Last week in science and tech: Giant sun-eating black holes, alien octopus, and more

By India Ashok


Last week saw many interesting scientific discoveries and technological innovations emerge. Astronomers discovered a massive black hole capable of devouring the sun, while scientists discussed the possibilities of octopus eggs actually having been delivered to Earth via a space rock.

Meanwhile, scientists have recently observed a drastic increase in ozone-destroying chemicals, which they suspect is being produced by a mysterious source, for potentially nefarious purposes.


Here are some of the most interesting science and tech news stories that you may have missed last week.


Sun-devouring monster black hole


Astronomers at the Australian National University (ANU) have just discovered a massive black hole that is rapidly expanding. According to the researchers, this is currently the fastest-growing black hole in known universe and is estimated to be the size of around 20 billion suns. The black hole is growing at such an alarming rate that scientists believe it could completely devour a planetary object, like our sun, in just two days.


“This black hole is growing so rapidly that it’s shining thousands of times more brightly than an entire galaxy, due to all of the gases it sucks in daily that cause lots of friction and heat,” Christian Wolf from the ANU research school of astronomy and astrophysics, who is the lead author of the new study, said in a statement. “If we had this monster sitting at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, it would appear 10 times brighter than a full moon. It would appear as an incredibly bright pin-point star that would almost wash out all of the stars in the sky.”


Are octopuses actually aliens?

In a new study, 33 respected scientists from across the world, have put forward a new theory about the origins of octopuses. The researchers link their theory to the highly debated concept known as “panspermia”. Some versions of this concept suggest that microbial life forms, were likely transported to Earth via comets. When these space rocks crashed onto Earth, a habitable planet, these tiny viruses and life forms sprung to life.

“It takes little imagination to consider that the pre-Cambrian mass extinction event(s) was correlated with the impact of a giant life-bearing comet (or comets), and the subsequent seeding of Earth with new cosmic-derived cellular organisms and viral genes,” the authors wrote, Newsweek reported. “This principle applies to the sudden appearance in the fossil record of pretty well all major life forms.”

However, not all scientists appear to be convinced about this theory. Astrobiologist Frances Westall, who is involved in the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission, told Newsweek, “Unfortunately it is all too easy to pull information out of the literature to support one’s hypothesis. Nature is incredible, and I do not think it is necessary to call on extraterrestrials to explain it.”


Scientists suspect that someone’s brewing ozone-destroying chemicals

Scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have observed a disturbingly persistent increase in chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are basically ozone-destroying chemicals. CFCs are so powerful and dangerous that in 1987 an international agreement, called the Montreal Protocol was established, which involved governments completely phasing out CFCs. The agreement was reportedly a major success, with the giant hole on Earth’s ozone, which forms over Antarctica every year, gradually shrinking.

However, according to the new study, CFC emissions are now around the same as they were nearly 20 years ago. “We concluded that it’s most likely that someone may be producing the CFC-11 that’s escaping to the atmosphere,” Stephen Montzka, a research chemist at NOAA, said in a statement. “We don’t know why they might be doing that and if it is being made for some specific purpose, or inadvertently as a side product of some other chemical process.”

India Ashok is a senior copy editor at Qrius