One of the finest visual treats of the year comes when the National Science Foundation and its partners reveal the winners of the International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, as they have this week in the journal Science. The illustration you see above is HIV. Created by Ivan Konstantinov and colleagues, the 3D model of the virus graced the cover of Nature Medicine last year.
The model contains 17 different viral and cellular proteins and the membrane incorporates 160 thousand lipid molecules, of 8 different types, in the same proportions as in an actual HIV particle. It denotes the parts encoded by the virus’s own genome in orange, while grey shades indicate structures taken into the virus when it interacts with a human cell. To create the visualisation, the team consulted over 100 articles on HIV from leading science journals and talked to experts in the field. [New Scientist]
The other winners, which you can check out at Science’s site, include the wide world of fungi, colliding quasars, and (my favorite) the hairs of a tomato seed, seen below.
The hairs secrete a mucus that appears as a clear membrane at the edge of the seed, according to photographer Robert Rock Belliveau, a retired pathologist. This mucus has several purposes: killing predators with a natural insecticide, preventing the seed from drying out, and anchoring the seed to the soil. [National Geographic]
If you’re in the mood to gawk at more neat visualizations of science, check out the recent DISCOVER galleries of the telescope to replace Hubble, amazing supercomputer simulations, or the most psychedelic images in science.
Images: Ivan Konstantinov, Yury Stefanov, Aleksander Kovalevsky, Yegor Voronin/Visual Science Company ; Robert Rock Belliveau
Which came first: A galaxy or the supermassive black hole at its center? Thanks to a misfit quasar, astronomers have some new clues.
Quasars are particular kinds of black holes that release incredibly intense jets of energy, and scientists spied this one five billion light-years away. To their surprise, the astronomers found that unlike most quasars, this one was ”naked” and not situated at the centre of a galaxy. However, there was a companion galaxy close to it creating new stars at a frantic rate equivalent to about 350 suns per year [The Telegraph].
Researchers have recalculated the mass of a gigantic black hole at the core of the M87 galaxy, and found that it’s about two times as massive as previously estimated: The new study says that M87’s black hole weighs the same as 6.4 billion suns. Researchers say the findings may indicate that many black holes have been underestimated, and also say that the results from this “local” galaxy only 50 million light-years away may solve a mystery regarding the extremely distant black holes known as quasars.
Astronomers had previously estimated M87’s total mass, calculating how much of that mass came from both the galaxy’s stars and its central black hole. But previous models didn’t have the supercomputing power to estimate the mass contributed by the galaxy’s “dark halo.” The dark halo is a spherical region surrounding the galaxy that extends beyond its main visible structure. It contains “dark matter”, an as yet unidentified material that cannot be directly detected by telescopes but which astronomers know is there from its gravitational interaction with everything else that can be seen [BBC News].
When the universe was young, at least one stellar factory was churning out 1,000 sun-like stars every year, according to a new study. Using an array of telescopes in the French Alps, researchers carefully scrutinised a distant galaxy whose light has taken so long to reach Earth that it appears as it was just 870 million years after the big bang [New Scientist].
The Milky Way currently forms about one sun per year, says study coauthor Chris Carilli, indicating that massive galaxies may have formed very quickly in the universe’s early days.The immense scale of the stellar factory is probably due to the fact that there was a lot more gas around in the early universe, Carilli says. Matter in the universe was indeed much denser soon after the big bang, since space itself has expanded over time [New Scientist].
In a galaxy far, far away—11.1 billion light-years away, to be exact—researchers have discovered the telltale signature of water. The water molecules seem to be located in the galaxy’s center, where a supermassive black hole called a quasar is spewing out tons of radiation as material falls into it. The water molecules lie in clouds of dust and gas that feed the black hole, and appear to be amplifying radio waves at a specific frequency, forming what’s called a maser, or the radio equivalent of a laser [Wired News].
The quasar, called MG J0414+0534, is so far away that the light researchers are observing originated when the universe was only 2.5 billion years old. “We now know water is out there,” says Violette Impellizzeri from the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany. “Because water masers arise close to the cores of galaxies, our result opens new interesting possibilities for studying supermassive black holes [at the galactic cores] at a time when galaxies were forming” [New Scientist].