Category Archives: Science News

Astronomers discover black hole with disk that should not be there

A group of researchers analyzed a supermassive black hole with a disk of material that whirls around it “so close that the speed and intensity of the gravitational force influence the way in which the photons of light appear,” as Stefano Bianchi, the first author of the study, states.

The black hole, which has a mass of about 250 million times that of the sun, is located in the center of a galaxy distant from us 130 million light-years and called NGC 3147. According to the astronomers who are studying it, the presence of a disk so close to the black hole event horizon could offer “a unique opportunity to test Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity.”

The peculiarity of this black hole lies in the fact that it does not have enough “food” to be swallowed around itself: the material disk is therefore so thin that it contracts and then swells like a donut instead of becoming flattened.

Previously it was thought that below a certain level of brightness, the accretion disk can no longer exist, as Ari Laor, of the Technion Technological Institute, Israel explains: “What we saw was something completely unexpected, we found the moving gas that produces characteristics that we can explain only as produced by the material that rotates in a thin disk very close to the black hole.”

According to Bianchi, it is a type of record that was expected to be seen only in objects that are 1000 or even 100,000 times brighter. It follows that current theories concerning the patterns of these accretion disks around black holes must be partly revised.

The other interesting feature of the observations, carried out with the Hubble space telescope, are related to the fact that the gas is so directly connected to the gravitational well of the black hole, being very close to it, that its light has difficulty in propagating and therefore it can only be intercepted at wavelengths closer to red.

The study appeared in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Rimegepant, a new drug for migraine headache, shows promise in the second study

A new drug for migraine, Rimegepant, is promising, according to the researchers, in treating the symptoms of acute headache and in general to reduce the pain of migraines by working on a specific protein, CGRP.

With a large-scale study, then published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, therefore, give new hope to all those people with acute migraine for whom the existing drugs did not have the desired effects, as specified by Richard B. Lipton, first author of the study.

Migraine is in fact a fairly widespread pathology (it is estimated that it affects 12-14% of people worldwide) and many of the people who suffer it regularly are severely damaged even in their daily activity.

To date, many people suffering from migraines take triptan drugs (including the latter including sumitriptan, elecrtanetan and rizatriptan) that work on serotonin receptors, which in turn narrows blood vessels reducing inflammation.

However, triptan drugs do not have the same effects for all people and can produce unpleasant side effects. Furthermore, these drugs cannot be taken by those people who already suffer from cardiovascular diseases.
Instead, the new study evaluated the effects of rimegepant. Some of the study participants had to take a rimegepant tablet during a migraine attack while others had to take a placebo tablet.

After two hours of taking the researchers noted a significant statistical difference: 19.6% of patients taking rimegepant were pain-free compared to 12% of the placebo group. Furthermore, the side effects were minimal and only a few people had nausea and urinary tract problems.

The drug works on receptors for a small per protein called CGRP. This is one of the proteins released during migraine attacks and is thought to be one of the pain makers. The trial was sponsored by Biohaven, a company that produces remegepant and of which Lipton himself is a shareholder.

Scientists discover that loose RNA molecules restructure the skin

Particular RNA molecules can be used to restructure the cellular damage of the epidermis and therefore, in a future perspective, also to rejuvenate the skin: it is the discovery made by a group of researchers at the Johns Hopkins University medical school.

The study, published in Nature Communications, speaks of free RNA fragments, called non-coding double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) that can stimulate a particular regeneration of hair follicles after a wound. This is a type of regeneration already known and used by rodents when they need to regenerate their skin after damage.

According to the authors of this new study, dsRNA is released from the damaged cells at the site of the injury. To arrive at this discovery, the researchers performed biopsies on 17 female patients on whom laser therapies were performed for rejuvenation or skin modeling, for example to clear sun spots or wrinkles. The treatments were performed on the face and arms and the average age of the patients was 55 years.

By analyzing the expression levels of genes in the samples collected, the researchers discovered the important role of dsRNA and the genes involved in the production of natural retinoic acid. After laser treatments, the expressions of these genes had much higher levels. By treating skin cells isolated in the laboratory directly with the dissolved dsRNA, the researchers imitated the effect of the lasers by increasing retinoic acid in the cells themselves.

Among other things, the latter is already available in some commercial products to treat acne and other skin defects.

This means that these treatments and the same retinoic acid “are really working in the same molecular pathways and no one knew it until now,” as specified by Luis Garza, professor of dermatology and one of the authors of the study.

These results could help in the implementation of new therapies or strategies to reduce skin defects such as wrinkles or burn scars by directly using retinoic acid in new ways.

One kilometer asteroid discovered with the shortest year

Caltech astronomers have identified an asteroid that runs around the Sun every 151 days, which makes this asteroid the one with the shortest year among those identified. 2019 LF6 has a diameter of about one mile and travels with an orbit that is just above Venus, oscillating slightly beyond it and approaching Mercury.

It is an Atira-type asteroid (a group that includes all the asteroids whose orbit is located entirely within the terrestrial one). This is an interesting discovery also because it is a fairly large asteroid, as specified by Quanzhi Ye, the student at Caltech who made the discovery, who admits that finding such asteroids today has become quite rare as the largest orbiting near almost all have been identified in the Sun.

The orbit of LF6, according to the scholar, is also very unusual, which explains the fact that it was never identified despite its rather bulky size. The researchers used the Palomar Observatory which has a special state-of-the-art camera, the Zwicky Transient Facility, which scans the skies every night to find these objects as well as other phenomena such as explosions and particular stars. 2019 LF6 joins 2019 AQ3, another Atira asteroid from the very short year that orbits the Sun every 165 days.

Both asteroids orbit far outside the plane of the solar system, something that suggests that they have somehow been “thrown out” gravitationally because they are too close to Mercury or Venus, as recalled by Tom Prince, professor of physics Caltech, another author of the research together with George Helou, executive director of the IPAC.

Optogenetic chip that imitates the brain created by scientists

Using techniques from the emerging field of optogenetics, a group of researchers from the RMIT University in Australia claims to have built a device that mimics the ways in which the brain stores information.

Thanks to these special techniques, researchers can use light to manipulate neurons, essentially to turn them on or off like a switch. The study was published in Advanced Functional Materials. It is a chip made from an ultra-thin material that responds to different wavelengths of light by modifying an electrical resistance.

According to Sumeet Walia, head of the research team, this new device could be used in the field of artificial intelligence, in particular that which tends to imitate the functionality of the brain: “Our optogenetically inspired chip imitates the fundamental biology of the best computer of nature: the human brain. Being able to store, erase and process information is fundamental for computing, and the brain does it in an extremely efficient way,” says Walia, confident about the possibility of simulating the neural approach of the brain via this chip.

Thought naturally goes to bionic brains, something that for the moment still belongs to science fiction but that the researcher himself brings up in relation to any future applications of such a technology. Moreover, it could also have positive consequences in more practical areas or in any case closer to everyday reality, as Taimur Ahmed, the study’s lead author, admits. The technology on which this is based could in fact be used to better understand how the brain works and perhaps to create new therapies for those suffering from cognitive disorders.