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Astronomers snap first-ever image of supermassive black hole Sagitarrius A*

The image reveals a glowing, donut-shaped ring at the Milky Way’s heart

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Written by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office

Black holes are invisible by nature. Their pull is inescapable, forever trapping any light that falls into their gravitational abyss. But just beyond a black hole’s point of no return, light persists, and its patterns, like a photo negative, can reveal a black hole’s lurking presence.

Now an international team of astronomers, including researchers at MIT’s Haystack Observatory, has captured the light around our own supermassive black hole, revealing for the first time, an image of Sagitarrius A* (Sgr A*, pronounced ‘sadge-ay-star’), the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy. 

The image was created by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) — a global network of radio telescopes whose movements are choreographed so they function as one virtual, planet-sized telescope. The researchers focused the EHT array on the center of our galaxy, 27,000 light years from Earth, cutting through our planet’s atmosphere and the turbulent plasma beyond our solar system.

The resulting image reveals SgrA* for the first time, in the form of a glowing, donut-shaped ring of light. This ring structure lies just outside the event horizon, or the point beyond which light cannot escape, and is the result of light being bent by the black hole’s enormous gravity. The bright ring encircles a dark center, described as the black hole’s “shadow.”

The ring’s white-hot plasma is estimated to be 10 billion Kelvin, or 18 billion degrees Fahrenheit. Judging from the ring’s dimensions, SgrA* is roughly 4 million times the mass of the sun and incredibly compact, with a size that could fit within the orbit of Venus.

The image is the first visual confirmation that a black hole indeed exists at the center of our galaxy. Astronomers previously have observed stars circling around an invisible, massive, and extremely dense object — all signs pointing to a supermassive black hole. The image revealed today provides the first visual evidence that the object is a black hole, with dimensions that agree with predictions based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

“It is notoriously difficult to reconstruct images from a widely dispersed array like the EHT, and both rigor and ingenuity have been required to properly understand and quantify uncertainties,” says Colin Lonsdale, director of MIT’s Haystack Observatory. “The result is a milestone in our understanding of black holes in general and the one at the center of our galaxy in particular.”

The image and accompanying analyses are presented today in a number of papers appearing in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The findings are the result of work by more than 300 researchers from 80 institutions, including MIT, which together make up the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration.

Chasing a black hole’s tail

The new image of SgrA* follows the first-ever image of a black hole, which was obtained by the EHT in 2019. That groundbreaking image was of M87*, the supermassive black hole at the center of Messier 87, a galaxy located 53 million light years from Earth.

M87* is a goliath compared to SgrA*, with a mass of 6.5 billion suns (more than 1,000 times heavier than our own black hole), and a size that could easily swallow the entire solar system. And yet the image of M87* reveals a bright ring structure, much like SgrA*. The similarity between the two images confirms another prediction of general relativity: that all black holes are alike, no matter their size.

“We now have a consistent image that looks like general relativity is working on both ends of supermassive black holes,” says EHT collaboration member Kazunori Akiyama, a research scientist at MIT’s Haystack Observatory.

The images of both black holes are based on data taken by the EHT of the respective sources in 2017. However, it took far more time and effort to bring SgrA* into focus, due to its smaller size and its location within our own galaxy.

Astronomers suspect that hot gas circles both black holes at the same velocity, close to the speed of light. As SgrA* is 1,500 times smaller than M87*, its speeding light is much harder to resolve. (Similarly, it’s harder to photograph a dog chasing its tail than one running at the same speed around a large park.)

The fact that SgrA* lies in our own galaxy also presented an imaging challenge. M87* sits in a galaxy that is offset from our own, making it easier to see. In contrast, SgrA* lies at the center of our own galactic plane, which hosts pockets of heated gas, or turbulent plasma, that can distort any emissions from the black hole that reach the Earth.

“It’s like trying to see through a jet engine’s blowing warm air,” Akiyama says. “It was very complicated, and that was why this image took longer to resolve.”

Jumping data

To capture a clear image of SgrA*, astronomers coordinated eight radio observatories around the world to act as one virtual telescope, which they pointed at the center of the Milky Way over several days in April 2017. Each observatory recorded incoming light data using high-speed recorders developed at Haystack Observatory. These recorders were designed to process an enormous amount of data at rates of 4 gigabytes per second.

After collecting a total of 5 petabytes of data, encompassing observations of both SgrA* and M87*, hard drives full of recorded data were shipped, half to Haystack, and the other half to Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany. Both locations house correlators — massive supercomputers that worked to “correlate” the data, comparing the data streams between different observatories, and converting that data into signals that a planet-sized telescope would see.

They then calibrated the data — a meticulous process of weeding out noise from sources such as instrumentation effects and the Earth’s own atmosphere, to effectively focus the virtual telescope’s “mirror” on signals specific to SgrA*.

Then imaging teams took on the task of translating the signals into a representative image of the black hole — a far trickier challenge than imaging M87*, which was a larger, steadier source, changing very little over several days.

“SgrA* is changing over minutes, so the data is jumping all over the place,” says EHT collaboration member Vincent Fish, a research scientist at Haystack. “That’s the fundamental challenge in imaging this black hole.”

Akiyama, who led both the EHT’s calibration and imaging teams, developed a new algorithm to pair with those used to image M87*. The researchers fed data into each algorithm to generate thousands of images of the black hole. They averaged these images to generate one main image, which revealed SgrA* as a glowing, ring-like structure.

In coming years, the scientists expect to collect more data of SgrA* and other black holes as the EHT expands, adding more telescopes to its virtual array.

“The techniques developed for Sgr A* pave the way for spectacular EHT images and science to come, as the telescope array is expanded and refined,” Lonsdale says.

“The next step is, can we get sharper images of this ring?” Akiyama says. “Now we can only see the brightest features. We want to also capture fainter substructures. Then we expect to see something more detailed, and different from that first donut.”

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Business & Economy

Campus 365 provides cloud-based seamless solutions to educational institutions 

With its ERP software and pioneering technological innovation, Campus 365 is disrupting the education sector and making education more effective and accessible

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Just as technology, and particularly the digital era, has disrupted and improved most major segments of India’s economy, education and training is also undergoing a tech revolution. Education Technology, more commonly known as EdTech, possesses the power to bridge the learning gap thanks to technology’s ability to eliminate geographical barriers. As much as digital adoption is the need of the hour, it is critical to retain a few unparalleled benefits of a traditional classroom setup such as group discussion, personalised support from educators and creating opportunities to work on peer collaborative assignments.

Armed with a mission to empower schools with tools that serve people in the most human, helpful way, Campus 365- an ed-tech start-up incubated by NASSCOM 10000 startup based out of Gurgaon, is providing cloud-based solutions to schools and colleges to manage and track their daily activities seamlessly. With user-friendly mobile apps to help students, parents, and teachers maintain the academic cycle, Campus 365 provides a 360-degree outlook to stakeholders assisting them in making productive decisions to escalate their progress.

“We all know that the introduction of EdTech is transforming the learning process in schools. Initially, technological abilities were not needed for students but these skills are now of much importance. Today, students should have good knowledge of online communication to attend classes, check emails, and submit assignments online and our school ERP gives our students a dedicated platform for this to make them future-ready. We at Campus 365 believe that technology is a powerful instrument that can elevate education to an advanced level, allowing students to learn and collaborate in new ways and we are constantly working towards it” said  Mayank Singh Co- Founder and CEO of Campus 365.

Campus 365 is India’s largest all-in-one app for teachers, schools, and coaching institutes to manage their online and offline classrooms in one place. This online teaching and institute management app helps users create tests & quizzes, share study material & homework, chat with students, take live online classes, record live lectures, teach using digital whiteboard, automate attendance, and much more.

Empowering 1000+ institutes globally, Campus 365’s mission is to enhance student learning by bringing innovation to education. Campus 365 partners with schools and colleges across the country to provide students with a holistic learning experience that makes them future-ready. The company offers a high-quality, end-to-end solution for every stakeholder involved in a child’s learning journey. Campus 365 tackles some of the most critical aspects of School management and reduces school staff workload. By doing so, the company ensures that school teachers nurture the young minds of tomorrow and that the school support staff enjoys using the Campus 365 School ERP engine’s superior apps. Campus 365’s innovative school management software solutions are aimed at providing the best of School ERP features and safety measures to school-going children.

Campus 365’s team is founded with a deep-rooted passion toward delivering value to not just schools, but to parents and teachers as well, who ensure that children are always walking on the path of constant innovation. Today, Campus 365 is used by schools around the world – from kindergarten to higher studies schools and non-profit schools.

Campus 365 has simplified the managing of day-to-day activities such as attendance marking, alerts through mobile applications, fees payment reminders, parent-teacher notifications, and holiday schedules. Every team member in Team Campus 365 has some experience in School and College Management Process and it is also one of the reasons why the company puts concerted efforts into optimising the School and College Management Software. Breaking complex software and making them user-friendly is the top priority of Team Campus 365.

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Edu News

Study Australia successfully concludes the Study Australia Entrepreneurship Challenge

The winners of the SAEC 2022 are – Team Econominds of MITWPU University, Pune

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The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade- Australian Government agency) successfully concluded its Study Australia Entrepreneurship Challenge (SAEC-2022) in Delhi on September 23, 2022.

The winners of the SAEC 2022 are – Team Econominds of MITWPU University, Pune. The all-girls team has won a Student Tour to Australia, which will take place in March 2023.

Their theme was Circular Economy and Challenge question was – ‘How might we ensure that the clothing we wear is more sustainable’. The members of the team are Nishita Bhattad, Jasmine Mehta, Samiksha Joshi, Shweta Karthik and Muskan Kashyap.

The award is sponsored by Study Adelaide.

During this tour the winners will get a glimpse of the Australian lifestyle and will get the chance to visit and learn more about Australian education institutions and Australian entrepreneurship ecosystem and start-up culture.

The first runners-up of SAEC 2022 are Team Ekta from NMIMS, Mumbai. They have won a $2000 scholarship each, sponsored by Study New South Wales – which the students will be able to use towards the tuition fee for a full-time postgraduate degree program at any NSW education provider.

The second runners-up of SAEC 2022 are Team Glovis Rise from Lovely Professional University, Punjab who bagged a cash prize of $500 each, sponsored by Study Queensland.

Ms. Melissa Bank, Head of International Education Centre of Excellence, Austrade said, “Australia has always been a preferred destination for Indian students when it comes to higher education. We are seeing an increase in the number of Indian students applying to Australian universities every year. With the re-opening of borders after the pandemic, we are witnessing a constant surge in number of students arriving in Australia. The Australian government is committed to provide them the best-in-class education while also equipping them with necessary skills to facilitate their dream of becoming global citizens. Our goal behind setting up this competition was to help students learn about Australian entrepreneurship eco-system and its institutions. I am glad that all the participants were highly involved with this programme and we have been able to highlight the key differential factor that can make them an entrepreneur.”

The Study Australia Entrepreneurship Challenge was an initiative to engage highly-skilled students from the Indian higher education institutes who participated in a series of hybrid events, which were based on Ted X-meets-Hackathon. The participants formed multidisciplinary teams and participated in a two-week program showcasing the opportunities of Australia’s education sector and the Australian entrepreneurial and start-up ecosystems.

As part of the challenge, the teams created a 3-minute pitch video idea on the following challenge themes – Cybersecurity, Circular Economy, Digital Health, and Creative Industries. The participating teams also had access to mentors from Australian academia and industry who guided them in the development of their video pitches. They got in-depth understanding of their chosen topic during academic spotlights that were delivered by Australian academic experts, as well. The jury panel for the contest included Ms. Melissa Bank, Head of International Education Centre of Excellence, Austrade and Mr Sukhmeet Singh, Co-founder, A2P Energy.

In recent years, Australia has been a leading destination for Indian students seeking to study abroad, and it has progressively emerged as a preferred choice for many. Since the border re-opening in mid-December 2021 until 22 July 2022, over 260,000 student visa holders reached Australia.

Furthermore, the Australian Trade and Investment Commission’s “The Study Australia Industry Experience Program (SAIEP)” was launched for current Indian and other international students at Australian universities to enhance their employability skills.

More information about Study Australia and the support for Indian students is available at https://www.studyaustralia.gov.au/india

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Edu News

University of Essex Online invites applications for PG Cert Global Mental Health and Wellbeing

University of Essex Online courses are delivered by Kaplan Open Learning in partnership with the University of Essex

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The University of Essex Online is inviting applications for the October intake of the PG Cert Global Mental Health and Wellbeing. The course deals with a wide range of topics, including identifying and processing challenges which impact global mental health, as well as interpreting and understanding ethical policies for an international framework.

This course is designed with a specific focus on the critical perspectives of global mental health policy and practices.  Students will gain the skills and experience required to pursue a career as a mentor, coach, manager, mental health lead or wellbeing adviser. With further training, one could also become a specialist nurse, specialist mental health practitioner or health service manager.

Upon successful completion of the course, students will be awarded a certificate from the University of Essex – one of the UK’s top 40 universities (Complete University Guide 2023).

Course duration and delivery:  This is a 100% online part-time course with an indicative study duration of eight months.

Course content is delivered through a cutting-edge virtual learning environment (VLE), giving students 24/7 access to study materials, such as lecturecasts. This offers a contemporary and accessible way to interact with multimedia content and check understanding via engaging and interactive activities.

Application deadline: 20 October 2022 

Entry requirements: 

·       For the academic entry route, students must have an undergraduate degree from an approved institution, equivalent to a UK Honours degree, or a relevant professional qualification.

·       For the work experience entry route, students must have at least three years of work experience (voluntary or paid) within a relevant field, supported by two appropriate references.

·       As part of the application process, applicants will be asked to take a short aptitude test which is designed to evaluate their ability to handle the intellectual and practical demands of the course. 

·       If English isn’t your first language, your ability should be equivalent to an IELTS (Academic) score of 6.5. If you don’t hold an IELTS or equivalent qualification, the University offers a free online English test.

How to apply:  

Please visit: https://online.essex.ac.uk/apply/

Tuition fee: £3,945

Scholarship:  Merit-based scholarships are available based on prior academic achievements and work experience.

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