INDEPENDENT 2024-05-16 16:04:42


Black hole ‘plunge’ proves Einstein’s theory of gravity

Researchers have finally confirmed one of Albert Einstein’s key predictions about gravity after observing a “plunging region” around a black hole.

A team from Oxford University used X-ray data to gain a better understanding of black holes and observed gravity in its “strongest possible form”.

Einstein’s theory states that it is impossible for particles to safely follow circular orbits when close to a black hole. Instead they rapidly plunge towards the object at close to the speed of light – giving the plunging region its name.

“Einstein’s theory predicted that this final plunge would exist, but this is the first time we’ve been able to demonstrate it happening,” said Dr Andrew Mummery from Oxford University’s Department of Physics.

“We believe this represents an exciting new development in the study of black holes, allowing us to investigate this final area around them. Only then can we fully understand the gravitational force.”

Researchers say that there has been much debate between astrophysicists for many decades as to whether the so-called plunging region would be detectable.

The Oxford team spent the last couple of years developing models for it and, in a study just published, demonstrated its first confirmed detection found using X-ray telescopes and data from the international space station.

Later this year, a second Oxford team hopes to move closer to filming first footage of larger, more distant black holes,” said Dr Mummery.

“What’s really exciting is that there are many black holes in the galaxy, and we now have a powerful new technique for using them to study the strongest known gravitational fields.”

The findings were detailed in a study, titled ‘Continuum emission from within the plunging region of black hole discs’, published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on Thursday.

Additional reporting from agencies.

Mortgage repossession claims hit five year high after Truss mini-budget

Mortgage possession claims have hit a five year high in the aftermath of Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget.

New figures show they soared by more than a quarter in just three months and are now at their highest level since 2019.

Experts warn millions of households across the country are struggling with huge mortgage bills after the average two-year fixed rate jumped to more than 6 per cent, although it has since fallen.

Ms Truss has refused to take the blame for the higher rates that hit homeowners following her October 2022 mini-Budget.

The subsequent fallout saw her ousted from office by her own MPs after less than six weeks as prime minister.

Mortgage possession claims happen when banks or lenders take homeowners to court before repossessing their home.

The latest figures show there were 5,182 in the first quarter of 2024, the highest number since 2019 and a rise of 28 per cent in three months.

After the figures were published by the Ministry of Justice the Treasury said it acknowledged that “many people are continuing to struggle”.

Lib Dem Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney said the statistics were “deeply worrying” and show a “steep rise in families at risk of losing their homes due to soaring mortgage rates”.

She accused the Conservatives of crashing the economy with the mini budget and then failing “to lift a finger to help those impacted by this Conservative chaos. It is unforgivable and shows just how out of touch the Conservative Party is with people struggling to get by.”

Housing charity Shelter said the figures also showed no-fault bailiff evictions had soared to six year high, with 2,682 households affected between January and March – a rise of 19 per cent in a year.

Polly Neate, Shelter’s chief executive said evictions were “rocketing to new heights” five years after ministers “pledged to rebalance the scales in private renting”.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “Interest rates are high across the developed world as economies work to tackle high inflation and the UK is no different. While it is welcome news that we have met the pledge to halve inflation, we know many people are continuing to struggle.

“Anyone struggling with their mortgages should contact their lender, and where relevant, consider the flexibilities in our Mortgage Charter, which can make it easier to manage monthly repayments and gives extra protections against repossessions.”

Friends mistake Premier Inn for Northern Lights in viral video

Two university students were “catfished” into mistaking the purple glow of a Premier Inn hotel for the Northern Lights.

Karim Akhtar, 22, and Sully Laurent, 21, were walking home from a night out in Norwich when they saw the purple hue in the night sky.

The pair could be seen laughing and talking excitedly while looking at the glow – but soon realised it came from a nearby hotel.

“We’ve been catfished. I thought it was the Northern Lights”, one of them said in a video posted online – which has racked up over six million views.

The pair had visited Iceland in January hoping to see the Northern Lights and joked that they were disappointed to have “missed them again”.

“The reaction to the video has been crazy. I didn’t expect it to be so popular,” Mr Akhtar, a University of East Anglia pharmacology student from Liverpool, told the BBC.

“For sure we thought it was the Northern Lights. You can tell by my reaction. It’s certainly a good start to my TikTok career,” he added.

The rare phenomena could be seen throughout the UK and as far south as France on Friday and Saturday night following a severe solar storm last week.

It was the first time since 2003 that a category G5 geomagnetic storm was recorded – the highest level on the space weather scale – signalling extreme activity on the surface of the Sun.

The strong solar flares originated from a large sunspot cluster roughly 17 times larger than Earth, with the frequency of sunspots expected to increase as the Sun’s 11-year activity cycle reaches a peak at some point in 2024 or 2025.

Images showed bands of red, purple and lime green illuminating the sky above Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh.

Further south, over St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay on the northeast coast of England, locals flocked to the beaches to glimpse the spectacular lights there.

And in Liverpool, the lights could be seen behind Anthony Gormley’s Another Place statue.

The lights were also seen across Europe and North America. Images showed flashes of purple and pink over Lake Balaton near Fonyod, Hungary.

A Premier Inn spokesperon said: “There’s no need to search the skies, Premier Inn is a beacon of light and can bring the Auora glow directly to your room, without needing a camera to see it.

“Rest easy under the enchanting purple glow of our light up headboards, knowing that you can experience this wonder every night of the year from the luxury of one of our comfy beds”.

Residents in ‘dreadful state’ after water contaminated with parasites

A school has been shut down after cases of diarrhoea and vomiting struck people who may have drunk contaminated water in Devon.

South West Water warned residents in Brixham, Churston, Galmpton, Broadsands, Hookhills and White Rock areas to boil drinking water until further notice after the UK Health Security Agency confirmed there had been 22 confirmed cases of cryptosporidium.

Cryptosporidium is a diarrhoea and vomiting illness that can be caught by drinking contaminated water. It can also be spread through animal and human contact.

Symptoms, including stomach pains and fever, can last between two and three weeks with most healthy people recovering fully.

Eden Park Primary School in Brixham said they were closing down after failing to recieive assurances or bottled water from South West Water.

The statement read: “Eden Park Primary School were only informed this afternoon that the school was in an area where the tap water should be boiled.

“The school have taken swift action to put safety plans in place and contact the appropriate authorities about providing safe drinking water.

“At the time of writing this update (7.30pm), and despite repeated calls to South West Water about the urgency of the situation, the school has not received any bottled water or assurances of when water will be delivered. To enable parents and carers to make childcare plans for the morning, leaders have made the difficult decision to close the school tomorrow, Thursday 16th May.

“All Year 6 children should attend the school as usual, to complete their final SATs paper in the morning. They should bring their own full water bottle and be collected at 11:15am. The school will also provide bottled water for children and staff in school tomorrow. No other children should attend the school.

“A further update will be provided tomorrow afternoon, regarding the opening the school on Friday 17th May. Thank you for understanding with this rapidly changing situation.”

In a statement, South West Water said: “Customers in Alston and the Hillhead area of Brixham are advised to boil their drinking water before consuming following new test results for cryptosporidium.

“We are issuing this notice following small traces of the organism identified overnight and this morning. We are working with the UK Health Security Agency and other public health partners to urgently investigate and eliminate the source.

“We apologise for the inconvenience caused and will continue to keep customers and businesses updated. Bottled water stations will be set up in the affected areas as soon as possible.”

Brixham, which has a population of around 17,000 people, is a busy fishing harbour as well as popular holiday hotspot.

On the town’s social media pages, many residents have been sharing concerns after suffering symptoms of the disease.

Anthony Mangnall, MP for Totnes, which includes Brixham, said he was aware of concerns over the quality of drinking water in the town.

Posting on Facebook, he said: “South West Water have reassured me that they are supporting the UK Health Security Agency with their investigations, and have stated that constituents can continue to use their water supply as normal.

“SWW carefully monitors drinking water supplies, and cryptosporidium is monitored continuously in the final drinking water from the supplying treatment facility.

“To confirm, all recent test results for cryptosporidium have come back clear. I will provide further updates when possible.”

The list of symptoms of the waterborne disease provided by the UKHSA includes watery diarrhoea, stomach pains, dehydration, weight loss and fever.

It is most common in young children aged between one and five years, the agency said.

Britain’s ‘kindest plumber’ apologises for ‘fake stories’

A man dubbed “Britain’s kindest plumber” has been accused of faking heartwarming acts of kindness as he pushes for donations.

Burnley-based tradesman James Anderson, 56, set up Depher – which stands for Disabled and Elderly, Plumbing and Heating Emergency Response – in 2017, but has now been accused by the BBC of recycling photos of the same dead woman in social media posts.

He also allegedly repeatedly posted video and images of a vulnerable man in his 90s publicising information about his sexuality, despite the unnamed customer pleading “God no” when asked if he would agree to be filmed for social media, according to the BBC.

One post from 12 June 2022, said: “A lady, 84 years old rang @DepherUK & spoke to myself, she was upset and desperate. She lived 53 miles away in #Preston I drive as fast as I could, when in got there she had a noose ready to commit suicide.

“All she wanted was hot water! #costoflivingcrisis.”

A BBC investigation found he recycled the image of a woman named Joyce seven times under different ages and locations, even after she had died in February 2020, a year before Depher posted about first helping her.

Her daughter, Andrea, told the broadcaster the posts were “a complete lie”, adding “he’s using vulnerable people like my mother as a money-making machine”.

Depher has claimed to use donations to provide free food, pay gas and electricity bills, offer pro bono plumbing work and help with funeral costs of late customers.

Mr Anderson’s acts quickly went viral and he has been backed financially by celebrities like Hugh Grant and Lily Allen as well as appearing on ITV’s This Morning to promote his charity.

But the BBC accused him of using donations to buy a house and Mr Anderson also admitted to buying a car with company cash.

He said the rent from the property allowed him to reopen a food drive that the “community benefits from massively”.

Since the accusations came to light Mr Anderson has continued to post pictures of elderly people he has claimed to help.

Speaking to the BBC from his Burnley offices Mr Anderson said: “I know I’ve done it wrong. I apologise. But what can I do? I haven’t got a magic stick. I’m not Harry Potter.”

He claimed to have made errors because of a relentless campaign of “bullying, harassment and attacks” from trolls on social media.

He took to Facebook on Thursday to post: “Mistakes were made and apologised for, training and procedures are in place to stop them happening again.”

Previously he defended himself from a “witchhunt” trying to close his charity down. He had previously claimed to have helped over two million people but has since backed down from that figure.

On May 8 he wrote on Facebook: “[Trolls] also accused me of purchasing a house with donations, I purchased a house with profits for Depher and it is in dephers name, the rent from the property has allowed us to reopen the food drive, and the community benefits from this, massively.

“They have accused us of fixing the tombola, a ex employee has been shown holding tickets that were hidden, but also allowed family, friends and their partner to play it! If it was fixed and the person knew it, why let them play it?”

It came after it emerged during the 2016 Brexit campaign, the plumber shared a picture of a golly doll.

Speaking to The Independent, Anderson said: “In 2016, during the Brexit campaign, I reposted that picture (of a golly doll) with no comments.”

Anderson insisted he was unaware of the offensive racist connotations attached to the golly doll due to his childhood.

The BBC’s analysis of Depher’s accounts, covering April 2021 to April 2023, found that cash donations had doubled to more than £1.2m.

Depher have been approached for comment.

Off the beaten track in Costa Dorada

Blessed with swathes of golden sandy beaches between sea and mountains, Costa Dorada has an abundance of landscape to explore.

Jet2holidays makes it even easier to land your perfect active trip to Costa Dorada. Flying from 10 UK airports in 2024 and 11 in 2025, they provide package holidays you can trust and look after you every step of the way, with hotel, flights, free return transfers, 22kg baggage and 10kg hand luggage included – giving plenty of space to pack in the hiking boots and water shoes.

Here, we round up some of the best ways to immerse yourself in the region’s grand nature.

With roads being smooth and often car-free, Costa Dorada is an ideal destination for biking. There’s the Serra del Montsant mountain range for pushing those uphill challenges or coastal paths for smooth-sailing along the rugged cliff edges and golden sand beaches. The route from Falset can take in the lush wineries and rolling vineyards the area is known for. Start from this mountainous village and follow the road to the village of Margalef near the mountain edge before heading back to Falset. Or to take in the sea and mountains, start in the coastal resort of Salou before winding up the steep hairpin bends of La Mussara mountain. Make your way back to the sea at the coastal resort of Cambrils – known as the gastronomic hub of this region – for some well-deserved tapas.

There’s an abundance of coastal paths that navigate around the more secluded parts of the shores here. Camino de Ronda in Salou stretches for 6.5 km, curving in a U-shape along rocky coast and over golden sand beaches. The route can be stretched out to around 9km to cover the coastal path of Salou by starting in Vila-seca, La Pineda. The route runs between sea and mountains, with 23 viewpoints dotted along the way. It passes by plenty of places to stop for a spot of lunch with views over the Mediterranean Sea, too. If you want active pit stops along your walk, there are places along the route that offer up water sports.

Take a day trip out to the coastal city of Tarragona to explore its Roman ruins. The city was once a popular destination for Roman emperors, with the Amphitheatre dating back almost 2,000 years. There are other ruins along the coast to explore, with Roman, Spanish, Arabic and Moorish history weaved into the architecture. While in the port city, check out the Roman tombs and walled Medieval Old Town, before strolling along the harbour with its small fishing boats and pastel-hued houses.

Costa Dorada has an impressive total of 26 Blue Flag beaches, recognised for their calm, safe waters, cleanliness and environmental management. They’re particularly family-friendly, with resorts Salou, Cambrils and La Pineda being ‘Certified Family Destinations’ with dedicated facilities for families during the summer. Yet there are still many beaches that remain quiet and more secluded. Playa de la Pineda Platja is the main beach in the coastal resort of Vila-seca, La Pineda, yet remains fairly quiet. It also benefits from being close to Aquopolis Water Park with its giant slides and pools. While not being Blue Flag-accredited, Playa Llarga in Salou is outside of the city centre (but close enough to attractions like PortAventura amusement park), surrounded by a small pine forest that immerses you in nature.

The towering peaks of Montserrat National Park are one of the greatest symbols of Catalonia. The mountainous landscape is peppered with grottos and caves, while birds of prey soar above in the sky. While offering untouched nature, it overlooks one of the best wine regions in the area, with vineyards and wine cellars to visit. Head here for a full day hike or visit one of the four mountain villages in the area for a gentle walk. Elsewhere closer to ground level, Parc Sama Botanical Gardens in the coastal resort of Cambrils has an abundance of forest and foliage, with 1,500 species of flora and fauna. There’s also a lake with a canal and waterfall to stroll around.

To really win voters, Starmer must discover a radical edge

Heir to Blair” is a title to which many politicians have laid claim, not always with conspicuous success; but even if it is unspoken, it is clear that Sir Keir Starmer is making a rather more credible attempt to emulate Sir Tony Blair’s achievements than most of the imitators down the years.

Sir Keir’s latest staging post in what he hopes will be a decade of power is some key pledges for the initial stages of that administration – six “missions” and five “first steps”, all of them, no doubt, forged in the white-hot crucible of the marginal-seat focus group. They are fairly familiar to anyone paying much attention, and all are to be put on a New Labour-style pledge card.

They are unexceptionable, if not laudable – just like the ones in the Blair era. Few voters will want to quibble with shorter NHS waiting lists, recruiting 8,500 teachers, and more neighbourhood police officers to deal with anti-social behaviour. The two new bodies to be set up almost immediately after a Labour election win – Great British Energy and the Border Security Command – may well do some good, and certainly not any harm.

Can Labour’s new deal for workers satisfy the unions and business?

For a movement literally founded to promote the interests of working people, the Labour Party has found itself troubled by the question of workers’ rights and the power of trade unions to a remarkable degree. Today, as they will doubtless continue to do over the coming months in the run-up to the general election, the party’s leaders in parliament are negotiating with the Labour Trade Union Organisation (LTUO) in an effort to decide what Labour’s next manifesto should say about employment and industrial relations law.

The LTUO is the umbrella body that represents the 11 trade unions that are affiliated with the party and fund much of its activities. It is led by Mick Whelan, the general secretary of the train drivers’ union, Aslef.

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