Scientists find largest black holes ever detected

Posted Dec. 05, 2011, at 9:11 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — Astrophysicists scanning the heavens have clocked a new cosmological record: the two biggest black holes ever detected — one about 10 billion times the mass of our sun and the second as much as twice that mass.

To be described in Thursday’s edition of the journal Nature, these behemoth black holes are nearly double the size of the previous record-holder and — strangely — are far more massive than they should be given the size of the galaxies they reside within.

For that reason, they stand to teach scientists much about how galaxies form and grow, astronomers said.

One of the finds, which were made using telescopes in Hawaii, Texas and in space, sits 320 million light years away in a huge elliptical galaxy within the Leo galaxy cluster. It contains a mass equivalent to 9.7 billion suns.

The second resides 336 million light years away at the center of a galaxy within the Coma galaxy cluster, in the direction of the constellation Coma Berenices. It may be far more massive than the first — in the neighborhood of 20 billion solar masses.

Shoppers pepper-sprayed while subduing purse thief

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. — Police say a thief snatched $10,000 worth of handbags from a California department store and pepper-sprayed holiday shoppers who tried to subdue him. In the end, the shoppers prevailed and the suspect was arrested.

Walnut Creek police say 42-year-old Bryan Black and a female accomplice snatched 17 high-end purses at a Nordstrom store Saturday night and ran for a getaway car.

Lt. Steve Gorski tells the San Francisco Chronicle that the woman escaped with a couple of purses. But Black, an Oakland parolee armed with a knife, was grabbed by a shopper and tackled by another. Investigators say Black showered the shoppers with pepper spray but they managed to hang on until police arrived.

Black is in jail, and the shoppers are OK.

Yale’s Levin highest-paid Ivy League chief at $1.63M in 2009

NEW YORK — Yale University’s Richard C. Levin was the Ivy League’s highest-paid president at $1.63 million in total compensation in 2009, as 36 private-college leaders received more than $1 million each.

Six more chief executives than in the previous year earned more than $1 million, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. The journal on Sunday published a study of pay for 519 leaders at 482 private colleges in the U.S. in 2009, the latest year with available data.

The median compensation for presidents at the 50 institutions with the largest budgets rose 75 percent in a decade to $876,792 in 2009. At colleges and universities with budgets of more than $50 million, such compensation increased 2.2 percent in 12 months.

Levin of Yale got 6.4 percent more than in 2008. An economist, he has led Yale since 1993. Yale’s endowment, totaling $16.7 billion on June 30, makes it the second-richest of the schools, after Harvard.

None of the top four earners in 2009 is still in office. Constantine N. Papadakis of Drexel University in Philadelphia, who died in April 2009, earned the most that year, $4.91 million. The majority of his earnings came from life insurance and accrued compensation paid to his wife.

Crippled Japanese nuclear plant leaks more radioactive water

SEOUL, South Korea — More than 45 tons of highly radioactive water leaked from Japan’s earthquake- and tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant over the weekend, and some of the water might have reached the nearby Pacific Ocean, the utility that operates the plant said.

The leak counteracts assurances that the Tokyo Electric Power Co. has largely controlled damage at the coastal nuclear plant, which it plans to shut down completely by year-end.

According to a statement on the utility’s website, workers on Sunday morning found that radioactive water was pooling in a runoff container near a purification device.

The system was shut down and the leak apparently stopped, but workers later found highly radioactive water leaking from cracks in the container’s concrete wall into a gutter that leads to the ocean. Employees stemmed the leak with sandbags.

On March 11, the 1970s-era plant was hit by an earthquake-triggered tsunami that knocked out its cooling system, eventually leading to several reactor-core meltdowns.

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