparable structures on the ocean floor usually lose their shape through the action of currents, this one is perfectly round.

The team was unable to take core samples because the material was too fluid, due to water welling up into the vent from below.

Whilst the suspension had a temperature of 8.4 degrees Celsius, both the deep water and the sediment surrounding the crater measured just 5.8 degrees. This corresponds to the normal temperature of the water at that depth in these lakes. By contrast, the temperature of the suspension is comparable to that of the surface water in the bordering karst [see here] area.

The suspension inside the vent also contains a smaller proportion of the heavy oxygen-18 isotope than does the surrounding lake water.

“The difference in these oxygen signals indicates that we’re talking about two distinct bodies of water here,” says Reusch.

For this reason, Reusch believes it is most likely that the craters are linked to the karst systems of the neighbouring Jura Mountains. Water there seeps underground, flows beneath the bed of Lake Neuchâtel and seeks out the path of least resistance up to the surface. That takes the water up through sediment layers over several tens of metres thick that have been deposited on the lake bed over the millennia.

“In other words, these craters are in fact springs,” explains Reusch.

© 2015 Peter Rüegg, Pockmarks on the lake bed, ETH Zurich (16 May 2015) (with illustrations) (extracts)

There may be more such. The team has yet to look.

The moral? — As Anna Reusch put it, “There are still . . . exciting discoveries to be made . . . .”

The scientifically inclined can imagine how interesting it was to see something that no one had imagined  on the bottom of the lake next door.

Wheat grass roots and leaves can take up and transmit infectious prions

© 2015 Peter Free

Citation — to study

Sandra Pritzkow, Rodrigo Morales, Fabio Moda, Uffaf Khan, Glenn C. Telling, Edward Hoover, and Claudio Soto, Grass Plants Bind, Retain, Uptake, and Transport Infectious Prions, Cell Reports DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2015.04.036 (in press, 14 May 2015)

Citation — to press release

Deborah Mann Lake, UTHealth research: grass plants can transport infectious prions, University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston (15 May 2015)

What are prions?

From Deborah Mann Lake’s press release:

Prions are the protein-based infectious agents responsible for a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, which includes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in cattle, scrapie in sheep, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer, elk and moose. All are fatal brain diseases with incubation periods that last years.

CWD, first diagnosed in mule deer in Colorado in the late 1960s, has spread across the country into 22 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including the counties of El Paso and Hudspeth in Texas.

In northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, the disease is endemic. Soto’s team sought to find out why.

© 2015 Deborah Mann Lake, UTHealth research: grass plants can transport infectious prions, University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston (15 May 2015) (extracts)

The team’s findings may be a clue to the endemicity of chronic wasting disease in southeast Wyoming and northeast Colorado

From the abstract:

Small quantities of PrPSc [see here] contained in diluted brain homogenate or in excretory materials (urine and feces) can bind to wheat grass roots and leaves. Wild-type hamsters were efficiently infected by ingestion of prion-contaminated plants.

The prion-plant interaction occurs with prions from diverse origins, including chronic wasting disease.

Furthermore, leaves contaminated by spraying with a prion-containing preparation retained PrPSc for several weeks in the living plant.

Finally, plants can uptake prions from contaminated soil and transport them to aerial parts of the plant (stem and leaves).

These findings demonstrate that plants can efficiently bind infectious prions and act as carriers of infectivity, suggesting a possible role of environmental prion contamination in the horizontal transmission of the disease.

© 2015 Sandra Pritzkow, Rodrigo Morales, Fabio Moda, Uffaf Khan, Glenn C. Telling, Edward Hoover, and Claudio Soto, Grass Plants Bind, Retain, Uptake, and Transport Infectious Prions, Cell Reports DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2015.04.036 (in press, 14 May 2015) (paragraph split)

For more of the big picture

See the possible role of crows in prion transmission, here.

The moral? — The biosphere is dynamically interconnected

Which makes infectious disease hard to eradicate. That is not a new idea.

But in this context it brings to mind the expansible wisdom of mothers’ oft-repeated warnings to their children, “Don’t touch that — especially interesting dirty creature — it could make you sick.”

Bee Informed Partnership and University of Maryland reported that a small sample of US beekeepers lost 42 percent of their honeybee colonies during the last year — but what does that mean about the US bee population overall? — Nobody seems to know

© 2015 Peter Free

Citations

Matthew Wright, Nation’s Beekeepers Lost 40 Percent of Bees in 2014-15, University of Maryland (13 May 2015)

The scary (or maybe not) gist

Matthew Wright reported that:

The survey, which asks both commercial and small-scale beekeepers to track the health and survival rates of their honey bee colonies, is conducted each year by the Bee Informed Partnership in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Survey results for this year and all previous years are publicly available on the Bee Informed website.

More than 6,000 beekeepers from all 50 states responded to this year’s survey. All told, these beekeepers are responsible for nearly 15 percent of the nation’s estimated 2.74 million managed honey bee colonies.

Beekeepers who responded to the survey lost a total of 42.1 percent of their colonies over the course of the year. Winter loss rates decreased from 23.7 percent last year to 23.1 percent this year, while summer loss rates increased from 19.8 percent to 27.4 percent.

“The winter loss numbers are more hopeful especially combined with the fact that we have not seen much sign of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) for several years, but such high colony losses in the summer and year-round remain very troubling,” said Jeffery Pettis, a senior entomologist at U.S. Department of Agriculture and a co-coordinator of the survey.

“We traditionally thought of winter losses as a more important indicator of health, because surviving the cold winter months is a crucial test for any bee colony,” said Dennis van Engelsdorp, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and project director for the Bee Informed Partnership.

“But we now know that summer loss rates are significant too. This is especially so for commercial beekeepers, who are now losing more colonies in the summertime compared to the winter. Years ago, this was unheard of.”

© 2015 Matthew Wright, Nation’s Beekeepers Lost 40 Percent of Bees in 2014-15, University of Maryland (13 May 2015) (reordered extracts)

The moral? — Who knows what to make of this?

The survey covered less than 15 percent of managed colonies. Without more in regard to the sampling’s methodology and guesses, its results are arguably only questionably applicable to the rest of the keepers.

5 percent of world’s population are alcohol abusers — and 22 percent are smokers — says an overview of marginally authoritative sources

© 2015 Peter Free

Citation — to study

Linda R. Gowing, Robert L. Ali, Steve Allsop, John Marsden, Elizabeth E. Turf, Robert West, and John Witton, Global statistics on addictive behaviours: 2014 status report, Addiction 110(6): 904–919, DOI: 10.1111/add.12899 (June 2015)

Citation — to press release

Wiley, A sobering thought: 1 billion smokers and 240 million people with alcohol use disorder, worldwide, EurekAlert! (12 May 2015)

“Yawn”

Probably not new:

The primary data sources located were the websites of the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Alberta Gambling Research Institute. Summary statistics were compared with recent publications on the global epidemiology of addictive behaviours.

An estimated 4.9% of the world’s adult population (240 million people) suffer from alcohol use disorder (7.8% of men and 1.5% of women), with alcohol causing an estimated 257 disability-adjusted life years lost per 100 000 population.

An estimated 22.5% of adults in the world (1 billion people) smoke tobacco products (32.0% of men and 7.0% of women).

It is estimated that 11% of deaths in males and 6% of deaths in females each year are due to tobacco.

Of ‘unsanctioned psychoactive drugs’, cannabis is the most prevalent at 3.5% globally, with each of the others at < 1%; 0.3% of the world’s adult population (15 million people) inject drugs.

Use of unsanctioned psychoactive drugs accounts for an estimated 83 disability-adjusted life years lost per 100 000 population.

Global estimates of problem gambling are not possible, but in countries where it has been assessed the prevalence is estimated at 1.5%.

[T]he quality of data on prevalence and addiction-related harms is mostly low, and comparisons between countries and regions must be viewed with caution.

There is an urgent need to review the quality of data on which global estimates are made and coordinate efforts to arrive at a more consistent approach.

© 2015 Linda R. Gowing, Robert L. Ali, Steve Allsop, John Marsden, Elizabeth E. Turf, Robert West, and John Witton, Global statistics on addictive behaviours: 2014 status report, Addiction 110(6): 904–919, DOI: 10.1111/add.12899 (June 2015) (at Abstract) (extracts)

Tidbits

From the press release:

The heaviest drinkers are in Eastern Europe where 13.6 litres of alcohol is consumed per head of population each year, followed by Northern Europe at 11.5 litres.

Central, Southern and Western Asia have the lowest consumption at 2.1 litres.

Eastern Europe also has the most smokers at 30.0% of adults, closely followed by Oceania at 29.5% and Western Europe at 28.5%.

This compares with Africa at 14%.

North and Central America with the Caribbean have the highest rates of injecting drug use at 0.8%, which is more than twice the rate in Northern Europe at 0.3%.

© 2015 Wiley, A sobering thought: 1 billion smokers and 240 million people with alcohol use disorder, worldwide, EurekAlert! (12 May 2015) (extracts)

Caveat

The number for alcohol abuse — which I loosely define as imbibing ethanol amounts that cause violence, criminality, unproductive work and home habits and/or noticeable physiological damage — is probably substantially higher.

It is easy to mask private ethanol abuse. Most affected folks do not recognize that they are overdoing it, anyway.

How is a non-intrusive investigative agency going to discover what is actually going on?

The moral? — The smoking figures may be in the ball park — I doubt that the others are

Being human, we are always looking for ways to secretly and repetitively do ourselves in.