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Search reveals eight new sources of black hole echoes

The findings will help scientists trace a black hole’s evolution as it feeds on stellar material

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Written by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office

Scattered across our Milky Way galaxy are tens of millions of black holes —immensely strong gravitational wells of spacetime, from which infalling matter, and even light, can never escape. Black holes are dark by definition, except on the rare occasions when they feed. As a black hole pulls in gas and dust from an orbiting star, it can give off spectacular bursts of X-ray light that bounce and echo off the inspiraling gas, briefly illuminating a black hole’s extreme surroundings.

Now MIT astronomers are looking for flashes and echoes from nearby black hole X-ray binaries — systems with a star orbiting, and occasionally being eaten away by, a black hole. They are analyzing the echoes from such systems to reconstruct a black hole’s immediate, extreme vicinity.

In a study appearing today in the Astrophysical Journal, the researchers report using a new automated search tool, which they’ve coined the “Reverberation Machine,” to comb through satellite data for signs of black hole echoes. In their search, they have discovered eight new echoing black hole binaries in our galaxy. Previously, only two such systems in the Milky Way were known to emit X-ray echoes.

In comparing the echoes across systems, the team has pieced together a general picture of how a black hole evolves during an outburst. Across all systems, they observed that a black hole first undergoes a “hard” state, whipping up a corona of high-energy photons along with a jet of relativistic particles that is launched away at close to the speed of light. The researchers discovered that at a certain point, the black hole gives off one final, high-energy flash, before transitioning to a “soft,” low-energy state.

This final flash may be a sign that a black hole’s corona, the region of high-energy plasma just outside a black hole’s boundary, briefly expands, ejecting a final burst of high-energy particles before disappearing entirely. These findings could help to explain how larger, supermassive black holes at the center of a galaxy can eject particles across vastly cosmic scales to shape a galaxy’s formation.

“The role of  black holes in galaxy evolution is an outstanding question in modern astrophysics,” says Erin Kara, assistant professor of physics at MIT. “Interestingly, these black hole binaries appear to be ‘mini’ supermassive black holes, and so by understanding the outbursts in these small, nearby systems, we can understand how similar outbursts in supermassive black holes affect the galaxies in which they reside.”

The study’s first author is MIT graduate student Jingyi Wang; other co-authors  include Matteo Lucchini and Ron Remillard at MIT, along with collaborators from Caltech and other institutions.

X-ray delays

Kara and her colleagues are using X-ray echoes to map a black hole’s vicinity, much the way that bats use sound echoes to navigate their surroundings. When a bat emits a call, the sound can bounce off an obstacle and return to the bat as an echo. The time it takes for the echo to return is relative to the distance between the bat and the obstacle, giving the animal a mental map of its surroundings.

In similar fashion, the MIT team is looking to map the immediate vicinity of a black hole using X-ray echoes. The echoes represent time delays between two types of X-ray light: light emitted directly from the corona, and light from the corona that bounces off the accretion disk of inspiraling gas and dust.

The time when a telescope receives light from the corona, compared to when it receives the X-ray echoes, gives an estimate of the distance between the corona and the accretion disk. Watching how these time delays change can reveal how a black hole’s corona and disk evolve as the black hole consumes stellar material.

Echo evolution

In their new study, the team developed search algorithm to comb through data taken by NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer, or NICER, a high-time-resolution X-ray telescope aboard the International Space Station. The algorithm picked out 26 black hole X-ray binary systems that were previously known to emit X-ray outbursts. Of these 26, the team found that 10 systems were close and bright enough that they could discern X-ray echoes amid the outbursts. Eight of the 10 were previously not known to emit echoes.

“We see new signatures of reverberation in eight sources,” Wang says. “The black holes range in mass from five to 15 times the mass of the sun, and they’re all in binary systems with normal, low-mass, sun-like stars.”

As a side project, Kara is working with MIT education and music scholars, Kyle Keane and Ian Condry, to convert the emission from a typical X-ray echo into audible sound waves. Take a listen to the sound of a black hole echo here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIeIag2Ji8k.

The researchers then ran the algorithm on the 10 black hole binaries and divided the data into groups with similar “spectral timing features,” that is, similar delays between high-energy X-rays and reprocessed echoes. This helped to quickly track the change in X-ray echoes at every stage during a black hole’s outburst. 

The team identified a common evolution across all systems. In the initial “hard” state, in which a corona and jet of high-energy particles dominates the black hole’s energy, they detected time lags that were short and fast, on the order of milliseconds. This hard state lasts for several weeks. Then, a transition occurs over several days, in which the corona and jet sputter and die out, and a soft state takes over, dominated by lower-energy X-rays from the black hole’s accretion disk.   

During this hard-to-soft transition state, the team discovered that time lags grew momentarily longer in all 10 systems, implying the distance between the corona and disk also grew larger. One explanation is that the corona may briefly expand outward and upward, in a last high-energy burst before the black hole finishes the bulk of its stellar meal and goes quiet.

“We’re at the beginnings of being able to use these light echoes to reconstruct the environments closest to the black hole,” Kara says. “Now we’ve shown these echoes are commonly observed, and we’re able to probe connections between a black hole’s disk, jet, and corona in a new way.”

This research was supported, in part, by NASA.

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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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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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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