The 44-year-old was at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday accused over an alleged conspiracy to illegally access voicemails.
Brooks appeared in the dock to face one general charge, which prosecutors claim could affect more than 600 victims, and two other specific charges linked to murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and former union boss Andrew Gilchrist.
She has been accused alongside six other former members of staff from the now-defunct tabloid the News of the World (NOTW) and private investigator Glen Mulcaire.
Former NOTW editor, and ex-spin doctor for David Cameron, Andy Coulson has been charged, along with ex-managing editor Stuart Kuttner, former news editor Greg Miskiw, former head of news Ian Edmondson, ex-chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck and former reporter James Weatherup.
Brooks, wearing a navy blue jacket and skirt, spoke only to confirm her name, date of birth and address during the short hearing.
She was told to appear with her co-defendants at Southwark Crown Court on September 26.
Brooks, from Churchill, in Oxfordshire, was released on bail on the condition that she lives at her given address, does not contact her fellow accused and gives the police seven days’ notice should she wish to travel abroad.
As part of her bail conditions, Brooks was told she could not contact former NOTW reporter Dan Evans and the paper’s former executive editor Neil Wallis, who are on bail following the Scotland Yard investigation into phone hacking.
Brooks, who appeared before District Judge Howard Riddle on Monday, faces a charge of conspiring with others to intercept voicemail messages between October 3, 2000 and August 9, 2006.
The former newspaper executive is also accused in relation to Milly Dowler between April 9 and 21, 2002 and Andrew Gilchrist between December 3, 2002 and January 22, 2002.
Brooks is already due at Southwark Crown Court on September 26 to face three charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
This relates to the alleged removal of boxes of material from the News International archive and trying to conceal documents, computers and other material from police.
Egyptians have headed to the polls in historic presidential elections contested by Islamists and secularists promising different futures for the country after the overthrow of veteran dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Queues formed outside polling stations long before they opened at 08:00 am (0600 GMT), with voters in a festive mood.
“It’s a beautiful day for Egypt,” said Nehmedo Abdel Hadi, who was voting at the Omar Markram school in Cairo’s Shubra neighbourhood.
“Now I feel this is my country and I have dignity,” said the 46-year-old woman, who wears a full-face veil.
Across the city, in the leafy Mohandesseen neighbourhood, Rania, wearing gym clothes and a ponytail under her baseball cap, was at the front of the line.
“It’s the first time in Egypt’s history we choose our president,” she said, preferring to keep her choice “a secret between me and my ballot box.”
More than 50 million eligible voters have been called to choose one of 12 candidates wrestling to succeed ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
Voting over two days is taking place at 13,000 polling stations, with initial results expected on Sunday. Voting ends at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) on both days.
A senior interior ministry official said police were on standby across the country and helping soldiers secure polling stations.
The election marks the final phase of a tumultuous transition overseen by the ruling military council after Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising last year.
After decades of pre-determined results, for the first time, the outcome of the vote in the Arab world’s most populous nation — which also pits revolutionaries against old regime members — is wide open.
According to pollsters, the large number of voters undecided between candidates reflecting radically different trends and the novelty of a free presidential vote make Wednesday’s election almost impossible to call.
Among the leading contenders is former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who is seen as an experienced politician and diplomat but like Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, is accused of belonging to the old regime.
The powerful Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohammed Mursi faces competition from Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a former member of the Islamist movement who portrays himself as a consensus choice with a wide range of support.
The next president will inherit a struggling economy, deteriorating security and the challenge of uniting a nation divided by the uprising and its sometimes deadly aftermath, but his powers are yet to be defined by a new constitution.
Islamist candidates have promised an Islamic-based project that will meet the revolution’s goals, prompting fears among secularists and Egypt’s Coptic minority over personal freedoms and raising questions over the future of the country’s lucrative tourism industry.
Shafiq and Mussa have vowed to maintain stability and restore law and order but their ties to the old regime sparked fears of renewed protests by those who will feel their revolution threatened.
The election caps a rollercoaster transition, marked by political upheaval and bloodshed, but which also witnessed democratic parliamentary elections that saw Islamist groups score a crushing victory.
Candidates have been campaigning across the country for weeks in an unprecedented democratic exercise made possible by the early 2011 revolt.
The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), in power since Mubarak’s ouster, urged Egyptians to turn out en masse to the polls, while warning against any “violation.”
The SCAF has vowed to hand power to civilian rule by the end of June, after a president is elected, but many fear its retreat will be just an illusion.
The army, with its vast and opaque economic power, wants to keep its budget a secret by remaining exempt from parliamentary scrutiny, maintain control of military-related legislation and secure immunity from prosecution.
Mubarak, 84 and ailing, may watch the election from a military hospital on the outskirts of Cairo as he awaits the verdict of his murder trial on June 2.
The former strongman is accused of involvement in the killing of some 850 protesters during the uprising and of corruption.
Emily Seebohm’s Olympic tears were replaced by smiles at the world championships as this time she savoured taking 100m backstroke silver behind American Missy Franklin.
In a repeat of the result in London last year, Seebohm finished second behind the rising 18-year-old in the latest duel between the world’s premier female backstrokers in Barcelona.
It was Australia’s fifth medal, and fourth silver, after three days of racing in Spain.
Seebohm was shattered at finishing second in London, feeling she’d lost the gold after breaking the Olympic record in the heats but failing to reproduce that form in the final.
But it was a vastly-different attitude from Seebohm after clocking 59.09 seconds to finish behind Franklin (58.42) and ahead of Japan’s Aya Yerawaka (59.23) in Tuesday’s final.
The 21-year-old took three months off after the Olympics and said knowing she wasn’t in peak condition coming into worlds allowed her to race free of pressure and enjoy the experience.
“I think what I achieved last year wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be,” Seebohm said.
“But seeing as I haven’t been in the shape that I was last year, I didn’t really expect too much (in Barcelona).
“That helped me and made me feel happy to be out there and I enjoyed every minute of it.
“Being up there on the podium and getting a silver medal is incredible and I wish that was a little bit more important last year and that I enjoyed it a little bit more.”
Seebohm said taking a break helped her rediscover herself but it hasn’t affected her desire to get back to chasing Franklin in the build-up to Rio 2016.
“We work really hard to get in the shape that we are pre-Olympics and we don’t really have a lot of big breaks,” Seebohm said.
“After Olympics we just kind of let loose and go a bit crazy.
“I’m not in the shape I was but this is just motivation to keep me going and to keep getting stronger and get in that position that I want.”
Seebohm collected the only medal for Australia on Tuesday, following a three-medal haul on Monday.
That performance included a gold to Christian Sprenger in the 100m breaststroke final and he returned to the pool to progress to the final of the 50m event.
His swim of 27.10 was the fourth-fastest in the semi-finals, while South African Cameron van der Burgh underlined his favouritism for Wednesday’s final with an impressive 26.81.
“I’m still a little bit tired from everything last night, all the emotion and excitement,” Sprenger said.
“But (in the final) I will give it all I can and leave nothing behind.”
Ashley Delaney (53.55) was sixth in the men’s 100m butterfly final while Cameron McEvoy (1:46.63) and Thomas Fraser-Holmes (1:47.11) were seventh and eighth respectively in the men’s 200m freestyle, won by France’s Olympic champion Yannick Agnel (1:44.20).
“Tonight was just not acceptable in my books and it’s not where I wanted to be,” national 200m champion Fraser-Holmes said.
Australian Kylie Palmer (1:56.53) qualified sixth fastest for Wednesday night’s 200m freestyle final but Olympic bronze medallist Bronte Barratt (1:57.18) missed out.
Grant Irvine (1:56.95) failed to reach the men’s 200m butterfly final.
The swim of the night belonged to American teenager Katie Ledecky, who demolished the world record in the non-Olympic women’s 1500m freestyle final.
The 16-year-old clocked 15 minutes and 36.53 seconds to shave more than six seconds off the previous record, set by American Katie Ziegler in 2007.
“The problem is that in the one breath the Prime Minister says she hasn’t got enough revenue coming in, and in the other breath, she says she wants to spend more money, much more money, in areas like disability care and education and so on,” he said.
“But the problem is that this expenditure is not sustainable over the longer term if the government has falling revenue.”
Mr Hockey said the opposition was committed to the NDIS, but the Coalition would live within its means in government.
Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey told reporters in Sydney that superannuation and capital gains tax will be the areas hardest hit when the government tries to counter its $12 billion deficit, but refused to speculate on the Coalition’s strategies, such as the Coalition’s generous paid parental leave scheme policy.
“We are not in the business of ruling things in or out because we don’t know what we are going to inherit,” he said.
“Our signature policies are getting rid of the carbon tax … mining tax and having a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme, they are there and we will deliver on them,” he said.
Mr Hockey said the issue was the federal government was not telling the truth about the state of the country’s financial books.
“We are being extremely wise in not revealing our policies in detail now because what the government is doing is changing the numbers every day,” he said.
Elsewhere in South Australia Opposition Leader Tony Abbot said Labor is making “yet more excuses for yet more failure”.
Mr Abbott argued revenue had actually risen seven by per cent in 2012/13.
“Every day we have the government saying there is a revenue problem, and every day they are announcing multi-billion spending programs.Is it any wonder that this government has a problem?”
Ms Gillard told a conference on Monday that revenue in 2012/13 would be $12 billion less than forecast because of the continued strength of the Australian dollar.
“The persistent high dollar, as well as squeezing exporting jobs, also squeezes the profits of exporting firms. With lower profits for these companies comes lower company tax going to government,” she told the Per Capita forum in Canberra.
She said the government wouldn’t cut the budget to the bone in response, but warned that every “reasonable” option was now on the table, “even options previously taken off the table”.
As Finance Minister Penny Wong told ABC radio Australia was facing “a new economic reality”, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott accused Labor of just making excuses.
But Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the erosion of the budget bottom line should be seen in the context of declining business activity and a slowing economy.
“The major parties should avoid plans for tax increases or spending cuts that would worsen the outlook for this already slowing economy,” he said in a statement.
TD Securities head of Asia Pacific research Annette Beacher has upgraded her forecast for the 2012/13 budget deficit.
It’s now seen closer to $25 billion – or 1.7 per cent of GDP – compared to an earlier prediction for a $10-$15 billion shortfall.
“Clearly revenues rely too heavily on corporate taxation and not enough on personal taxation, a legacy of the prior Howard-Costello government,” she said in a note to clients.
“This structure needs to change.”
However, even a $25 billion deficit would be a marked improvement on the $43.7 billion deficit posted in 2011/12 and the $47.7 billion deficit in 2010/11.
But the IMF said while Australia’s fiscal position was now weaker than expected, it was not a concern because of the country’s low level of debt.
IMF director for Asia and the Pacific Anoop Singh said with debt levels at just 10 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), Australia was one of very few countries with triple-A sovereign debt ratings from the three major credit ratings agencies.
“The next budget will lay out the government’s plan to achieve a strong fiscal position … essentially the government has remained keen to return the budget to surplus, and this is a praiseworthy objective that we have supported,” he told a news conference in
As well, the IMF’s Regional Economic Outlook for Asia and the Pacific, released on Monday, said the Australian economy should return to trend growth in 2014, despite the damage being caused by a high Australian dollar.
Lawyers for the disgraced politician said they would appeal the court’s decision.
“Mr Strauss-Kahn’s defence is certain that he will ultimately be cleared of the absurd charges of pimping that have been made against him,” they said in a statement.
The setback for Strauss-Kahn came a week after he agreed a financial settlement with a New York hotel maid who had accused him of sexual assault in a case that forced him to resign from his IMF job and wrecked his chances of becoming French president.
Details of the settlement were not disclosed, but legal experts said Strauss-Kahn would have been required to pay Nafissatou Diallo several million dollars over her allegation he had jumped on her naked and forced her to perform oral sex.
Strauss-Kahn admitted a sexual encounter took place in the Sofitel hotel in May 2011 but insisted it was consensual.
A criminal investigation into the incident collapsed after Diallo changed her version of events, prompting the prosecution to conclude there was little chance of a conviction.
French prosecutors however are convinced they have a case against Strauss-Kahn for “aggravated pimping in an organised gang”.
The case, known as the “Carlton affair” in France, centres around allegations that business leaders and police officials in Lille operated a vice ring supplying girls for sex parties, some of which are said to have taken place at the Carlton Hotel in the northern city.
Among Strauss-Kahn’s fellow accused is Jean-Christophe Lagarde, a police commissioner, and Rene Kojfer, the former public relations officer at the Carlton.
Lawyers for Lagarde and Kojfer have claimed their clients have been caught up in a political witch-hunt against Strauss-Kahn, arguing that there would have been no probe but for his involvement.
“This procedural combat changes nothing as we maintain our argument that legally these offences are not established and that in the end this case will collapse,” said Lagarde’s lawyer after Wednesday’s decision.
The Carlton case is one of a series of investigations that were launched in the aftermath of Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in New York.
French writer Tristane Banon accused him of trying to rape her in 2003. Investigators concluded that while there was evidence of sexual assault, the alleged attack had occurred too long ago to be prosecuted.
Strauss-Kahn was also investigated over an allegation that he had taken part in the gang rape of a Belgian prostitute. That was dropped when she recanted and said she had consented to sex.
Prior to his six-minute encounter with Diallo in New York, DSK, as he is known in France, had looked certain to secure the Socialist Party’s nomination as their candidate for the 2012 presidential election.
As it was, Strauss-Kahn’s fall from grace cleared the way for party insider Francois Hollande to claim the nomination. He went on to comfortably defeat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.
Strauss-Kahn meanwhile was left to pick up the pieces of a shattered life. His third wife, Anne Sinclair, stood by him in the immediate aftermath of his New York arrest but left him this year.
Sinclair, a wealthy heiress and former newsreader on French TV, was reported by Le Monde to have provided her former partner with some of the money he needed to pay off Diallo.
Pope Francis has reached out to gays, declaring that it’s not his place to judge them – while also condemning the Vatican’s reported gay lobby as a “serious problem”.
The remarks to journalists as he flew back to Rome from a high-profile trip to Brazil appeared to be more conciliatory towards homosexuals than his predecessor Benedict XVI.
Watch: Pope reaches out
0:00 Share “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” the Pope asked.
“The problem is not having this orientation, it is lobbying. That’s the most serious problem.”
The Pope admitted in June that there is a “gay lobby” in the Vatican’s secretive administration, the Roman Curia, according to a Latin American Catholic website.
It followed earlier Italian media reports claiming that a secret report by cardinals investigating Vatican leaks included allegations of corruption and blackmail attempts against gay clergymen, and on the other hand, favouritism based on gay relationships.
The Pope also fielded questions about Battista Ricca, appointed by the pontiff to a key position at the troubled Vatican bank. He is embroiled in allegations that he had gay relationships with male prostitutes.
The Pope said he had ordered a “brief investigation but we found nothing on him”.
“I have not seen anyone at the Vatican who is registered as gay on his identity card,” he said, adding, however: “We acknowledge that there are (gays).”
“The catechism of the Catholic Church says clearly that we must not marginalise these people, who should be integrated in the society.”
Gays and lesbians should be “treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity, without discrimination”, he said.
Gay rights and liberal Catholic groups in the US gave the Pope’s remarks a qualified welcome.
Prominent gay rights group the Human Rights Campaign, said that while his “words do not reflect a shift in Church policy, they represent a significant change in tone”.
largely symbolic, is a big step in the right way.”
The first US election debate will give Mitt Romney a chance to break a change in polling patterns and convince voters he has what it takes to become president.
SBS reporter Rhiannon Elston asked Jonathan Bradley of the US Studies Centre who will likely benefit most from the first US election debate.
The first debate focuses on domestic policy. What are the key areas we’re likely to see Barack Obama and Mitt Romney go head-to-head on?
It sounds like there is going to be a lot of talk about the economy.
The moderator of the debate, Jim Lehrer, who is a journalist from PBS, recently announced what the topics will be, and three of the six slots allocated during the debate will be about the state of the economy. The remainder is going to be about health care, the role of government and governing.
Will Romney as challenger be on the attack?
Romney is going to say that Barack Obama has failed because [Obama] thinks the government needs to be too involved in the economy. Romney believes what needs to be done is [for the government] to take its hands off and let businesses creates jobs
Who will the candidates be looking to persuade?
What they’re going to hope is that they’re going to sway the five to six per cent of voters that haven’t made up their mind yet. They’ll be looking to make a break one way or the other. The problem is that that might not happen, because the people who tune in have already made up their minds. That’s a problem for Mitt Romney, because he is slightly behind in the polls. What he really needs is a circuit breaker.
How important are these debates over the course of the election? Can a stand-out performance re-set the playing field?
Pundits like to talk about the outsize influence debates can have an election. They often cite famous examples such as the 1960 Nixon/Kennedy contest, where TV viewers thought Kennedy was the victor, while radio listeners thought Nixon sounded better.
The truth is that the effect of the debates is usually more modest. You might see a polling shift of a few points around debate time, but not much more than that. [One] race where the debates might have made a difference is the 2000 one, where Al Gore seemed condescending and standoffish. In close contests like that one — and possibly this year’s — the debates can make a difference.
The reason the debates are more important for the challenger is that it’s one of the few moments in which he stands on equal footing with the president. Even while campaigning, the president has the trappings of the office to elevate his stature.
Having never been president, the challenger has to convince voters that he’s a suitable alternative. In the debates, both candidates are the same — two people on stage together, neither more important than the other, each trying to persuade the nation to vote him. It elevates the challenger enormously.
Traditionally the challenger has come out on top in first election debates. Who is your pick to win the night?
They’re both really strong debaters and they’re both going to be really practiced. If all goes to plan, they’ll fight each other to a draw. Mitt Romney is not good when he is caught off-guard. If Obama manages to catch him unaware that could really be a sticking point.
Got a question about the US election debate? You can watch a live stream of the event, and join the live chat with SBS reporter Rhiannon Elston and US political blogger Jonathan Bradley here on the SBS World News Australia website on Thursday, October 4 at 11am AEST. Click here for more details.
They bore the name Anzac, and many had fought in Gallipoli a few decades years earlier.
They were told that this time, they would be victorious.
“The task ahead though difficult is not nearly so desperate as that which our fathers faced in April twenty-six years ago. We go to it together with stout hearts and certainty of success,” said General Thomas Blamey in 1941 as he announced the formation of a new Anzac Corps.
What awaited was a grim repetition of history.
“(They were) probably having a moment of deja vu, because again they were in another diversion, and facing a suicidal mission and fighting against unequal odds,” says historian Dr Maria Hill, author of ‘Diggers and Greeks’.
For the second time, Anzacs were caught by surprise due to leadership decisions over which there is still much controversy.
The 6th Australian Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division were evacuated to Crete as German troops invaded in a pincer action that saw Greece and Yugoslavia fall.
But on May the 20th, 23,000 German troops landed on the island – half of them by parachute.
“The sad thing about that campaign is that the Allies outnumbered the Germans three to one, and they really shouldn’t have lost Crete,” Dr Hill says.
The campaign bore ‘uncanny parallels’ to the slaughter in Turkey a generation earlier, according to Peter Ewer, author of ‘The Forgotten Anzacs’.
The ‘second Anzacs’ made up 83 per cent of prisoners of war taken by German and Italian forces, according to Dr Hill.
More than 6,000 Australians spent the next three or four years in Nazi camps, suffering hunger and deprivation on top of the trauma of battle, she says.
They came home shell-shocked and jittery, and told of nightmares that plagued them for the rest of their lives.
In the decades after the war – until as late as 1982 – the government of Greece tracked down every Anzac who had served in the campaign, and awarded them a special medal.
But Australia’s defence force forbade diggers from wearing theirs, as it wasn’t an Australian honour.
Veterans of the campaign lobbied defence ministers to recognise them, but were rebuffed, says Dr Hill.
Few veterans remain alive today, but their descendants and supporters have signed an online petition in their thousands, urging the government to award them a posthumous medal.
Dr Hill – who began the petition – says many more signatures are needed before the Defence Department will consider the proposition.
“You basically need a federal minister to champion the cause,” she says.
Watch: Dr Hill explains the significance of the Greek service medal awarded to the second Anzacs.
SBS has contacted the Defence Department for comment, and has been assured of a reply in the coming days.
The story of the Greek campaign was not wholly one of loss.
Anzac troops formed such enduring bonds with Greek villagers, who in some cases helped escaped prisoners of war to hide from the Nazis for years.
They risked execution if they were found out, and the Nazis frequently reminded them of this via air-drops of threatening pamphlets over villages suspected of harbouring Allied escapees.
Xanthoula Papadopoulos was 14 when the local shepherd brought a bedraggled Australian soldier to her family’s home in a small village in north-eastern Greece.
Bert ‘Slim’ Wrigley had escaped a German camp in Thessaloniki and walked for days. His feet were bleeding, and he was starving.
Xanthoula’s father found him a hiding place and brought him food and medicine until he was strong enough to make the treaccherous trek up Mount Olympus to British military headquarters.
Her father was later sent to a prison camp, where after a year he was executed for his political views.
The family knew no more of Slim until the late 1940s, when they discovered his address written on a scrap of paper in their photo album.
Having studied to be a teacher, Xanthoula’s English was good, and she struck up a correspondence with him on behalf of her family.
Slim sent help as her family struggled through post-war, fascist-controlled Greece.
He was battling his own demons – scarred by the trauma of his time as a Nazi prisoner, Xanthoula recalls.
“He couldn’t settle anywhere, he went up to Queensland, back and forth (it was) very hard after what he went through to pick up a normal life again,” Xanthoula says.
In 1951, Slim sent Xanthoula a letter asking her to marry him.
Listen to Xanthoula tell her story:
Resolving that she wouldn’t accept if she didn’t like him after arriving, she travelled to Melbourne, where she has now lived for 60 years. She turned 86 two days before Anzac Day.
Slim had learnt to speak fluent Greek, and after joining the Commonwealth Police, became known throughout Melbourne’s huge Greek community.
He became involved in migrant affairs, helping others escape to Australia and guiding them through the bureaucratic process once they arrived.
He passed away recently.
Other Greeks who knew diggers during WWII came to Australia for reasons other than love. Many were sponsored by those they’d helped during the conflict.
While there are no exact figures on how many people came to Australia as a result of the Anzac campaign in Greece, Dr Hill has heard many such stories.
Another veteran became known around Melbourne for his fluency in Greek and skills at making feta cheese. He sponsored Greeks who had helped him to come.
Commander of the 2/2nd Australian Battalion, Sir Frederick Chilton, brought out several members of the Mourtzakis family, whose descendants still speak fondly of him.
‘LESSONS FOR AFGHANISTAN’
Dr Hill draws a parallel between the diggers who served in Greece and those in Afghanistan today.
She says the Greek people loved the Australians for being friendly and deeply respectful of their culture.
She believes the Defence Department could use that experience as the basis for further training in cultural interchange in Afghanistan, where Australia’s mentoring task force deals closely with Afghans.
The concept of a “black hole” is one of the most curious in astrophysics.
It’s the answer to the question: “What happens if the density of matter in a region becomes so high that not even light can escape?”
The reason this question even arose dates back to Einstein’s prediction of 1916, in his Foundations of General Relativity, that the direction light travels will be bent in the direction of any nearby mass.
That prediction has been spectacularly confirmed in recent years by the discovery of “gravitational lenses” – where a background source and a foreground mass are so closely aligned that the light from the background source is highly distorted, even to the point of forming an almost complete arc around the foreground mass.
Before 1916, we had not considered that this might be possible. After all, why should the mass-less particles of light, photons, feel the influence of any mass they pass? The surprising answer is that the basic shape of our universe is influenced by each mass within it, like the dimples in a rubber sheet caused by an occasional marble.
University of New Mexico
Passing light can be thought of as confined to the rubber sheet and when it passes near a marble it will be deflected from its original path by passing through the dimple. If the dimple becomes too deep, light that passes sufficiently close will be deflected into a spiral path that ends on the marble and it will not escape at all.
The boundary between light paths that just manage to pass a density concentration and those that do not is called the “event horizon” – the greater the mass of a density concentration, the larger the size of this “surface of no return”.
For an object as massive as our sun, the event horizon is about 6km in diameter. The matter density needed to form such a black hole is extremely high – about 2 x 1019 kg per cubic metre. That’s more extreme than the density of an atomic nucleus.
The densest form of matter so far observed in nature is that encountered in so-called neutron stars, an entire star composed only of neutrons. Yet even a neutron star is not dense enough, by a about a factor of 50, to form a black hole of the sun’s mass.
Curiously, the density needed to form a black hole scales as the inverse square of the total mass. So, the density of a neutron star would be sufficient to form a black hole if the object had about 2,500 times the mass of the sun. What exactly happens when so much mass is concentrated in the same place is not understood.
Will it compress into some new state, such as the quarks that are thought to be the building blocks of neutrons, or some even more fundamental building block? We just don’t know.
of the sun – about 1 gram per cubic centimetre – which also happens to be the density of liquid water on Earth’s surface, would be sufficient to form a black hole were it associated with a mass of 100 million times that of the sun.
This is the mass of the compact objects within the centres of massive galaxies. Continuing this line of reasoning, we can ask: “Do we live in a black hole?” – a question that’s dominated cosmology for the past century.
Is the average density of the universe so high that light and everything else around us could never escape? The answer appears to be “no”. The universe is undergoing an accelerating rate of expansion that implies an insufficient matter density to represent a black hole.
How do we know black holes exist?
What evidence is there that the black hole phenomenon actually occurs? At this time, it’s all indirect.
On the scale of individual stars, there are cases where a normal star appears to orbit a compact object that’s very faint but is perhaps ten times as massive as the sun. Since there are no current theories to explain this, such objects have been called “black hole candidates”.
On larger scales, there’s evidence of a massive but compact object at the centre of many, and possibly all, galaxies. The object that resides in the very centre of our Milky Way has been studied by tracking the movements of many nearby stars.
The orbits of these stars have been used to deduce that the central object must be about 4 million times more massive than the sun and that it must be smaller than about 1/1000 of a light year (a light year being equal to approximately 10 trillion kilometres).
Although this is the best current evidence for a very massive, very compact object, it’s important to note that this limit on matter density, of about 10 grams per cubic metre, is still 100 million times smaller than what’s needed – about 1kg per cubic centimetre – to qualify as a black hole of this mass.
Supermassive black holes
It’s thought so-called supermassive black holes – as much as 1 billion times the mass of the sun – reside in the centre of galaxies that are significantly more massive than the Milky Way, particularly those which have an elliptical rather than a disk-like distribution of their stars. Many of these massive galaxies have been host to the “quasar phenomenon” at some point in their history.
The quasar phenomenon is the most energetic type of event that has yet been witnessed in the universe, outshining all of the stars in the hosting galaxies for millions of years, and is understood as a consequence of matter falling into a central massive object.
The extremely strong gravitational attraction of compact massive objects tends to tear apart and pull in anything that comes too close. The tearing action is due to “tidal forces”, the fact the gravitational force acting on the nearest portions of an object is significantly stronger than that acting on the most distant portions.
This same phenomenon causes tides on Earth, since the gravitational attraction of the moon is significantly larger on the side of Earth facing the moon than the side facing away. As material is pulled toward the compact massive object it tends to gather in what is called an “accretion disk”, a very hot, rapidly rotating structure that channels material toward the central object.
The reason for the rapid spin is the preservation of angular momentum, akin to what a slowly rotating ice skater experiences when they draw in their arms from a more extended position. Any small initial rotational motion is strongly amplified during contraction.
The high temperature is the result of the high-speed collisions between material falling in and that already in place.
The final stage of channelling material inward is a challenging one, since somehow the energy associated with the rapid rotation must first be shed. The solution nature has found to this problem is dramatic: the rotational energy of the accretion disk is shed by sending high-speed jets of matter out along the rotation axis of the disk.
The same jet ejection phenomenon is found to apply over an extremely wide range of scales, from the formation process of individual stars, such as the sun, to that of quasar accretion disks, where the result can be the largest distinct objects yet seen, measuring millions of light years from end to end.
But are the compact massive objects seen on a wide range of scales truly black holes, in the sense of having achieved a sufficient mass density to become disconnected from the rest of the universe? Or are they merely a highly condensed state of matter that we don’t yet understand?
Seeing is believing
Direct evidence for the black hole phenomenon might be possible if an image could be made of the event horizon. While this has not yet been done, the best prospects might come from looking at the object at the centre of our own galaxy, since it provides the best combination of a large event horizon size with the closest possible distance.
The expected image size is about 0.2 milli-arcseconds, or about 10,000 times smaller than the typical image size of a star observed with an optical telescope from the ground.
The required resolution could be achieved by a network of radio telescopes separated by thousands of kilometres and observing at wavelengths of about a millimetre. Such a project – the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – is being developed by astronomers at the Smithsonian Institution. If successful, the EHT will demonstrate that nature has truly found a way to squeeze matter together to a required density that even light cannot escape.
Probing the detailed shape of the event horizon and how it depends on total mass should provide clues about the state of matter under these extreme circumstances; circumstances that we can not approximate in a laboratory.
Its likely that nature will have some surprises waiting for us when we do. Each time we peel off a layer of the onion there seems to be another one inside.
Robert Braun does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
A judge sentenced former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to life in prison on Saturday after convicting him of involvement in the murder of protesters during the uprising that ousted him last year.
Also given a life term for the killings was 84-year-old former strongman’s interior minister Habib al-Adly, while six former police commanders were acquitted.
Corruption charges against Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, were dropped due to the expiry of a statute of limitations, as the former president was acquitted in one of the graft cases.
Scuffles erupted soon after the verdicts were delivered and chants of “Void, void” and “The people want the judiciary purged” could be heard, as furious lawyers told AFP they feared Mubarak would be found innocent on appeal.
Mubarak, who wore dark sunglasses and a beige track-suit, had his arms folded and showed no emotion inside his caged dock, however, as Chief Judge Ahmed Refaat read out the verdict.
His two sons, Alaa and Gamal, looking tired with dark circles under their eyes, appeared close to tears on hearing the verdict.
Outside the courtroom, clashes broke following the sentencing, forcing police to use stun grenades to control the crowds.
Mubarak, the only autocrat toppled in the Arab Spring to be tried, Adly and the six others were facing charges over their involvement in ordering the deaths of some of the estimated 850 people killed.
The former strongman, his sons Alaa and Gamal and business associate Hussein Salem, who fled to Spain, were also on trial over an alleged bribe.
And the former president was also accused of selling natural gas to Israel at lower than market prices.
A security official said 5,000 policemen and 2,000 soldiers were deployed to secure the court, at the Police Academy on Cairo’s outskirts, to which the ailing Mubarak was helicoptered in from a military hospital
Egypt has been ruled by the military since Mubarak was forced to resign on February 11 last year, after 18 days of nationwide protests.
Mubarak has been detained at a hospital in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh since his arrest last year, after the military appeared to bow to protester demands that he and former regime officials be put on trial.
But the military insists the prosecution’s investigations and the charges eventually filed were independent judicial decisions.
However, critics say the investigations were hasty and sloppy, resulting in a trial based on patchwork evidence that may see Mubarak acquitted.
During the trial, Mubarak was wheeled into the lecture hall that serves as a courtroom on a stretcher. He reportedly suffers from a heart condition, but the health ministry has denied his lawyer’s claim that he has cancer.
Along with Adly, Mubarak’s co-defendants include six former police commanders.
They have all denied that they ordered police to shoot protesters or use deadly force during the uprising, in which demonstrators torched police stations across the country.
The verdict comes just two weeks before a run-off in presidential elections that will pit Mubarak’s former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi in a highly polarising race.
It is the first openly contested presidential election in any of the Arab countries swept by regional protests and uprisings that challenged decades of autocratic rule.
But the revolt also led to a deteriorating economy and increased lawlessness in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, that has helped Shafiq, a symbol of Mubarak’s regime, win a surprising amount of support.
Israel has revealed plans to build 3,000 more settler homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank after a historic UN vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state, with Washington describing the move as “counter-productive”.
In the Thursday vote in New York, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a resolution recognising Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member observer state.
Israel lashed out in response on Friday, with an official confirming to AFP plans to build the 3,000 settler homes, without specifying exactly where they were to be sited.
Washington said the plan would make resuming peace talks harder.
“We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and east Jerusalem construction and announcements. We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that, despite past failures, Washington would keep trying to get Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table.
“That’s the only way that we are going to get to two states for two peoples with a sovereign, viable and independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel,” she said.
Like Israel, the Obama administration had tried to stop the Palestinian push for UN recognition, saying it would put another obstacle in the path to peace and that statehood could only come through negotiations with Israel.
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas called for a return to peace talks, but criticised Israel’s latest settlement plans.
“I’ve said a thousand times that we want to resume negotiations and we are ready to do it,” Abbas told reporters in New York.
“We are not setting any condition but there are at least 15 UN resolutions which consider settlement activity as illegal and an obstacle to peace which must be removed,” he said. “Why do (the Israelis) not stop settlement?”
Palestine Liberation Organisation official Hanan Ashrawi told AFP “it is an act of Israeli aggression against a state, and the world needs to take up its responsibilities.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had warned that by going to the UN, the Palestinians had “violated” previous agreements with Israel, such as the 1993 Oslo Accords, and that his country would “act accordingly.”
Such talks have been on hold since September 2010, with the Palestinians insisting on a settlement freeze before returning to the negotiating table and the Israelis insisting on no preconditions.
Israel has long feared that if the Palestinians won the rank of a UN non-member state, they could pursue the Jewish state for war crimes at the International Criminal Court — particularly over settlement.
With their newly acquired status, the Palestinians now have access to a range of UN agencies as well as to the ICC, but Abbas said he had no plans to immediately petition the tribunal.
“We now have the right to appeal the ICC, but we are not going to do it now and will not do it except in the case of Israeli aggression,” he said.
Israeli media reports said that some new settlement construction would be in a highly contentious area of the West Bank known as E1, a corridor that runs between the easternmost edge of annexed east Jerusalem and the Maaleh Adumim settlement.
Palestinians bitterly oppose the E1 project, as it effectively cuts the occupied West Bank in two, north to south, and makes the creation of a viable Palestinian state highly problematic.
The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as capital of their state and vigorously oppose expansion plans for Maaleh Adumim, which lies five kilometres (three miles) from the city’s eastern edge.
Linking the settlement and the city is an idea espoused by hardliners within Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party but strongly opposed by Washington.
Arab east Jerusalem was captured by Israel with the rest of the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move not recognised by the international community.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its “eternal, indivisible” capital, and does not view construction in the eastern sector to be settlement activity.
During the 2008 election that swept Barack Obama to power, Californians were also asked in a state referendum to vote to ban gay marriage.
A quirk of American politics, if enough public support for proposed legislation can be raised, a “proposition” can be put to voters at the ballot box.
Proposals can range from legalising marijuana to immigration issues to Proposition 8.
Last Wednesday Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned the 1998 vote, which was challenged on the basis that it violated civil rights under the US Constitution.
Turning convention on its head, the case supporting gay marriage was led by Ted Olson, a former Solicitor General of the United States who argued for George W. Bush against Al Gore during the 2000 Election that was decided in court.
There’s no more fiery debating point in the US than interpretation of its Constitution and what the country’s founding fathers intended back in 1787.
The right of gay couples to marry also produces polarised opinion with well-organised church groups and usually conservative political bodies mobilising to counter supporters.
Judge Walker was not ambiguous in his ruling on the high-profile California case.
“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license,” he wrote. “Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”
“Race restrictions on marital partners were once common in most states but are now seen as archaic, shameful or even bizarre,” he added. “Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.”
Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia. Civil unions are permitted in New Jersey.
The ruling has some relevance to the current election in Australia – if only for limited options available to Australian gay couples who want to marry.
Australia often boasts of its egalitarian qualities but Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government is opposed to the gay marriage.
Here’s a video that suggests Gillard is pandering to religious groups with her opinion. (Warning – explicit language!)
With a hint of surrealism, Senator Penny Wong, the country’s first openly gay Cabinet Minister, strongly supports Gillard’s view claiming a “cultural, religious, historical view around that which we have to respect.”
There’s little to split with Tony Abbot, Leader of the Opposition, who claimed, “I guess I’m old fashioned, in that a marriage is between a man and a woman,”
But back in California, last week’s victory is not yet seen as a complete victory but an important legal step that will see the issue eventually before the US Supreme Court.
Not everyone is happy, of course.
“It’s as if we have absolutely no say in what is going on all around us,” said conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, no doubt with no irony intended. “Decisions are being made for us, in lieu of us and imposed on us.”