News & Current Affairs

July 16, 2009

New element named ‘copernicium’

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New element named ‘copernicium’

Periodic Table (Science Photo Library)

The Periodic Table will be one element longer

Discovered 13 years ago, and officially added to the periodic table just weeks ago, element 112 finally has a name.

It will be called “copernicium”, with the symbol Cp, in honour of the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

Copernicus deduced that the planets revolved around the Sun, and finally refuted the belief that the Earth was the centre of the Universe.

The team of scientists who discovered the element chose the name to honour the man who “changed our world view”.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) will officially endorse the new element’s name in six month’s time in order to give the scientific community “time to discuss the suggestion”.

Scientists from the Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Germany, led by Professor Sigurd Hofmann, discovered copernicium in fusion experiments in 1996.

“After IUPAC officially recognised our discovery, we agreed on proposing the name (because) we would like to honour an outstanding scientist,” said Professor Hofmann.

Copernicus was born 1473 in Torun, Poland. His finding that the planets circle the sun underpins much of modern science. It was pivotal for the discovery of gravity, and led to the conclusion that the stars are incredibly far away and that the Universe is inconceivably large.

Under IUPAC rules, the team were not allowed to name the element after a living person. But when asked if, rules aside, he would have liked to have “hofmanium” added to the periodic table, Professor Hofmann told News: “No, I think copernicium sounds much better.”

August 23, 2008

Black hole star mystery ‘solved’

Black hole star mystery ‘solved’

Computer simulation of a molecular cloud falling into a black hole (Science/AAAS)

The researchers modelled how molecular clouds are sucked into black holes

Astronomers have shed light on how stars can form around a massive black hole, defying conventional wisdom.

Scientists have long wondered how stars develop in such extreme conditions.

Molecular clouds – the normal birth places of stars – would be ripped apart by the immense gravity, a team explains in Science magazine.

But the researchers say stars can form from elliptical discs – the relics of giant gas clouds torn apart by encounters with black holes.

They made the discovery after developing computer simulations of giant gas clouds being sucked into black holes like water spiralling down a plughole.

“These simulations show that young stars can form in the neighbourhood of supermassive black holes as long as there is a reasonable supply of massive clouds of gas from further out in the galaxy,” said co-author Ian Bonnell from St Andrews University, UK.

Ripped apart

Their findings are in accordance with actual observations in our Milky Way galaxy that indicate the presence of a massive black hole, surrounded by huge stars with eccentric orbits.

The simulations, performed on a supercomputer – and taking over a year of computing time – followed the evolution of two separate giant gas clouds up to 100,000 times the mass of the Sun, as they fell towards the supermassive black hole.

The simulations show how the clouds are pulled apart by the immense gravitational pull of the black hole.

The disrupted clouds form into spiral patterns as they orbit the black hole; the spiral patterns remove motion energy from gas that passes close to the black hole and transfers it to gas that passes further out.

This allows part of the cloud to be captured by the black hole while the rest escapes.

In these conditions, only high mass stars are able to form and these stars inherit the eccentric orbits from the elliptical disc.

These results match the two primary properties of the young stars in the center of our galaxy: their high mass and their eccentric orbits around the supermassive black hole.

“That the stars currently present around the galaxy’s supermassive black hole have relatively short lifetimes of [about] 10 million years, which suggests that this process is likely to be repetitive,” Professor Bonnell explained.

“Such a steady supply of stars into the vicinity of the black hole, and a diet of gas directly accreted by the black hole, may help us understand the origin of supermassive black holes in our and other galaxies in the Universe.”

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