Black Hole Consumption in Slow-Mo, Moon Ice, and Bennu Mappers Update

By on October 11, 2019 in

It is a slow news day, but we have two cool stories. High-speed images of a black hole eating a star hint at a role for plasma. The Moon also appears to be getting a steady stream of water from space, and that is new and awesome. Finally, Bennu mappers phase 2 is beginning!



This is the Daily Space for today, Friday, October 11, 2019. I am your host, Dr Pamela Gay, and I am here to put science in your brain. 

This week things may sound a bit different. I’m on vacation, and the rest of our team is working on other projects. We will be taking Monday off. Depending on where you live, it is Columbus Day, Explorers Day, or Indigenous People’s day. However you celebrate, we encourage you to get out and look up as the evening comes earlier.


Today’s news starts with the carefully observed growth of a blackhole. While light can’t escape a blackhole, we can see the region around a black hole. In the case the black hole MAXI J1820+070 that region includes a disk of gas stripped off a nearby star that is being cannibalized. This particular system is 10,000 ly away, which for this rare of an object is actually a lucky find that isn’t that far away. Astronomers used both the HiPERCAM instrument on the Gran Telescopio Canarias (La Palma, Canary Islands) to look at it in visible light and the NICER observatory aboard the International Space Station to look at this system in X-Rays. The images themselves were taken at high speeds that allows fast changes to be observed. By slowing the data down by a factor of 10, it has become possible to catch the flickering and flaring of the material streaming toward the blackhole. 

From the combined data set, they saw X-ray light emerge moments before visible light, and phenomena seen previously in other systems and indicative of hot plasma. This is the third system to be observed to have this lag, and it is beginning to appear that this kind of plasma is a common feature in these kinds of systems.

These results appear in a new issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, and lead author John Paice, has also transformed the observations into a movie that we link to in our show notes at

From a distant blackhole we now jump to our nearby Moon. It was confirmed back in 2009 that the moon has water tied up in its minerals, and in the intervening decade scientists have been working to understand more about this moistures origins and evolution. One source of particular interest is the ice in craters, especially those craters in the Moon’s south pole region where future exploration is planned. A new study published in the journal Icrarus by Brown university researchers looks at the ages of the craters that contain water. Lead author Ariel Deutsch explains, “The ages of these deposits can potentially tell us something about the origin of the ice, which helps us understand the sources and distribution of water in the inner solar system.” The ages are determined by counting the number of small craters that have formed on top of the larger crater. We have a reasonable understanding of the rate of impacts on the moon, and we know that a more cratered region is older than a less cratered one. Since they knew the water in the bottoms of the craters couldn’t be older than the craters themselves, this put limits on the when the water arrived. In the most ancient craters, they found ices that were also eroded in a way that indicated the ice itself was also ancient. They also found ice in young crisp craters. This combination of ancient appearing ice and newer ice seems to indicate that ice is still getting delivered to the moon. This was a completely unexpected result and the team suggests that rather than resulting from large wet indicators, these newer icy deposits may be the result of bombardment from pea-sized micrometeorites or implantation by solar wind.

To really understand what’s going, we need to send spacecraft and get samples. For now, however, it’s nice to know that water is in craters young and old on the moon, even if it is likely really hard to extract.

If you’d like to be part of the counting craters movement, and help CosmoQuest develop the datasets we need to train neural nets to map the moon in the future, please check out Moon Mappers at

Before we end things on this slow news day Friday, I want to also give you a quick update on our Bennu Mappers project. This week we finished phase 1 mapping of the surface, and 8 of our volunteer mappers are being asked to join the science team in phase 2 mapping to try and determine the final sample sight for the OSIRIS-REx mission.


And that rounds out our show for today.

Thank you all for listening. The Daily Space is produced by Susie Murph, and is a product of the Planetary Science Institute, a 501(c)3 non profit dedicated to exploring our Solar System and beyond. We are made possible through the generous contributions of people like you. If you would like to learn more, please check us out on 

Each live episode of the Daily Space is archived on YouTube. If you miss an episode here on, you can find it later on These episodes are edited and produced by Susie Murph. 

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About Susie Murph

Susie Murph is a Communications Specialist at CosmoQuest. She produces the Astronomy Cast, the Weekly Space Hangout and Daily Space.

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