Israeli Breakthrough And The Ethics Of A 3D-Printed Heart

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

After Israeli breakthrough: The ethics of a 3D-printed heart

Within a decade, manufactured hearts could obviate the need for organ donations; ethicists highlight potential pitfalls along the way

Professor Tal Dvir presents a 3D print of a heart with human tissue at the University of Tel Aviv on April 15, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Professor Tal Dvir presents a 3D print of a heart with human tissue at the University of Tel Aviv on April 15, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

At a Tel Aviv fruit and vegetable store on Monday night, shoppers suddenly stopped what they were doing to stare at a television screen overhead. The television news anchor was announcing a medical breakthrough: a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University had 3D-printed a heart using a patient’s own cells and biological material.

“The future is here,” one shopper remarked to another.

Israelis are swelling with pride at the scientific breakthrough revealed at a press conference on April 15 and in a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Advanced Science. ‏Until now, scientists have been able to 3D print simple tissues without blood vessels, but the Israeli team, led by Prof. Tal Dvir of TAU’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, has printed an entire heart including cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers.

The grape-size heart shown at Tel Aviv University does not work yet. It needs to be matured in a bioreactor, where electrical and mechanical signals will coax the cells into contracting synchronously, a process that will take about a month. Researchers also need to figure out how to generate more and bigger cells so that they eventually can 3D print a human-size heart, which contains billions of cells. They also have yet to transplant a heart into animals which will eventually be followed by clinical trials on humans.

This breakthrough, Dvir estimated, is likely to lead 3D-printed human hearts in hospitals within a decade.

But not everybody is gung-ho about the heart breakthrough, citing ethical implications — like whether it will widen the gap between rich and poor, and whether superhuman hearts or other mutations can also be manufactured.

Robby Berman, director of the Halachic Organ Donor Society, told The Times of Israel he had mixed feelings about the Tel Aviv University announcement, mostly because people might think they no longer need to donate organs.

“The artificial heart is good in that it shows we are progressing, that one day we will be creating organs to save lives,” said Berman.

Robby Berman (Courtesy)

But Berman pointed out that only 16 percent of Israelis have signed organ donor cards (compared to 50% in the United States) and that while the Tel Aviv University breakthrough may one day ameliorate Israel’s organ shortage, that day is a long way off.

“ I hope this doesn’t send the untrue message that we are just a few years away from artificial organs, because we are not. People still need to have the conversation with their families and let everyone know — family and friends — that they want to be an organ donor.”

Dr. Rabbi Ira Bedzow, director of the Biomedical Ethics and Humanities Program at New York Medical College, told The Times of Israel that whenever there is a new medical discovery, both those who view its potential as utopian and those who fear its unintended consequences are failing to grasp the complexity of the situation.

“My assumption is that if this works it is going to be life-saving,” Bedzow said. “What it’s going to end up doing is addressing the issue of organ shortages, and it’ll also be easier for the patients because the patients won’t have to worry about organ rejection, or Graft Versus Host disease, or taking immunosuppressants, because the cells the organ is made of are going to be from their own body.”

However, Bedzow said there are potential pitfalls involved with categorizing the organs as body parts or medical devices. If they are organs, they can’t be bought and sold and no one owns them, according to the law in most countries. This would probably keep the cost of such organs low and prevent other abuses.

This photo taken on April 15, 2019 at the University of Tel Aviv shows a 3D print of a heart with human tissue. (Jack Guez/AFP)

But if they are categorized as medical devices, they can be patented and the owner of the organs could conceivably charge a lot of money for his product, rendering it unaffordable to many unless covered by insurance.

Another related question is whether a patient will sell the rights to her genetic material to the company printing the heart. Would the company then be able to create more hearts using her cells or use her cells for other purposes? In the United States, for instance, a person’s genetic material is owned by them and a research or medical facility must get their consent if they want to use it in any way, he said.

Bedzow said the problem of organs being considered medical devices is doubly problematic because the medical devices industry itself has been a subject of controversy.

A November 2018 series of exposes by the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists revealed how “health authorities across the globe have failed to protect millions of patients from poorly tested implants that can puncture organs, deliver errant shocks to the heart, rot bones and poison blood, spew overdoses of opioids and cause other needless harm.”

Ira Bedzow (Courtesy)

In March, the Department of Homeland Security warned that certain heart implants were hackable from a short distance.

“There is a rush to innovation that sometimes has had very bad consequences for patients,” said Bedzow. “It’s one of the problems that we have of looking at helping patients as a public good but then privatizing a lot of these markets where players seek financial gain.”

Bedzow said that people creating medical devices need to “recognize their mission as much as their margin” and that medicine should be a public good and not merely a good or service bought and sold in a market like potato chips and clothing.

Superhuman hearts

As for whether customizable 3D-printed organs could lead to a community of large-hearted superhumans, Bedzow said there was little reason to worry.

If a doctor put a “superheart” into someone’s body, it wouldn’t make a huge difference to their overall health and longevity because it has to work within the rest of the person’s cardiopulmonary systems.

If a doctor were to hypothetically replace all of a person’s major organs with 3D-printed ones it might add another 20 years to their life, Bedzow said. “I’d be more worried about genetic engineering than I would about organ printing. Genetic engineering is going to potentially change the entire person’s genetic code and that of their descendants as well,” he said.

He added that fears of medical innovations leading to unnatural physical enhancements of a new class of humans with superior health and abilities were nothing new.

This photo taken on April 15, 2019, at the University of Tel Aviv shows a 3D print of heart with human tissue. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

“The choices made by biotechnologists setting out to create a 3D-printed heart could possibly lead to research and technology that could serve a eugenic function. but that’s always been the case. Think about when glasses were invented. What if people said, ‘oh my gosh now we’re going to have a class of people who can see better.”

“It’s not the medical technology itself that has that moral risk,” he said. “It’s the people who have that moral risk.”

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Astronomers discover third planet in the Kepler-47 circumbinary system

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF PHYS.ORG)

 

Astronomers discover third planet in the Kepler-47 circumbinary system

Astronomers discover third planet in the Kepler-47 circumbinary system
Artistic rendition of the Kepler-47 circumbinary planet system. The three planets with the large middle planet being the newly discovered Kepler47d. Credit: NASA/JPLCaltech/T. Pyle

Astronomers have discovered a third planet in the Kepler-47 system, securing the system’s title as the most interesting of the binary-star worlds. Using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, a team of researchers, led by astronomers at San Diego State University, detected the new Neptune-to-Saturn-size planet orbiting between two previously known planets.

With its three planets orbiting two suns, Kepler-47 is the only known multi-planet circumbinary system. Circumbinary planets are those that orbit two stars.

The planets in the Kepler-47 system were detected via the “transit method.” If the orbital plane of the planet is aligned edge-on as seen from Earth, the planet can pass in front of the host stars, leading to a measurable decrease in the observed brightness. The new planet, dubbed Kepler-47d, was not detected earlier due to weak transit signals.

As is common with circumbinary planets, the alignment of the orbital planes of the planets change with time. In this case, the middle planet’s orbit has become more aligned, leading to a stronger transit signal. The transit depth went from undetectable at the beginning of the Kepler Mission to the deepest of the three planets over the span of just four years.

The SDSU researchers were surprised by both the size and location of the new planet. Kepler-47d is the largest of the three planets in the Kepler-47 system.

“We saw a hint of a third planet back in 2012, but with only one transit we needed more data to be sure,” said SDSU astronomer Jerome Orosz, the paper’s lead author. “With an additional transit, the planet’s orbital period could be determined, and we were then able to uncover more transits that were hidden in the noise in the earlier data.”

William Welsh, SDSU astronomer and the study’s co-author, said he and Orosz expected any additional planets in the Kepler-47 system to be orbiting exterior to the previously known planets. “We certainly didn’t expect it to be the largest planet in the system. This was almost shocking,” said Welsh. Their research was recently published in the Astronomical Journal.

Astronomers discover third planet in the Kepler-47 circumbinary system
Artistic rendition of the Kepler-47 circumbinary planet system. An overhead view of the orbital configuration. Credit: NASA/JPLCaltech/T. Pyle

With the discovery of the new planet, a much better understanding of the system is possible. For example, researchers now know the planets in in this circumbinary system are very low density – less than that of Saturn, the Solar System planet with the lowest density.

While a low density is not that unusual for the sizzling hot-Jupiter type exoplanets, it is rare for mild-temperature planets. Kepler-47d’s equilibrium temperature is roughly 50 degrees F (10 degrees C), while Kepler-47c is 26 degrees F ( 32 degrees C). The innermost planet, which is the smallest circumbinary planet known, is a much hotter 336 degrees F (169 degrees C).

The inner, middle, and outer planets are 3.1, 7.0, and 4.7 times the size of the Earth, and take 49, 187, and 303 days, respectively, to orbit around their suns. The stars themselves orbit each other in only 7.45 days; one star is similar to the Sun, while the other has a third of the mass of the Sun. The entire system is compact and would fit inside the orbit of the Earth. It is approximately 3340 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Cygnus.

“This work builds on one of the Kepler’s most interesting discoveries: that systems of closely-packed, low-density planets are extremely common in our galaxy,” said University of California, Santa Cruz astronomer Jonathan Fortney, who was not part of the study. “Kepler 47 shows that whatever process forms these planets – an outcome that did not happen in our solar system – is common to single-star and circumbinary planetary systems.”

Correction: A prior version of this article contained inaccuracies regarding the orbits of the Kepler-47 planets. This article has been updated to reflect the correct number of days it takes the inner, middle, and outer planets to orbit their suns: 49, 187 and 303 days respectively.


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More information: Jerome A. Orosz et al. Discovery of a Third Transiting Planet in the Kepler-47 Circumbinary System, The Astronomical Journal(2019). DOI: 10.3847/1538-3881/ab0ca0 , iopscience.iop.org/article/10. … 847/1538-3881/ab0ca0

Journal information: Astronomical Journal

NASA’s Curiosity rover digs up clay samples – Is it PROOF of water on Mars?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE U.K.’S ‘EXPRESS’ NEWS)

 

Life on Mars: NASA’s Curiosity rover digs up clay samples – Is it PROOF of water on Mars?

NASA’s Curiosity rover is drilling into the Red Planet to collect samples of Martian clay, which scientists believed formed in the presence of water – but could this also help find life on Mars?

Antarctica: ‘Magnetic anomaly’ a sign of a lost city says expert

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’s lonely Mars rover has successfully retrieved its first batch of soil from a “clay-bearing unit” near Mars’ Mount Sharp region. The US space agency has targeted this part of Mars for a drilling mission even before Curiosity blasted off towards the planet in November 2011. NASA has now confirmed Curiosity retrieved samples of bedrock material from a rock dubbed Aberlady on Sunday, April 6. The rover then delivered the soil samples to its onboard laboratory equipment on April 10 and scientists are waiting for the analysis results with bated breath.

Water is one of the most fundamental building blocks of life by human standards and is key to discovering alien life in other parts of the cosmos.

Scientists have long suspected Mars once hosted a lush and wet atmosphere with a landscape not too different from that of Earth’s.

Today, however, the planet is a harsh and inhospitable desert with a paper-thin atmosphere blasted by intense solar radiation.

The only signs of water present on Mars have been found in the form of ice caps around the freezing south pole.

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Life on Mars: NASA Curiosity rover drilling clay

Life on Mars: Curiosity is drilling out samples of clay from Martian bedrock (Image: NASA)

But the presence of clay in Martian soil promises to update NASA’s understanding of Mars’s ancient past.

And the results of the rover’s drilling operation so far appear to be promising.

Jim Erickson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said: “Curiosity has been on the road for nearly seven years.

“Finally drilling at the clay-bearing unit is a major milestone in our journey up Mount Sharp.”

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According to NASA, the remote rover’s drill “chewed easily” through the Martian rock, suggesting the bedrock was much softer than expected.

The space agency said in a statement: “It was so soft, in fact, that the drill didn’t need to use its percussive technique, which is helpful for snagging samples from harder rock.

“This was the mission’s first sample obtained using only rotation of the drill bit.”

However, it is unlikely the drilling mission will provide any major breakthrough in the hunt for liquid water.

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Life on Mars: NASA Curiosity rover on Mars

Life on Mars: Clay samples could be proof of ancient water could boost hopes of finding ancient life (Image: NASA)

Instead, NASA expects to learn more about how ancient waters helped shaped the three-mile-tall (five kilometres) Mount Sharp.

Finally drilling at the clay-bearing unit is a major milestone

Jim Erickson, NASA

NASA said Curiosity has so far encountered clay minerals and mudstones at every step of its journey through Mars.

These rocks are believed to have formed in ancient lakebeds by settling river sediments some 3.5 billion years ago.

The space agency said: “As with water elsewhere on Mars, the lakes eventually dried up.”

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And Ashwin Vasavada, a JPL Curiosity scientist said: “Each layer of this mountain is a puzzle piece. They each hold clues to a different era in Martian history.

“We’re excited to see what this first sample tells us about the ancient environment, especially about water.”

But what does all of this mean for the potential to find life on Mars?

Scientists widely agree life here on Earth started in water and it is water, which made life on Earth possible.

Life on Mars: Martian clay bedrock

Life on Mars: The remote rover drilled into this soft bed of exposed Martian rock (Image: NASA)

And if scientists can prove the same conditions once existed on Mars, the probability simple, single-celled life evolved on Mars will skyrocket.

NASA said: “Whether the water is boiling hot or frozen, some sort of creature seems to thrive in it. Is it the same on other planets?

“If water once flowed on Mars, did life once thrive there too? Or, maybe there is still water on Mars, only it has gone underground.

“Could there be tiny life forms—like bacteria—on Mars even now?”

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Was there ever life on Mars in the past?

If NASA’s scientists can prove Mars once hosted liquid lakes and rives, the next question is whether the conditions were ripe for microbial life to develop.

NASA said: “Is there any evidence of life in the planet’s past? If so, could any of these tiny living creatures still exist today?

“Imagine how exciting it would be to answer, ‘Yes!’”

Ellen Stofan, head of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, has argued before the US Senate .

She said: “Life rose here on Earth rapidly once conditions stabilised, so you know, for the first several hundred million years on Earth the conditions were probably hostile.

“It was as soon as conditions stabilised within 100 million years or so we are fairly confident that the first microbial life evolved on Earth.

“The problem is life remained in the oceans for a billion years and it took well over a billion years for life to gain any complexity. That’s why I’m optimistic life did evolve on Mars.”

Hubble Peers At Cosmic Blue Bauble

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF PHYSICS.ORG AND NASA)

 

Hubble peers at cosmic blue bauble

Hubble peers at cosmic blue bauble
Messier 3: Containing an incredible half-million stars, this 8-billion-year-old cosmic bauble is one of the largest and brightest globular clusters ever discovered. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, G. Piotto et al.

Globular clusters are inherently beautiful objects, but the subject of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, Messier 3, is commonly acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful of them all.

Containing an incredible half-million stars, this 8-billion-year-old cosmic bauble is one of the largest and brightest  ever discovered. However, what makes Messier 3 extra special is its unusually large population of variable stars—stars that fluctuate in brightness over time. New variable stars continue to be discovered in this sparkling stellar nest to this day, but so far we know of 274, the highest number found in any globular cluster by far. At least 170 of these are of a special variety called RR Lyrae variables, which pulse with a period directly related to their intrinsic brightness. If astronomers know how bright a star truly is based on its  and classification, and they know how bright it appears to be from our viewpoint here on Earth, they can thus work out its distance from us. For this reason, RR Lyrae stars are known as standard candles—objects of known luminosity whose  and position can be used to help us understand more about vast celestial distances and the scale of the cosmos.

Messier 3 also contains a relatively high number of so-called , which are shown quite clearly in this Hubble image. These are blue main sequence stars that appear to be young because they are bluer and more luminous than other stars in the . As all stars in globular clusters are believed to have formed together and thus to be roughly the same age, only a difference in mass can give these  a different color. A red, old star can appear bluer when it acquires more mass, for instance by stripping it from a nearby star. The extra mass changes it into a bluer star, which makes us think it is younger than it really is.


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Buzz Aldrin to ‘inspiring’ Beresheet team ‘Never lose hope’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL, (TOI)

 

Buzz Aldrin to ‘inspiring’ Beresheet team after moon crash: ‘Never lose hope’

Second man to walk on moon sends condolences to Israelis; LunarX to award SpaceIL a $1m prize for achievements despite vehicle crashing into lunar surface during landing attempt

One of the last photos taken by Beresheet before crash landing into the moon on April 11, 2019. (Courtesy SpaceIL)

One of the last photos taken by Beresheet before crash landing into the moon on April 11, 2019. (Courtesy SpaceIL)

Former astronaut and second man on the moon Buzz Aldrin on Thursday tweeted his condolences to the team behind the Beresheet spacecraft which crashed into the moon’s surface during its landing attempt on Thursday evening, saying the project was “inspiring.”

“Condolences to the Beresheet lander @TeamSpaceIL for what almost was! Communications were lost with the spacecraft just 150 meters (!!!) above the surface, and it couldn’t quite stick the landing. Never lose hope – your hard work, team work, and innovation is inspiring to all!” tweeted Aldrin, who was a member of the US Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969.

Israel could still claim the title of seventh country to make lunar orbit, and the fourth country to reach the lunar surface, though unfortunately not in one piece.

“As far as we can see, we were very close to the moon,” operation control director Alex Friedman said to engineers in the SpaceIL control room in Yehud, east of Tel Aviv, after communication with the spacecraft went down. “We are on the moon, but not in the way that we wanted to be.”

In this Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, file photo, Buzz Aldrin, former NASA Astronaut and Apollo 11 Pilot, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the Senate subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness hearing on human exploration goals and commercial space competitiveness. (AP/Susan Walsh)

The project launched as Israel’s entry into the Google LunarX challenge for non governmental groups to land a spacecraft on the moon. Google ended the contest in 2018 with no winners, but the Israeli team decided to continue its efforts privately.

LunarX announced Friday that it would award the Israeli team a $1 million moonshot XPrize in honor of their achievements.

“We’re extraordinarily proud they made it this far,” said Peter Diamandis, XPrize founder.

The head of NASA, Jim Bridenstine, said he regretted the mission didn’t succeed, but said he had “no doubt that Israel and SpaceIL will continue to explore and I look forward to celebrating their future achievements.”

President Reuven Rivlin hosted dozens of youngsters at his official residence, one of several celebrations scheduled across the country.

“We are full of admiration for the wonderful people who brought the spacecraft to the moon,” Rivlin said. “True, not as we had hoped, but we will succeed eventually.”

President Reuven Rivlin speaks to the crowd after the Beresheet spacecraft attempted to land on the moon, Jerusalem, April 11, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The spacecraft successfully initiated the landing sequence, but a few kilometers above the moon’s surface the main engine failed, meaning the spacecraft could not properly brake in time to cushion its landing.

“Write this down: In three years we will get another spacecraft on the moon, and this one will land in one piece,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try again. We’ll try again, and next time we’ll just try it more gently.”

Phil Larson of the University of Colorado, who was a space adviser in the Obama White House, said the Israeli effort underlines that “space is still extremely hard, and landing human-made objects on other worlds is an utmost challenge.”

But, he added, “While it failed to land successfully, overall it was a path-breaking and innovative project.”

The Beresheet spacecraft pictured before its launch. (Courtesy/Israel Aerospace Industry)

The spacecraft was budgeted at $100 million (NIS 370 million), a fraction of the cost of vehicles launched to the moon by major powers US, Russia and China in the past. It was a joint venture between private companies SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, funded almost entirely by private donations from well-known Jewish philanthropists, including South African billionaire Morris Kahn, Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Lynn Schusterman, and others.

“Space is hard,” said Ehud Hayun, a space systems engineer at Israel Aerospace Industries. “I’m not crushed, I’m disappointed, but I’m very proud of what we achieved. We had a lot of success along the way, until the hard landing. We knew it was a risky mission, and the risk we were taking to build it cheap and fast. But we tried.”

Beresheet photographs the dark side of the moon on April 10, 2019 from a height of 2500 km. (courtesy Beresheet engineers)

SpaceIL co-founder Yariv Bash said it would take about two or three years to get another prototype ready for a moon landing. Netanyahu asked philanthropist Kahn to fund it again, though Kahn expressed hope that a second run would cost a little less.

Opher Doron, the general manager of the Space Division at Israel Aerospace Industries, said engineers were still studying the problem that led to the crash. Current thinking is that there was a failure with one of the telemetry (altitude) measurement units, which caused a chain of events culminating in the main engine cutting out about 10 kilometers (6 miles) above the moon’s surface. Without the main engine, the spacecraft could not properly brake in time to make a gentle landing, rather crashing onto the surface.

The three SpaceIL co-founders, who initially decided to participate in the GoogleX Lunar Prize contest some eight years ago, said they would continue their mission of space education and encouraging children to enter science fields.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with engineers and SpaceIL founders in the Yehud control room, vowed to try again for the moon after the Beresheet spacecraft crashed on April 11, 2019. (courtesy)

“I want to turn to kids that might be watching us,” Yonatan Winetraub said in a press conference after the crash. “We didn’t reach the moon in one piece. That sucks. However, engineering and science are hard. Sometimes it doesn’t work the first time, sometimes it doesn’t work the second or third time. But it will work.”

“I want to encourage you to continue studying these things so you can one day reach the moon, and the stars,” he added.

“This is not what we were hoping for, but I think in the last few years we made history,” said Kfir Damari.

“We got Israel to places we couldn’t have imagined before. It was a long journey. We got Israel to the moon, together, this whole team. Now it’s the kids’ job to continue to build future spacecraft to reach the moon.”

“This is what happens, this is space,” said Morris Kahn. “Space has its dangers, it’s a frontier that’s very difficult. We accepted the challenge. I’m glad we did it. We chose to dream, we chose to do, and we were not afraid.”

“We are still the seventh country to get to the moon,” said Winetraub. “And that is still pretty incredible.”

Agencies contributed to this report

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Israel: Have You Looked At The Sky Today?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Recently, someone in my neighborhood in Tel Aviv has been spray-painting the question, “Have you looked at the sky today?” on walls of buildings and at the dog park and local train station. Have you looked at the sky today? It’s a reminder to take our eyes off the phone in our hands, and look up, for a moment, to see what’s going on around us.

Over the past two months, I found myself lifting my eyes to the sky more and more, as I followed the trajectory of Beresheet’s elliptical path to the moon.

Over the same two months, as Israel has been wrapped in a divisive election and an almost-war in Gaza, a group of passionate engineers has tried to shift the entire country’s gaze towards the sky, to see the universe beyond the borders of our country and our planet.

As we and the world watched on Thursday night, holding our collective breath in anticipation for Israel to become the fourth country to land on the moon, Beresheet smashed into the lunar surface, scattering into thousands of pieces.

ToI’s Melanie Lidman

The landing sequence started so perfectly, with a large cheer going up as the spacecraft passed the point of no return, meaning the automatic landing was engaged, and there was no turning back. But then communication with the spacecraft started going in and out.

Things got tense, but it was happening so quickly that the evening’s emcees, Ido Antebby of SpaceIL and Opher Doron of Israel Aerospace Industries, barely had a chance to explain what was going on.

One of the last photos taken by Beresheet before crash landing into the moon on April 11, 2019. (Courtesy SpaceIL)

The main engine stopped working, and then miraculously, started working again. Some people in the audience clapped, but Ehud Hayun, a space systems engineer at IAI sitting next to me, already knew it was over. The spacecraft was too close to the surface to properly slow its descent and drop gently to the ground.

“There is a concern that we haven’t landed in the best possible way,” Alex Friedman, the systems engineer manager overseeing the control room observed dryly at 10:24 p.m.

The engineers, stoic as always, barely registered emotion, as it became clear that their project, which some had worked on for upwards of eight years, had smashed into the surface on which it had been supposed to settle.

SpaceX’s Nusantara Satu Mission, bearing an Israeli moon lander, takes off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on February 22, 2019 (screenshot: YouTube)

Have you looked at the sky today? Have you looked at the moon?

Somewhere, up there, are the remains of a crazy idea that was hatched by three friends at a bar in Holon, that somehow, along the way, garnered $100 million in donations, harnessed a team of dozens of engineers, and captured the attention of Israel and the world.

What does it mean to fail? What does it mean to have the courage, the audacity, to stand up and say, why not? Why not try and get to the moon?

Beresheet engineers released this photo on April 1 of the Arabian peninsula at a height of 16,000 kilometers, photographed from the spacecraft’s external cameras. (courtesy Beresheet)

Over the past two months, as I followed every hiccup and maneuver and selfie of the spacecraft, I found myself not just immersed in the day-to day news of this country, but looking up at the sky and remembering that this country is a small dot on a tiny planet amidst an entire universe.

It’s the smallness I used to feel devouring my father’s battered copies of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction: how beautiful it is to dream about what can exist beyond our horizons. How crucial it is to remember how small and unimportant we are. How beautiful to know that there is more out there than what we can see.

A picture taken by the Beresheet spacecraft of the moon’s surface with the Earth in the background on April 5, 2019. (courtesy Beresheet)

More than a million students in Israel spent class time learning about Beresheet, either through presentations from SpaceIL’s army of educators (the non-profit organization employs more educators than engineers), or the educational kits available for free on SpaceIL’s website. Even writing articles, I learned so much more about space and physics than I ever thought I’d know.

At some point, in between a conversation about the perilune (closest point of the elliptical orbit around the moon) and the apilune (farthest point of the elliptical orbit around the moon), and trying to clarify between geostationary and geosynchronous orbits, I realized that despite my defiant insistence to the contrary, my 10th grade geometry teacher Mrs. Haupt was right. One day, I would need to know basic geometry.

The last shot Beresheet sent of landing before crashing onto the moon’s surface. (Youtube screenshot)

My neighbor, Yisrael, doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. He can’t get over the price tag: $100 million! What about all the hungry people in Israel? he asks. Never mind that Beresheet cost a fraction of the estimated $1.5 billion for each Apollo mission. Why not take that money and build a hospital or something more practical? Yisrael has spent his entire life working with his hands, building things, creating concrete objects you can touch.

A child’s drawing about space included in the time capsule that has been inserted into the Beresheet spacecraft (Courtesy)

I tried to explain to Yisrael just why I have loved writing about this little craft hurtling through space, learning about the intricacies of elliptical orbits and the pull of lunar gravity and the growing problem of space trash.

But I also found myself struggling to find the words. Can you put a monetary value on inspiration? Is it cost-effective to convince a young girl that she can be a space engineer when she grows up? At the end, I could only say to Yisrael, can you imagine a more beautiful thing than a group of friends believing that they can send something to the moon? Can you put a price tag on beauty?

In the moments after Friedman’s announcement, after the screen that was showing the position of the spacecraft reverted to the background of someone’s desktop computer, it didn’t feel real that Beresheet had crashed.

It’s strange to lose something you’ve never touched.

Beresheet photographs the dark side of the moon on April 10, 2019 from a height of 2500 km. (courtesy Beresheet engineers)

What does it mean to fail? Space is hard, Hayun said to me, with a sigh and a shrug of his shoulders, just moments after the spacecraft crashed. Cameras were already in his face, waiting to ask how he felt, what it was like to lose the project he had worked so hard to build. Space is hard.

Perhaps the lesson we should take from Beresheet is not the fact that it failed, but the fact that we tried at all. That for a moment, we widened our horizons beyond our tiny lives, expanding the diameter of our world to a point 400,000 kilometers (250,000 miles) away, joining with millions of people to follow the trajectory of a crazy dream.

Have you looked at the sky today?

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Did ‘Interstellar’ get it right about Black Holes?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI CHINA’S ‘SHINE’ NEWSPAPER)

 

Did ‘Interstellar’ get it right?

 Agencies

Reuters

A supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun is seen in an undated NASA artist’s concept illustration.

The world will finally get to see how a black hole looks like.

The first-ever close-up of a black hole — the spaces at the center of every large galaxy — can be seen by the public at 9pm Beijing time today when six simultaneous press conferences are held in Shanghai, Taipei, Brussels, Chile’s Santiago, Tokyo and Washington.

The picture will have been captured by the Event Horizon Telescope, a network of eight radio telescopes scattered across the globe, thus creating a giant virtual telescope with a diameter equaling that of the Earth.

The EHT allows astronomers to clearly see an orange on the Moon.

The project’s researchers obtained the first data in April 2017 from the global network of telescopes.

The telescopes that collected that initial data are located in the US states of Arizona and Hawaii as well as Mexico, Chile, Spain and Antarctica. Since then, telescopes in France and Greenland have been added to the network.

The telescopes were trained on two supermassive black holes in very different corners of the universe to collect data. Sagittarius A*, in a mass of 4 million suns, is located at the center of the Milky Way, and another, unnamed, is located at the center of the neighboring Virgo A galaxy, weighing 1,500 times of Sagittarius A*.

The picture to be unveiled today is likely to zoom in on one or the other. The data collected by the far-flung telescope array still had to be collected and collated.

“The imaging algorithms we developed fill the gaps of data we are missing in order to reconstruct a picture of a black hole,” the team said on its website.

The EHT project involves more than 200 astronomers from across the world, including those from China.

The research will put to the test a scientific pillar — physicist Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, according to University of Arizona astrophysicist Dimitrios Psaltis, project scientist for the EHT. That theory, put forward in 1915, was intended to explain the laws of gravity and their relation to other natural forces.

Black holes live up to their name. Basically, it is a place in space that swallows almost everything.

A black hole’s event horizon, one of the most violent places in the universe, is the point of no return beyond which anything — stars, planets, gas, dust, all forms of electromagnetic radiation including light — gets sucked in irretrievably.

For us, black holes are “dark stars.” So how do astronomers find black holes?

When black holes tear up nearby stars and swallow things in the space, they will emit great energy, generating bright light and massive radiation, through collision and friction.

That lead astronomers to the locations of black holes.

How do black holes look like?

No one knows, at least not until we discover it today.

AFP

Over the years, they have been depicted in many ways in the movies, but it is widely regarded that its image in the hit Hollywood movie “Interstellar” is the closest to the real thing.

Similar to the shape of Saturn, a star with rings, the black hole as depicted in “Interstellar” is very massive and rapidly spinning black with a glowing ring of matter encircling it.

The image was created after consultations with physicist and Nobel Laureate Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology.

Einstein’s theory, if correct, should allow for an extremely accurate prediction of the size and shape of a black hole.

“The shape of the shadow will be almost a perfect circle in Einstein’s theory,” Psaltis said. “If we find it to be different than what the theory predicts, then we go back to square one and we say, ‘Clearly, something is not exactly right.’”

Breakthrough observations in 2015 that earned the scientists involved a Nobel Prize used gravitational wave detectors to track two black holes smashing together.

As they merged, ripples in the curvatures of time-space created a unique, and detectable, signature.

“Einstein’s theory of general relativity says that this is exactly what should happen,” said Paul McNamara, an astrophysicist at the European Space Agency and an expert on black holes.

But those were tiny black holes — only 60 times more massive than the Sun — compared with either of the ones under the gaze of the EHT.

“Maybe the ones that are millions of times more massive are different — we just don’t know yet,” said McNamara.

How big is a black hole?

The diameter of a black hole depends on its mass but it is always double what we call the Schwarzschild radius. If the sun were to shrink to a singularity point, the Schwarzschild radius would be 3 kilometers and the diameter would be 6. For Earth, the diameter would be 18 millimeters, or about three quarters of an inch. The event horizon of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A*, measures about 24 million kilometers across.

What will the image look like?

The Event Horizon Telescope is not looking at the black hole per se, but the material it has captured. It won’t be a big disk in high resolution like in the Hollywood movie “Interstellar.” But we might see a black core with a bright ring — the accretion disk — around it. The light from behind the black hole gets bent like a lens. No matter what the orientation of the disk, you will see it as a ring because of the black hole’s strong gravity. Visually, it will look very much like an eclipse.

How is the image generated?

Rather than having one telescope that is 100 meters across, they have lots of telescopes with an effective diameter of 12,000km — the diameter of Earth. The data is recorded with very high accuracy, put onto hard disks, and shipped to a central location where the image is reconstructed digitally. This is very, very long baseline interferometry — over the entire surface of the Earth.

Dark Matter And Black Holes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘WIRED’ NEWS)

 

WHEN IT COMES to the nature of dark matter, astronomers are still largely, well, in the dark. The existence of this mysterious substance was hypothesized more than 40 years ago to explain discrepancies between the calculations of how galaxies ought to behave, based on their mass, and what was actually observed. In short, it seemed like mass was missing. So Vera Rubin, the astronomer who first discovered this discrepancy, conjured an invisible substance that is far more abundant than “normal” matter and acts as the scaffolding for the large-scale structure of the universe. Today we call it dark matter.

Yet decades of hunting for the elusive dark matter particle still have not yielded direct evidence of its existence. Most cosmologists still believe that dark matter must exist, but some have splintered off to propose other explanations that explain away dark matter by modifying our understanding of gravity.

But two findings are now casting doubt on the modified gravity explanation. In March, a team of astronomers led by Yale professor Pieter van Dokkum and his graduate student Shany Danieli published two papers, one confirming the existence of a galaxy that appears to have almost no dark matter and the other announcing the discovery of a second galaxy of this type. The irony, the researchers say, is that the seeming lack of dark matter in these galaxies is strong evidence that it exists.

The reason they believe these galaxies have no dark matter is that their dynamics can be predicted using our traditional theories of gravity. The discrepancy of the “missing mass” that’s seen in most galaxies isn’t present here, meaning there’s no need for dark matter to explain their behavior. And it means that the modified version of gravity proposed by some cosmologists doesn’t predict these galaxies’ movements as cleanly as good old Newtonian physics.

The discovery of these dark-matter-free galaxies traces back to 2014, when van Dokkum and his colleagues finished building Dragonfly, a new kind of telescope, made of off-the-shelf telephoto camera lenses, that specializes in observing extremely faint celestial objects. Only a year after its first light, Dragonfly discovered a new galaxy characterized by an extreme lack of stars relative to its size. Known as an ultra-diffuse galaxy, this ghostly celestial object had roughly the same mass as our Milky Way, but only one hundredth of one percent of that mass could be attributed to “normal” matter like stars. In other words, van Dokkum and his colleagues had discovered a galaxy made of 99.99 percent dark matter.

While this galaxy was unique, its existence isn’t entirely surprising. Most cosmologists think that dense collections of dark matter act as a sort of seed for the formation of large celestial objects like galaxies. The general idea, says Anže Slosar, an astrophysicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, is that once a collection of dark matter reaches a critical density, it collapses under its own gravity and forms a so-called “dark matter halo.” This halo, in turn, gravitationally attracts hydrogen gas to its center, where it begins to form stars and, eventually, galaxies. The mass of a dark matter halo varies from galaxy to galaxy, but it seemed like every galaxy must have at least some dark matter to keep its form. Indeed, this assumption was precisely what made Dragonfly’s next discovery so surprising.

In 2016, van Dokkum and his colleagues at Yale discovered NGC 1052-DF2, an ultra-diffuse galaxy that appeared to contain little to no dark matter at all. Last year, when the Yale astronomers published their results in the journal Nature, their peers in the cosmological community were incredulous. This was the first galaxy ever discovered that appeared to lack any dark matter, and as Carl Sagan rightly observed, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”—which is what many cosmologists thought the Yale team was missing.

University of Pennsylvania astrophysicist Robyn Sanderson says the skepticism about DF2 sprang mostly from the limited amount of data used to draw the conclusion. In this case, the Yale team was using data from just 10 star clusters observed over a period of two nights. This meant it was possible they were overlooking key details of the star clusters’ motion, which would distort their estimations of the galaxy’s mass—and undermine their claim that it lacked dark matter.

The Yale researchers recognized this possible source of error themselves when they published their paper on DF2. The only way to resolve this conundrum was to make more detailed measurements or to find another galaxy with characteristics similar to DF2. In March, the Yale team published two papers that did exactly these things.

The first paper offered more refined measurements of stellar velocities within DF2. This time, rather than just measuring the velocities of 10 star clusters, van Dokkum and Danieli used the Keck telescope in Hawaii to observe the velocities of the stars within the star clusters. This approach produced far more data that reinforced the team’s earlier conclusion that the galaxy lacked dark matter.

The other paper announced the discovery of a second galaxy, DF4, which also appears to have little, if any, dark matter. Not only does this increase the odds that the DF2 observations are accurate, it also means such ultra-diffuse galaxies might not be so rare. The fact that two were found in quick succession, Danieli says, was “really reassuring.” Nevertheless, she says “it’s still too early to say whether they are super rare or quite common.” The team will begin observing other nearby ultra-diffuse galaxies next month in an effort to answer this question.

But that won’t resolve the mystery of how these strange galaxies came to exist in the first place. Theoretical cosmologists will have to run simulations to determine how a galaxy can lose its dark matter, she says. One leading theory involves tidal interactions, which is astronomer-speak for when the gravitational forces of two neighboring galaxies pull material from each galaxy and distort them. DF2 and DF4 are both near the galaxy NGC 1052, which makes it a strong candidate for the galaxy that stole their dark matter.

However they came to be, Danieli argues that the existence of these galaxies is a blow to the modified gravityexplanation for why most galaxies don’t behave as we’d expect.

Known as modified Newtonian dynamics, or MOND, this theory recasts gravity such that it has different effects at the galactic scale. Although MOND has successfully predicted the stellar dynamics of hundreds of galaxies, most of which are relatively isolated, it must be able to predict the dynamics of all galaxies to dethrone dark matter as the going cosmological theory.

As Slosar explains it, the discovery of DF2 and DF4 strengthens the case for the existence of a dark matter particle because it means that it can be separated from normal matter. Because these galaxies behave in line with standard gravitational theory, using the equations discovered by Newton and Kepler, they present a challenge to MOND.

“If you find galaxies, some of which have a lot of dark matter and some of which have a little dark matter, you can’t explain it with the loss of gravity unless you’re willing to say that one part of the universe has a different law of gravity than another part, which is just silly,” Slosar says. “The entire point of physics is to find unified laws that are always there. This is why it is an argument for the existence of dark matter.”

So does the existence of galaxies devoid of dark matter pose an existential threat for MOND? Stacy McGaugh, an astronomer at Case Western Reserve University, doesn’t think so. “When DF2 was first discovered, it was portrayed as a huge problem for MOND,” McGaugh says. “On more careful analysis, it turned out that the prediction of MOND was spot-on what was observed.”

The analysis by McGaugh and his colleagues of DF2’s implications for MOND hinges on the galaxy’s proximity to the massive elliptical galaxy NGC1052. Under a set of “reasonable” assumptions, paired with equations from MOND, McGaugh and his colleagues found that NGC1052’s gravitational effects on DF2 would return stellar velocities similar to what van Dokkum and Danieli actually observed. Although he hasn’t had the chance to repeat this analysis for DF4, McGaugh says it also “appears to be consistent with MOND, since it is likely affected by NGC 1052.”

The existence of these galaxies poses a number of vexing problems for the theory of galactic formation, which must account for how a galaxy can come to be violently stripped of its dark matter and still retain the relative order seen, for example, in the presence of star clusters in DF2 and DF4. Will further observations of ultra-diffuse galaxies resolve the dark matter debate? Probably not, but they will, at least, shed some light on the matter.


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Astronomers About to Make a Groundbreaking Black Hole Announcement

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘SCIENCE ALERT’)

 

Astronomers Worldwide Are About to Make a Groundbreaking Black Hole Announcement

MICHELLE STARR
1 APR 2019

The European Southern Observatory has just revealed there will be a huge announcement next week. Yes, we know how that sounds – but as far as we can tell, it appears the world is about to finally see the first ever photo of a black hole‘s event horizon.

Of course, we won’t know for sure until the press event itself, which we will cover live on our site. But here’s a massive clue: according to the advance statement, the researchers will be discussing the “first result from the Event Horizon Telescope.”

For years, the Event Horizon Telescope has been staring into the heart of the Milky Way, trying to obtain a photo of the location of Sagittarius A*, our galaxy’s central supermassive black hole.

It’s no mean feat: black holes themselves are, literally, invisible – they absorb all electromagnetic radiation, which means none of our telescopes – radio, X-ray, optical, gamma-ray – can detect them.

That’s why we’ve never actually seen one.

But seeing the event horizon – the point outside a black hole at which light can no longer achieve escape velocity – is theoretically possible, although not easy. Spacetime around a black hole is weird; in addition, Sgr A* is shrouded in a thick cloud of dust and gas.

Don’t let that stop dedicated scientists, though. Telescopes around the world turned their combined might to the task, generating so much data that the only way to transport it all was on hard disks sent on planes. And then researchers had to sort through and analyse those data.

Now something is finally ready. On 10 April 2019, at 15:00 CEST (13:00 UTC, 9:00 EST) the European Commission, European Research Council, and the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project will present results they are describing as “groundbreaking”.

As they note, “due to the importance of this result, we encourage satellite events in the different ESO Member States and beyond.”

AAAAAH. WE CAN HARDLY WAIT.

The event is going to be streamed on YouTube, and there’s a link here. Pop it in your bookmarks. We’re also going to be live-blogging, so tune in on the day if you want to share our excitement.

This is going to be historical.

Gargantuan ‘X-ray Chimneys’ in the Center of Our Galaxy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘EXTREME TECH)

 

Astronomers Spot Gargantuan ‘X-ray Chimneys’ in the Center of Our Galaxy

The monster black hole that anchors our galaxy is safely 28,000 light years away from Earth. That’s a good thing, too. The region around that back hole is overflowing with dangerous radiation and fragmented stars. Astronomers observing the center of the Milky Way have spotted some unusual features that drive home just how violent the area is. The galaxy sports a pair of gargantuan “X-ray chimneys” that expel the matter and energy building up around the black hole.

UCLA professor of astronomy and astrophysics Mark Morris, who contributed to the research, likens the features to exhaust vents, bleeding off energy from the galaxy in the form of X-rays. The international team looked to the black hole, known as Sagittarius A* (pronounced “Sagittarius A Star”) in an effort to learn more about star formation in the Milky Way. All galaxies foster the development of stars, but the rate of new star formation can vary wildly. The fate of the matter and energy spiraling toward a galaxy’s central black hole can be a significant factor in star formation.

To track the material blasted out around Sagittarius A*, the researchers turned to the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite. This X-ray observatory launched almost 20 years ago, but it’s still going strong. The team used data from 2012, as well as 2016 to 2018 to see what the black hole was doing with all the stars getting smashed to bits in its general vicinity.

According to the researchers, Sagittarius A* produces “chimneys” of X-ray that extend north and south from the disk of the galaxy. The structures are more appropriately known as Fermi bubbles, massive cavities carved out of the gas cloud surrounding the galaxy. The north and south chimney both start within 160 light years of the black hole, extending outward about 25,000 light years. That’s almost the distance from Sagittarius A* to Earth.

The black hole in our galaxy is about 4 million times the size of the sun, but other galaxies have central black holes that are much larger. We can study the Milky Way close up, which could provide insights into how these more energetic galaxies work. Understanding how energy moves through the chimneys and into surrounding space could help explain why some regions become rich in star formation, and others are relatively barren.

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