Black Hole Image Makes History; NASA Telescopes Coordinated Observations

A black hole and its shadow have been captured in an image for the first time, a historic feat by an international network of radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). EHT is an international collaboration whose support in the U.S. includes the National Science Foundation.

Using the Event Horizon Telescope, scientists obtained an image of the black hole at the center of galaxy M87, outlined by emission from hot gas swirling around it under the influence of strong gravity near its event horizon.
Credits: Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al.

A black hole is an extremely dense object from which no light can escape. Anything that comes within a black hole’s “event horizon,” its point of no return, will be consumed, never to re-emerge, because of the black hole’s unimaginably strong gravity. By its very nature, a black hole cannot be seen, but the hot disk of material that encircles it shines bright. Against a bright backdrop, such as this disk, a black hole appears to cast a shadow.   

The stunning new image shows the shadow of the supermassive black hole in the center of Messier 87 (M87), an elliptical galaxy some 55 million light-years from Earth. This black hole is 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun. Catching its shadow involved eight ground-based radio telescopes around the globe, operating together as if they were one telescope the size of our entire planet. 

“This is an amazing accomplishment by the EHT team,” said Paul Hertz, director of the astrophysics division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Years ago, we thought we would have to build a very large space telescope to image a black hole. By getting radio telescopes around the world to work in concert like one instrument, the EHT team achieved this, decades ahead of time.”

To complement the EHT findings, several NASA spacecraft were part of a large effort, coordinated by the EHT’s Multiwavelength Working Group, to observe the black hole using different wavelengths of light. As part of this effort, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and Neil Gehrels SwiftObservatory space telescope missions, all attuned to different varieties of X-ray light, turned their gaze to the M87 black hole around the same time as the Event Horizon Telescope in April 2017. If EHT observed changes in the structure of the black hole’s environment, data from these missions and other telescopes could be used to help figure out what was going on. 

While NASA observations did not directly trace out the historic image, astronomers used data from NASA’s Chandra and NuSTAR satellites to measure the X-ray brightness of M87’s jet. Scientists used this information to compare their models of the jet and disk around the black hole with the EHT observations. Other insights may come as researchers continue to pore over these data. 

There are many remaining questions about black holes that the coordinated NASA observations may help answer. Mysteries linger about why particles get such a huge energy boost around black holes, forming dramatic jets that surge away from the poles of black holes at nearly the speed of light. When material falls into the black hole, where does the energy go? 

“X-rays help us connect what’s happening to the particles near the event horizon with what we can measure with our telescopes,” said Joey Neilsen, an astronomer at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, who led the Chandra and NuSTAR analysis on behalf of the EHT’s Multiwavelength Working Group. 

The story is published courtesy of NASA

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Tensions escalate in Venezuela, civilians killed and injured: top UN officials lament excessive use of force by authorities


© UNHCR/Siegfried Modola
Colombia. Venezuelan refugees and migrants cross the Simon Bolivar Bridge, one of 7 legal entry points on the Colombia-Venezuela border.

As tensions escalated on Saturday at various points along Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil, as well as within the country itself, resulting in the death and injury of various civilians, the United Nations chief, António Guterres, and the head of the UN human rights office (OHCHR), Michelle Bachelet, expressed their shock and appealed for calm.

The UN Secretary-General called for violence to be “avoided at any cost and for lethal force not to be used in any circumstances”. He urged “all actors to lower tensions and pursue every effort to prevent further escalation”.

Ms. Bachelet condemned “the excessive use of force used by the Venezuelan security forces, as well the involvement of pro-government elements”, which have resulted in at least four confirmed deaths and more than 300 injuries on Friday and Saturday, according to OHCHR.

“People have been shot and killed, others have reportedly received wounds from which they will never completely recover, including losing eyes,” she deplored. “These are disgraceful scenes. The Venezuelan government must stop its forces from using excessive force against unarmed protesters and ordinary citizens.”

Ms. Bachelet said she had received reports of numerous and, in some cases prolonged, violent incidents, at different points along the borders with Colombia and Brazil, as the Venezuelan security forces tried to halt the aid supplies coming into the country through closed border points.

OHCHR also received several reports pointing at the involvement of armed pro-government elements in the violent attacks on protestors, and Bachelet urged the Government “to rein in these groups and arrest those among them who have used force against protestors”.

“The use of proxy forces has a long and sinister history in the region,” she added. “And it is very alarming to see them operating openly in this way in Venezuela. The Government can, and must, stop them from exacerbating an already highly inflammable situation.”

‘We cannot lose momentum’ on the road to peace in Yemen, UN envoy warns

UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Martin Griffiths (on screen), Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, briefs the Security Council on the situation in Yemen. 9 January 2019.

“The difficult part” of reaching a lasting political settlement in Yemen “is still ahead of us” said the UN Special Envoy on Wednesday, urging the Security Council to support the “speedy implementation” of the fragile ceasefire agreed in and around the crucial port city of Hudaydah, at breakthrough talks in Sweden last month.

Martin Griffiths told Council members he was “under no illusion that these are very sensitive and challenging days” for both the Government coalition, and opposition Houthi leaders, “and for Yemen as a whole.”

Mr. Griffiths updated the Council that since the consultations in Stockholm, President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Abdelmalik Al-Houthi, leader of Houthi opposition movement Ansar Allah, have recognized the meetings “as an important step towards a comprehensive resolution to the conflict” and were determined to build on that progress through more dialogue.

Noting that the 18 December ceasefire in and around Hudaydah had been largely adhered to, Mr. Griffiths said the fighting was now “very limited” compared to the clashes beforehand, which threatened the lives of hundreds-of-thousands of civilians living inside the Houthi-held port and city.

“This relative calm, I believe, indicates the tangible benefit of the Stockholm Agreement for the Yemeni people and the continued commitment of the parties to making the agreement work,” he asserted.

The special envoy credited the Council’s “swift authorization” of December’s  resolution 2451, and rapid deployment of ceasefire monitors as “a clear signal to the parties and the Yemeni people of the international community’s desire to turn the agreement into facts on the ground” and hoped that security arrangements and the humanitarian access routes agreed in Stockholm will be implemented swiftly.

Turning to the major city Taiz where the two sides have battled for control for more than three years, the UN envoy recalled its “enormous historic significance” and called its people a driving economic and cultural force.

“Civilians in Taiz have suffered far too much for too long, and the destruction in the city has been terrible”, he underscored. “The flow of humanitarian aid needs to increase, and people need the chance to rebuild”, he added, pointing out that the Stockholm consultations provided a platform for this.

On the prisoner exchange agreement, Mr. Griffiths said that although implementation has been “gradual and tentative”, the UN was working with both parties to finalize the lists each submitted in Stockholm and would follow up with talks on 14 January in Amman, Jordan.

“I hope these talks will allow many thousands of prisoners to go home and be reunited with their families”, he said, asking for the Council’s support in encouraging the parties to “overcome any challenges that may be encountered along the way.”

Mr. Griffiths lamented that no consensus was reached on the Central Bank of Yemen or opening the Sana’a airport, which would significantly contribute to the economy and help relieve humanitarian suffering.

“I continue to work with the parties to resolve them,” he maintained, urging both sides to “exert restraint in their media rhetoric”.

With the goal of reaching a lasting political settlement, Mr. Griffiths said “Sweden was just a start” and that it was important to keep up the momentum in moving the process forward.

Calling speedy implementation “crucial”, he stressed that a lot of work needs to be done “before the parties can reach a comprehensive peace agreement”.

The UN envoy spelled out: “We need to convene the next round, but we need substantive progress on what was agreed in Stockholm”.

“Progress in Sweden is a basis for confidence. It would be conducive to further progress at the next round of consultations”, he concluded.

Growth in Gulf Countries to Rebound in 2018-2019


Economic growth for the GCC region is expected to reach 2 percent in 2018.                            Photo credit: World Bank Group

A sustained increase in oil prices over the past two years has driven an economic recovery in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, but government-led reforms need to continue to keep up the momentum, according to the World Bank’s biannual Gulf Economic Monitor released on Tuesday in Riyadh. 

Economic growth for the GCC region is expected to reach 2 percent in 2018, up from negative 0.3 percent in 2017, thanks in part to higher oil production and a slower pace of fiscal consolidation.   

With fiscal and external imbalances narrowing, the region has remained largely immune to the financial volatility that beset other emerging market economies in mid-2018. The World Bank expects economic growth for the region to strengthen gradually in the medium term to 2.7 percent by 2020 as high energy prices and rising government spending lift output and sentiment. 

Growth in Saudi Arabia is expected to rebound to around 2 percent in 2018-2019 from a contraction in 2017, and to strengthen similarly across the GCC countries. External and fiscal imbalances are also expected to narrow, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE achieving near fiscal balance by 2020 and, along with Qatar and Kuwait, returning to current account surpluses during 2018-20.

Gulf countries have implemented some notable reforms in recent years, including the rolling back of costly and distortionary subsidies, the implementation of a VAT, and business environment and labor market reforms,” said Issam Abousleiman, World Bank Country Director for the GCC. “But it is critical that GCC countries stay the course, not least because any loss in momentum could hinder their ability to draw in long-term investors, that are crucial for diversification efforts.” 

Looking forward, there are several downside risks to the regional economic outlook. Global trade tensions, global financial volatility, and geo-political tensions could dampen global demand and trade, affect access to and cost of financing and weigh down hydrocarbon prices. A key domestic risk for the GCC region is a slowing in the pace of reforms due to higher oil prices.

The Gulf Economic Monitor focuses the reform lens on four key areas where further progress is needed. On the fiscal front, GCC countries have yet to systematically explore public wage bill and employment reforms as a strategy to anchor longer term fiscal sustainability and to improve service delivery. Governments should also note that spending better rather than spending more will likely be the key to unlocking productivity gains from infrastructure spending. Business environment and labor market reforms are needed to increase private investment, to foster job creation, and to ensure that Gulf nationals have the skills required by the private sector.  

The Monitor also draws attention to a separate but critical aspect of long term sustainability, namely the management of water resources in the region, as GCC countries have some of the highest levels of water consumption globally and are highly dependent on energy-intensive water desalination. Because the management of water resources is a cross-sectoral issue, governments will need to ensure that policies and strategies are integrated and applied consistently across these sectors. Governments would need to prioritize water conservation, management of aquifers, recycling, desalination, agricultural use and coastal management.

Cambodia Continues to Grow Despite Global Economic Challenges: World Bank


Cambodia’s growth rate is expected to be marginally higher than last year

While global economic prospects continue to moderate, and risks have heightened, Cambodia continues to grow, according to the latest edition of the World Bank’s Cambodia Economic Update report, released on Wednesday.

The growth rate is expected to be marginally higher than last year, reaching 7.1 percent in 2018, driven primarily by domestic consumption and exports.

Following a gradual recovery in the second half of 2017, Cambodia’s exports surged, supported largely by strong demand in the United States and the European Union. Cambodia is among few countries in the East Asia and Pacific region expected to experience marginal improvements in growth.

Risks in the financial sector continue to grow, with large exposure to the construction and real estate sector. External risks include the potential withdrawal of Everything But Arms preferences for Cambodia and the unpredictable spill-over effects of US-China trade disputes.

“Priorities for Cambodia include safeguarding the health of the financial sector, while building up reserves, strengthening competitiveness and preventing rapid real exchange rate appreciation, given the recent surge in imports,” said Sodeth Ly, World Bank Senior Economist for Cambodia.

While the longer-term outlook remains positive, Cambodia needs to develop its physical and human capital to attain higher income status in the long term.

“To achieve its upper middle-income country aspirations, Cambodia needs to increase its investment in human capital and infrastructure and adopt reforms that enable sustained and inclusive growth. Mobilizing significant domestic savings to boost investment is critical to attain what high-performing Asian economies have achieved,”said Inguna Dobraja, World Bank Country Manager for Cambodia.

The report also calls for further bridging the infrastructure deficit to absorb rising foreign direct investment in manufacturing and agro-processing, as well as continued improvements to the business environment.

The Cambodia Economic Update is a biannual report that provides up-to-date information on short and medium term macroeconomic developments in Cambodia.

US Airlift Targets 70,000 Afghans Displaced by Drought

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is responding to the Afghan crisis with a major airlift of aid, including plastic sheeting, blankets and kitchen sets, to help 10,000 families or 70,000 individuals.


US Ambassador John Bass, Afghan and IOM officials welcome the first of three flights carrying US aid to drought victims in Herat, western Afghanistan. Photo: IOM 

IOM is organizing warehousing of the aid and its distribution in Herat and Badghis over the next three weeks.

The first of three C-17 aircraft carrying the aid landed in Herat on Saturday (17/11). Two more aircraft are scheduled to arrive in the coming days.

Ambassador John Bass, speaking at Herat airport, welcomed the airlift. “The United States confirms its continuous support to the Afghan people, and we thank IOM for cooperating with USAID/OFDA in helping thousands of displaced Afghan families,” he said. 

Deputy Governor of Badghis Malikzada also welcomed the aid but said that more would need to be done to alleviate suffering caused by the drought. “Assistance also needs to be provided in places of origin through investment in the agricultural sector, so that people can sustain themselves in their places of origin. We do not want to establish camps in urban centres and create subsidized communities that permanently rely on aid for survival,” he said.

So far, 8,341 families have received non-food relief items, including blankets and household items, and 5,031 have received emergency shelter. The assistance was distributed by IOM, UNHCR, IFRC, DRC, IRC and NRC. UNICEF has committed to cover the needs of an additional 3,000 families. 

 3.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in 20 of the most drought-affected provinces in Afghanistan, UN World Food Programme reported last week.

Afghanistan is currently facing its worst drought in decades. The Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA) and humanitarian partners have so far identified 35,549 families (223,100 individuals) displaced in the western provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghor between January and October 2018.

Of these, 44 per cent or close to 100,000 individuals are children below the age of 18, and 19 per cent are below the age of five. More than half of the displaced have settled in Herat city, 39 per cent are in and around Qala-e-Naw, the provincial capital of Badghis, and the remaining two per cent in other provinces.

The displaced population is desperately poor and lack access to food, water, shelter and health services. Many are living in tents or in the open air with the onset of freezing winter temperatures. 

National Energy Services Reunited Corp. signs an Agreement with Dhahran Techno Valley Company to open a Research Center in Saudi Arabia

The signing ceremony was held at the KFUPM’s headquarters in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

nesrlogobigNational Energy Services Reunited Corp. (“NESR”) (NASDAQ: NESR) (NASDAQ: NESRW) (www.NESR.com), a national, industry-leading provider of integrated energy services in the Middle East and North Africa (“MENA”) region, through its subsidiary, National Oil Technology Company, on Monday signed an agreement with Dhahran Techno Valley Company (“DTVC”), a wholly owned subsidiary of King Fahd University of Petroleum (“KFUPM”). The agreement calls for the creation of a global center for the development of scientific research in DTVC.

The agreement was signed by Prof. Dr. Sahel N. Abduljauwad, Acting Rector of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Dhahran Techno Valley Company, and Sherif Foda, CEO and Chairman of NESR, in the presence of senior management of Saudi Aramco led by Dr. Mohammed Y. Al-Qahtani, Senior Vice President for Upstream, Saudi Aramco and Chairman of the DTVC Advisory Committee. The signing ceremony was held at the KFUPM’s headquarters in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Prof. Dr. Abduljauwad stated, “We are very proud to have NESR join Dhahran Techno Valley and I am very pleased to see this level of investment from NESR to promote scientific research and local content in the energy sector in Saudi Arabia. I am confident that NESR will add significant value to Dhahran Techno Valley and the Saudi oil and gas industry with this investment and commitment.”

Prof. Dr. Abduljauwad added, “Dhahran Techno Valley brings together the largest number of national and international energy companies in one place and is now the largest of its kind in the world. Techno Valley provides the necessary infrastructure, services, and the appropriate climate to incubate the development of new technologies as part of the implementation of the Saudi Vision 2030. The Saudi Vision 2030 emphasizes the importance of strengthening the technology sector in general, and energy technologies in particular, in order to support the knowledge-based economy.”

Dr. Qahtani stated, “We are very pleased to see NESR as the first company from this region investing at such a scale. I also believe that NESR’s approach to create an open platform for innovative technology companies to come to the Kingdom is a unique approach and will be beneficial to the Saudi oil and gas industry. I look forward to seeing the results of their efforts and wish them the best for the future.”

Sherif Foda commented, “We are very excited to partner with Techno Valley and KFUPM. We strongly believe that with this investment, we are taking an important step to develop fit-for-purpose techniques and technologies for Saudi Arabia as well as the whole region. This is a key milestone for NESR and we plan to also bring our technical partners from North America to this center, which will allow them to customize and develop technologies in Saudi Arabia for the local industry. This will also be a great opportunity to provide high-end technical opportunities for Saudi engineers and researchers and an important vehicle for partnership between the Saudi academic and industrial sectors.”

Mr. Foda added, “I would like to take this opportunity to thank Prof. Dr. Abduljauwad and Dr. Qahtani and the management of Saudi Aramco, KFUPM and DTVC for their support and guidance in this endeavor.”

Founded in 2017, NESR (www.NESR.com) is one of the largest national oilfield services providers in the MENA and Asia Pacific regions. With over 3,200 employees, representing more than 40 nationalities in over 14 countries, the Company helps its customers unlock the full potential of their reservoirs by providing Production Services such as Cementing, Coiled Tubing, Filtration, Completions, Stimulation and Fracturing, and Nitrogen Services. The Company also helps its customers to access the reservoirs in a smarter and faster manner by providing Drilling and Evaluation services like Drilling Downhole Tools, Directional Drilling Fishing Tools, Testing Services, Wireline, Slickline, Fluids and Rig Services.