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Black hole a speed demon

There's a new spin on supermassive black holes: They're incredibly fast, astronomers say.

It's long been suspected that gigantic black holes lurking in the heart of galaxies rotate faster and grow larger as they feast on gas, dust, stars and matter. But there hasn't been a reliable measurement of the spin rate of a black hole until now. Using NASA's newly launched NuStar telescope and the European Space Agency's workhorse XMM-Newton, an international team observed high-energy X-rays released by a supermassive black hole in the middle of a nearby galaxy.

They calculated its spin at close to the speed of light -- 1.08 billion km/h).

Results were published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

 

No slug in bed

The colorful sea slug known as Chromodoris reticulata boasts the ultimate throwaway culture. Researchers report online last Tuesday in Biology Letters that the animal, found in the Pacific and Indian oceans, sloughs off its penis after sex -- then grows a new one. The animals shed their outer male organs 15 to 30 minutes after mating, but are equipped for love again after roughly 24 hours. This is the first known case of copulation with what the researchers call a "disposable" penis. Dissection revealed a coiled and compressed stretch of reproductive tissue inside the slug's body. The researchers think this tissue elongates into a new penis, allowing a superstud slug to have as many as three hookups in three days. Good news for the slugs and for those of us who remember the '90s.

 

Raining? There's an app for that

A new smartphone app allows weather-watchers to live out their weather-reporting dreams, albeit without the thrill of standing in front of a large TV weather map. The free app, called mPING, allows volunteers to anonymously report rain, snow and other weather conditions from their iPhone or Android devices. Created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Oklahoma, the app collects real-time, on-the-ground precipitation reports, something even advanced radars can't do. Just log in, select the type of precipitation falling in your area, and hit "submit report."

This information is funnelled into a database of weather reports from around the country, which will be used to create more accurate radar algorithms and help officials prepare for severe weather.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 2, 2013 J14

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