New Hubble Data Breaks Scientists’ Understanding of the Universe



New Hubble Data Breaks Scientists’ Understanding of the Universe

A new attempt to find the universe’s age revealed troubling flaws.

Dan Robitzski 7 hours ago

There may be fundamental flaws with our understanding of the universe.

The problem came to light as scientists tried to calculate and measure a value called the Hubble Constant, which represents how rapidly the universe is expanding outward.

The value was first calculated by astronomer Edwin Hubble in the 1920s. But since then, astronomers observing and measuring the universe’s expansion have arrived at different values of the Hubble Constant, none of which seem to agree with one another. The discrepancy calls into question not only our idea of how old the universe is, but also our ability to fundamentally understand the physics that drive its behavior.

“Naturally, questions arise as to whether the discrepancy is coming from some aspect that astronomers don’t yet understand about the stars we’re measuring, or whether our cosmological model of the universe is still incomplete,” University of Chicago astronomer Wendy Freedman said in a NASA press release. “Or maybe both need to be improved upon.”

Freedman is responsible for the latest measurement of the Hubble Constant, which she calculated using a different kind of cosmic landmark from previous experiments.

Her team measured the brightness of red giant stars in distant galaxies. Because these stars reach uniform size and brightness, their distance from Earth can more readily be calculated than some other stars. Freedman’s work, which has been accepted but not yet published by The Astrophysical Journal, found that the universe is expanding at 69.8 kilometers per second per megaparsec, per the press release.

That’s a slower rate of expansion than was calculated in another recent study that focused on a different kind of star but a faster rate than was calculated in yet another study that measured light leftover from the big bang called the Cosmic Microwave Background.

Freedman originally hoped her research would serve as a tie-breaker between those other two studies — but instead it added yet another, possible value for the Hubble Constant for astronomers to reconcile.

“The Hubble constant is the cosmological parameter that sets the absolute scale, size and age of the universe; it is one of the most direct ways we have of quantifying how the universe evolves,” Freedman said in the press release. “The discrepancy that we saw before has not gone away, but this new evidence suggests that the jury is still out on whether there is an immediate and compelling reason to believe that there is something fundamentally flawed in our current model of the universe.”

Further complicating the issue, statistical analysis validates both of those two previous studies, according to a New Scientist article published last week, before Freedman’s study was announced. There’s just a one-in-3.5 million chance that their findings came from random chance.

In the middle of the next decade, NASA hopes to launch the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope into orbit, at which point scientists will be able to more precisely measure the distance of celestial objects, per the press release. When that happens, there’s a chance that astronomers will be able to reconcile their various Hubble Constant values.

“The Hubble constant is the biggest problem in cosmology that we have access to right now, and the hope is that this crack in our understanding is going to lead us to some even bigger cracks like dark energy and dark matter,” Duke University astronomer Daniel Scolnic told New Scientist. “We just have to chase the crack.”


More on the Hubble Constant: Figuring out How Fast the Universe Is Expanding Might Require a New Type of Physics

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NASA/Victor Tangermann

Research Finds the Key to Regulating Your Emotions



Research Finds the Key to Regulating Your Emotions; Here’s How to Apply It at Work

It has a lot to do with your mindset and motivation.
Courtesy of Marish / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Marish / Shutterstock

Feeling overcome by your emotions can be stressful, especially when you’re at work. Whether a co-worker said something that upset you, or you took negative feedback a little too personally, it can be challenging to stay calm and think through a situation when intense feelings take over. Emotions can catch you by surprise — but new research suggests they may be easier to control than you think.

A new study from Stanford University reveals that our motivations play a bigger role in the regulation of our emotions than previously thought — what’s more, we also have greater control over how others influence our emotions, too. The research, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, showed that the way we want to feel can impact the way we actually do; study participants who wanted to stay calm remained relatively relaxed in the face of angry people, whereas those who wanted to feel angry were highly influenced by angry individuals.

“The degree to which people said they were motivated to feel or not feel certain emotions predicted how much they would be influenced when they were exposed to emotions from other group members,” Amit Goldenberg, the lead author on the study and a Stanford doctoral candidate in psychology, says.

So what does this mean if you want to experience greater emotional stability at work? Check out these strategies to better regulate your emotions in the workplace, and ultimately reduce your stress levels.

Regularly assess your environment 

A simple way to proactively regulate your emotions — and stress — at work is to think about the kind of environment you want or need to be in, and situate yourself accordingly. “The best way to regulate your emotions is to start with the selection of your environment. If you don’t want to be angry today, one way to do that is to avoid angry people,” Goldenberg saysAlthough you of course can’t avoid a negative colleague all the time, you can, for example, find a quiet place to answer emails if a co-worker’s bad attitude is beginning to have a negative impact on yours. If you have to work with someone who negatively influences your emotions, use empathy and compassionate directness to address the situation. If a colleague is upset about something, try saying something like, “I know you aren’t having the best day, but let’s work together to put that aside for the time being and focus on our meeting.”

Ask yourself questions

In order to better regulate your emotions, you need to gain greater awareness of the relationship between your thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Abigail Rolston and Elizabeth Lloyd-Richardson, Ph.D., from the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery recommend asking yourself a series of questions. They suggest personal inquiries like: Which emotions are hardest for me to tolerate? Which behaviors do I tend to use to calm down those feelings? How well do these strategies work? Do I want to use these behaviors? By becoming more in tune with your emotional responses, you can recognize patterns and better prepare yourself to cope with specific stressful situations.

Set an intention for the day

Setting an emotional intention for your day can also help you navigate stressful situations at work. Goldberg says that you can motivate yourself to feel a specific way — calm, for example — even when the people around you feel differently. When you wake up in the morning, try setting an emotional intention for your day. Setting an intention to feel grateful, content, or calm, will help you stay motivated in the face of negative emotions.

Hone in on healthy habits 

Dietexercise, and sleep habits can also play a role in your ability to regulate emotions. Rolston and Lloyd-Richardson recommend getting adequate sleep each night, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly to further refine your emotion regulation abilities. By making simple, healthier lifestyle choices, “it can be as though you have an entirely fresh perspective on life, and it is much easier to overlook the little things that might have annoyed or upset you otherwise,” Rolston and Lloyd-Richardson say.

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“Gargantua” –The Black Hole That Could Swallow Our Solar System



“Gargantua” –The Black Hole That Could Swallow Our Solar System


M87 Galaxy


This past April, with an event that was as epic as the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon, the world viewed its first image of what had once been purely theoretical, a black hole at the heart of galaxy M87 the size of our solar system, and bigger, with the mass of six and a half billion suns that was captured by a lens the size of planet Earth and 4,000 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope.

Astronomers have theorized that the galaxy that harbors the black hole grew to its massive size by merging with several other black holes in elliptical galaxy M87, the largest, most massive galaxy in the nearby universe thought to have been formed by the merging of 100 or so smaller galaxies. The M87 black hole’s large size and relative proximity, led astronomers to think that it could be the first black hole that they could actually “see.”

The black hole that that we can now actually see is frozen in time it was 55 million years ago, because it’s so far away the light took that long to reach us. “Over those eons, we emerged on Earth along with our myths, differentiated cultures, ideologies, languages and varied beliefs,” says astrophysicist Janna Levin with Columbia University.

“The Gates of Hell, The End of Spacetime” –World’s Scientists Speak Out On EHT’s Black Hole Picture

The Event Horizon Telescope that imaged the black hole is actually 10 telescopes, linked across four continents in the United States, Mexico, Chile, Spain, and Antarctica, and designed to scan the cosmos in radio waves. For a few days in April 2017, the observatories studied the skies in tandem, creating a gargantuan telescope nearly the size of the planet.

“A medium-sized galaxy fell through the center of M87, and as a consequence of the enormous gravitational tidal forces, its stars are now scattered over a region that is 100 times larger than the original galaxy!” said Ortwin Gerhard, head of the dynamics group at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics.  Observations July 2018 with ESO’s Very Large Telescope revealed that the giant elliptical galaxy swallowed the entire medium-sized galaxy over the last billion years.

“What Sparked the Big Bang?” –The Black Hole at the Beginning of the Universe

M87, imaged above by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, is home to the supermassive black hole that spews two jets of material out into space at nearly the speed of light. The inset shows a close-up view of the shockwaves created by the two jets. This image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the entire M87 galaxy in infrared light.

Located about 55 million light-years from Earth, M87 has been a subject of astronomical study for more than 100 years and has been imaged by many NASA observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and NuSTAR.

“Worlds in Collision” –Dangers of Milky Way’s ‘Reawakened’ Supermassive Black Hole

In 1918, astronomer Heber Curtis first noticed “a curious straight ray” extending from the galaxy’s center. This bright jet of high-energy material, produced by a disk of material spinning rapidly around the black hole, is visible in multiple wavelengths of light, from radio waves through X-rays. When the particles in the jet impact the interstellar medium (the sparse material filling the space between stars in M87), they create a shockwave that radiates in infrared and radio wavelengths of light but not visible light. In the Spitzer image, the shockwave is more prominent than the jet itself.



This zoom video above starts with a view of the ALMA telescope array in Chile and zooms in on the heart of M87, showing successively more detailed observations and culminating in the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole’s silhouette. (ESO/L. Calçada, Digitized Sky Survey 2, ESA/Hubble, RadioAstron, De Gasperin et al., Kim et al., EHT Collaboration).


M87 Black Hole


On the right is the first-ever image of the black hole at the heart of galaxy M87, taken by the Event Horizon Telescope. The NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory’s wide-field view of the M87 galaxy (left) reveals the jet of high-energy particles launched by the intense gravitational and magnetic fields around the black hole. Credit: X-ray (left): NASA/CXC/Villanova University/J. Neilsen; Radio (right): Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration.

Harvard history of science professor Peter L. Galison, a collaborator on Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), said that scientists proposed theoretical arguments for black holes as early as 1916. It was not until the 1970s, however, that researchers substantiated the theory by observing extremely dense areas of matter. Scientists announced in 2016 that, for the first time, they had detected gravitational waves — which many argued were produced by black holes merging, and therefore were evidence that black holes exist.

The image marked the culmination of years of work undertaken by a team of 200 scientists in 59 institutes across 18 countries. The project, to which other scientists at Harvard’s Black Hole Institute also contributed, drew on data collected by eight telescopes whose locations range from Hawaii to the South Pole.

“A Fractured Cosmos?” –Unknown Object Detected at Milky Way’s Black Hole

In contrast to M87’s monster, 1,500 times more massive than the Milky Way’s central black hole, Sag A* has four million times the mass of our sun, which means that it’s about 44 million kilometers across. That may sound like a big target, but for the telescope array on Earth some 26,000 light-years (or 245 trillion kilometers) away, it’s like trying to photograph a golf ball on the Moon.

“The Last Photon Orbit” –Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole ‘On Deck’ for the EHT

“More than 50 years ago, scientists saw that there was something very bright at the center of our galaxy,” Paul McNamara, an astrophysicist at the European Space Agency and an expert on black holes, AFP’s Marlowe Hood. It has a gravitational pull strong enough to make stars orbit around it very quickly—as fast as 20 years, compared to our Solar System’s journey, which takes about 230 million years to circle the center of the Milky Way.

“We are sitting in the plain of our galaxy—you have to look through all the stars and dust to get to the center,” said McNamara.

The Daily Galaxy via EHTThe GuardianThe AtlanticNew York Times

Scientists are searching for a mirror universe. It could be sitting right in front of you.



Scientists are searching for a mirror universe. It could be sitting right in front of you.

If the “mirrorverse” exists, upcoming experiments involving subatomic particles could reveal it.
Illustration of woman holding hands up to a mirrorverse where her reflection is shining back at her.

A mirrorverse could be just as real as our own universe but almost completely cut off from it. Jackson Gibbs / for NBC News

The Science-Backed Case for Not Sleeping In on Weekends



The Science-Backed Case for Not Sleeping In on Weekends

You’ll thank us on Monday.
Courtesy of Aleksey Boyko / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Aleksey Boyko / Shutterstock

“So glad it’s Friday!”

How many times have we heard — and said — those words at the end of a long week?

We often think of the weekend as a time to relax, connect with friends, and catch up on sleep. With hours of freedom stretching before us on a Saturday or Sunday morning, there’s no reason not to keep hitting snooze… right? While the weekend is the perfect time to unwind and spend time with the people we care about, it actually isn’t the ideal time to compensate for the sleep we lost during our weeknights — and here’s why.

You can’t “repay” a sleep deficit 

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder suggest that sleeping in on the weekends in an attempt to make up for a sleep deficit actually isn’t an effective strategy. Not only does their research suggest that we start to feel adverse health impacts after only one night of lost sleep, it also found that there is no metabolic benefit for people who get more sleep on the weekend. In their 2019 study, the researchers divided participants into three groups. One group was allowed to sleep nine hours each night for nine nights, the second was allowed five hours each night over the same period of time, and the last group was given no more than five hours of sleep each night for five nights, followed by a weekend of unlimited sleep and two more nights of restricted sleep.

The study produced some interesting results: Both of the sleep-restricted groups ate more at night, gained more weight, and experienced a decline in their insulin sensitivity. Although participants who could sleep in on Saturday and Sunday saw some improvements in these symptoms over the weekend, they quickly experienced the same decline once they returned to a sleep-restricted schedule. “It could be that the yo-yo-ing back and forth — changing the time we eat, changing our circadian clock and then going back to insufficient sleep is uniquely disruptive,” Kenneth Wright, Ph.D., the director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Lab and a senior author of the study, says.

The bottom line? Sleep — but not too much

Although it can be tempting to log a few extra weekend zzz’s if your weekday sleep schedule is less than ideal, research shows that trying to catch up on sleep during the weekend may not be effective if you aren’t getting sufficient rest during the week.

Our bodies respond better to routine than to games of catch-up — so if you want to feel both well-rested and prepared for the week ahead, your best bet is to try to stick to a more normal sleep schedule even when you don’t need to go into work. Snoozing until noon will only drive your body further out of rhythm, making it harder to adjust to the work week. To create a stronger sense of routine on the weekends, try setting an alarm for 30 minutes before your bedtime. That way, you can gently remind yourself it is time to get ready for rest, and ultimately feel more prepared for the work week ahead.

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Bones uncover mysterious early history of the Neanderthals



Bones uncover mysterious early history of the Neanderthals

(CNN)The Neanderthal genome was sequenced in 2010, but mystery still surrounds the early history of our extinct human relative.

Now, after researchers were able to extract nuclear genome sequences from two Neanderthal bones that predate others with sequenced genomes, a new study aims to answer some of the remaining questions.
The study focuses on a jawbone belonging to a Neanderthal girl, first discovered within Scladina Cave, Belgium, in 1993 and the femur of a male Neanderthal from Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave, Germany, found in 1937. Both lived 120,000 years ago.
Femur of the Hohlenstein-Stadel Neanderthal.

Evidence of Neanderthals extends as far back as 430,000 years ago. They seem to have disappeared and gone extinct about 40,000 years ago in Europe and Central Asia. Many of the Neanderthal remains that have been studied date to between 90,000 and 100,000 years ago.
The male and female bones in the new study contain DNA that tells a story. The two Neanderthals from Western Europe were closely related to the last of the Neanderthals that lived in the same area 80,000 years later.
The early Neanderthals had more in common with the later Neanderthals than they did with their contemporaries who lived in Siberia at the same time.
The researchers believe that the early Neanderthals migrated to Siberia. That migration was followed by a later one from Europe that replaced the population there.
Scladina Cave

This provides European Neanderthals with a stable ancestry. The last Neanderthals who lived 40,000 years ago were all descended from a common ancestor.
The study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.
“The result is truly extraordinary and a stark contrast to the turbulent history of replacements, large-scale admixtures and extinctions that is seen in modern human history,” said a statement from Kay Prüfer, study supervisor and group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
The male Neanderthal in the new study also contained an intriguing secret in his mitochondrial genome, which differed from the nuclear genome. More than 70 mutations made him unique when compared to mitochondrial DNA from later Neanderthals.
The researchers believe that this means the early Neanderthals in Europe could have descended from an unknown population.
“This unknown population could represent an isolated Neandertal population yet to be discovered, or may be from a potentially larger population in Africa related to modern humans,” said a statement from Stéphane Peyrégne, study author and PhD student in evolutionary genetics at the Planck Institute.
A different study published in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday also found that Neanderthals repeatedly occupied an open-air settlement, rather than a cave, in Israel between 54,000 and 71,000 years ago.
The ‘Ein Qashish site in northern Israel contained Neanderthal bones and more than 12,000 artifacts including tools, animal bones and other resources.
This site was occupied just before Neanderthals vacated the area.
“[This is] raising questions about the reasons for their disappearance and about their interactions with contemporaneous modern humans,” said Ravid Ekshtain, study author and postdoctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Travel to the deepest point on Earth



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Travel to the deepest point on Earth

Earth is a cornucopia of extremes—extreme temperatures, extreme habitats, and extreme beauty and wonder. One of the most intriguing extremes on Earth is the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point on the planet.

The Mariana Trench is full of secrets. What humans do know about its depths continues to puzzle and amaze, from the creatures that live there to the natural phenomena that occur on the sea floor.

Travel to the deepest point on Earth, and do it from the comfort of your home. Here’s a quick dive into the Mariana Trench.

What is the Mariana Trench?

Credit: NASA

The Mariana Trench (also called the Marianas Trench) is a deep, crescent-shaped cleft in the floor of the western Pacific Ocean. The trench is located approximately 124 miles east of the Mariana Islands, a string of islands south of Japan and east of the Philippines.

The Mariana Trench is one of many subduction zones—areas where two tectonic plates collide and one sinks below the other—on the ocean floor. It is wider than 50 kilometers (31 miles) at its widest point, stretches nearly 1,585 miles from end to end, and the deepest point in the trench (the Challenger Deep) is estimated to be almost seven miles. To put that in perspective, if Mount Everest were dropped into the ocean at the deepest point of the Mariana Trench, it would still sit under more than a mile of water. Water above the Mariana Trench exerts a pressure of 15,750 psi, more than 1,000 times the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level.

We still know very little about the Mariana Trench. That’s most likely due to the trench only being accurately measured in 1951 and the inhospitable nature of the ocean at that depth.

Discovering and exploring the Mariana Trench

Credit: Philippe Kurlapski / Wikimedia

The Mariana Trench was first discovered by the British Survey ship HMS Challenger in 1875. The greatest depth recorded at the time was only 8,184 meters (5 miles or 26,850 feet). It wouldn’t be properly measured for another 100 years.

In 1951, the HMS Challenger II used echo sounding to find an even deeper point in the Mariana Trench, and the Challenger Deep was named after the ship that discovered it.

Man’s curiosity tends to lead him to strange places, and it was this curiosity that led Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh to the ocean floor (10,916 meters) of the Challenger Deep in their submersible the Trieste in 1960.

There have been only three other missions to the depths of the Challenger Deep since the initial trip taken by the Trieste. The next two were unmanned (in 1996 and 2009), and the last was taken by film director James Cameron in 2012 aboard the Deepsea Challenger.

While humans may not travel to the Mariana Trench and the Challenger Deep often, scientists are using advanced technology to help us understand the mysteries hidden in its depths.

Surprises found in the Mariana Trench

Credit: 3dmentat / depositphotos

It’s no wonder that man hasn’t ventured to the sea floor of the Mariana Trench. Immense pressures and cold temperatures make it an inhospitable place for creatures as soft and warm as humans. That said, those who have been to the bottom of the trench were surprised to find some forms of life living at such depths.

Piccard and Walsh reported seeing large creatures—flatfish and shrimp—living at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, but those reports were never confirmed and were later questioned.

Cameron’s solo trip to the Challenger Deep was more revealing, and video evidence confirmed that there were a few strange-but-recognizable creatures living in the high-pressure environment. No sea monsters or giant squid were spotted, but the following creatures were confirmed:

  • Amphipods – Shrimp-like crustaceans were found in abundance swimming around the waters of the Challenger Deep, some more than a foot long.
  • Echinoderms – Small, stick-like sea cucumbers were spotted on the sea floor.
  • Foraminifera – Amoeboid protists that live under calcium carbonate shell layers on the ocean floor.
  • Xenophyophores – Massive single-celled organisms living on the floor of the Mariana Trench.
  • Jellyfish – Surprisingly, a jellyfish was spotted floating by in the captured footage.

Continued exploration of the Mariana Trench

Credit: YukoF / shutterstock

Again, it’s not easy to rove and explore the sea floor of the trench or the Challenger Deep. But scientists are certain there are still a number of undiscovered creatures waiting to be found.

Two potentially life-friendly planets found orbiting a nearby star



Two potentially life-friendly planets found orbiting a nearby star

“We will eventually see if they are actually habitable and, perhaps, even inhabited,” astronomers predict.

A tiny, old star just 12 light-years away might host two temperate, rocky planets, astronomers announced today. If they’re confirmed, both of the newly spotted worlds are nearly identical to Earth in mass, and both planets are in orbits that could allow liquid water to trickle and puddle on their surfaces.

Scientists estimate that the stellar host, known as Teegarden’s star, is at least eight billion years old, or nearly twice the sun’s age. That means any planets orbiting it are presumably as ancient, so life as we know it has had more than enough time to evolve. And for now, the star is remarkably quiet, with few indications of the tumultuous stellar quakes and flares that tend to erupt from such objects.

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These factors, plus the system’s relative proximity, makes the system an intriguing target for astronomers seeking to train next-generation telescopes on other worlds and scan for signs of life beyond Earth.

“Both Teegarden’s planets are potentially habitable,” says Ignasi Ribas of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia, a member of the team reporting the planets today in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. “We will eventually see if they are actually habitable and, perhaps, even inhabited.”

Stellar runt

The two worlds orbit a star so faint that it wasn’t even spotted until 2003, when NASA astrophysicist Bonnard Teegarden was mining astronomical data sets and looking for dim, nearby dwarf stars that had so far evaded detection.

Teegarden’s star is a stellar runt that’s barely 9 percent of the sun’s mass. It’s known as an ultra-cool M dwarf, and it emits most of its light in the infrared—just like the star TRAPPIST-1, which hosts seven known rocky planets. But Teegarden’s star is just a third as far from Earth as the TRAPPIST-1 system, which makes it ideal for further characterization.

An illustration shows Teegarden’s star and the likely orbits of its newfound planets. Our solar system, which sits about 12 light-years away from the red dwarf system, is shown in an inset for comparison.


Ribas and his colleagues are currently searching for planets orbiting 342 small stars, so they aimed the CARMENES instrument, located at Spain’s Calar Alto Observatory, at the mini-star.

CARMENES observed Teegarden’s star over three years, watching for the wiggles and tugs produced by any orbiting planets. In the end, more than 200 measurements suggested that two small worlds are jostling the star, each weighing in at approximately 1.1 times Earth’s mass. The team calculates that one of the planets, called Teegarden’s star b, completed an orbit in a mere 4.9 Earth-days; the other world, Teegarden’s star c, has an orbit of just 11.4 days.

Eerily quiet

Before they could report that those planets likely exist, the team had to rule out intrinsic stellar phenomena, like star spots and flares, that can masquerade as orbiting worlds. Sometimes, this can be quite tricky for red dwarf stars, which are notoriously tempestuous and prone to erupting in massive flares. But Teegarden’s star is almost eerily quiet, making it much easier than usual to tease out planetary signals.

“The number of measurements is so high and the star is so well-behaved that there is very little room for an alternative explanation,” Ribas says. “So, this is, to me, a clear-cut case of planet detection. I would bet both my little fingers that they are there.”

“These are very plausible-looking planet candidates,” agrees Lauren Weiss, of the University of Hawaii. “I am impressed by the quality of the data.”

However, Weiss notes, a few points cause her to hesitate. First, scientists don’t know the exact time it takes for Teegarden’s star to rotate on its axis, and that type of motion could be masquerading as one of the planet signals.

Still, “stellar rotation would probably only mimic the orbit of one planet, not two planets, so at least one of the planets is probably real,” she says.

Second, she says, it’s possible the planets might be zipping around the star more speedily than inferred, which might knock down their potential habitability.

“This technical concern is minor though,” Weiss says. “If there really are planets around the star, and the authors got their orbital periods wrong, the planets are still planets.”

Nadia Drake is a contributing writer at National Geographic with a particular fondness for moons, spiders, and jungle cats.

Astrophysicists announce discovery that could rewrite story of how galaxies die



Astrophysicists announce discovery that could rewrite story of how galaxies die

Astrophysicist announces her discovery that could rewrite story of how galaxies die
This artist conception depicts an energetic quasar which has cleared the center of the galaxy of gas and dust, and these winds are now propagating to the outskirts. Soon, there will be no gas and dust left, and only a luminous blue quasar will remain. Credit: Michelle Vigeant

At the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in St. Louis, Missouri, Allison Kirkpatrick, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas, will announce her discovery of “cold quasars”—galaxies featuring an abundance of cold gas that still can produce new stars despite having a quasar at the center—a breakthrough finding that overturns assumptions about the maturation of galaxies and may represent a phase of every galaxy’s lifecycle that was unknown until now.

Her news briefing, entitled “A New Population of Cold Quasars,” takes place Wednesday, June 12, on the 2nd floor of the St. Louis Union Station Hotel.

A quasar, or “quasi-stellar radio source,” is essentially a  on steroids. Gas falling toward a quasar at the center of a galaxy forms an “accretion disk” which can cast off a mind-boggling amount of electromagnetic energy, often featuring luminosity hundreds of times greater than a typical galaxy. Typically, formation of a quasar is akin to galactic retirement, and it’s long been thought to signal an end to a galaxy’s ability to produce .

“All the gas that is accreting on the black hole is being heated and giving off X-rays,” Kirkpatrick said. “The wavelength of light that you give off directly corresponds to how hot you are. For example, you and I give off infrared light. But something that’s giving off X-rays is one of the hottest things in the universe. This gas starts accreting onto the black hole and starts moving at relativistic speeds; you also have a magnetic field around this gas, and it can get twisted up. In the same way that you get solar flares, you can have jets of material go up through these magnetic field lines and be shot away from the black hole. These jets essentially choke off the gas supply of the galaxy, so no more gas can fall on to the galaxy and form new stars. After a galaxy has stopped forming stars, we say it’s a passive dead galaxy.”

But in Kirkpatrick’s survey, about 10 percent of  hosting accreting supermassive  had a supply of cold gas remaining after entering this phase, and still made new .

Astrophysicist announces her discovery that could rewrite story of how galaxies die
An optical blue quasar at a lookback time of 7 billion years (this is not a nearby galaxy). Normally, something like this would not have infrared emission. Credit: Dark Energy Camera Legacy Survey DR7/NOAO

“That in itself is surprising,” she said. “This whole population is a whole bunch of different objects. Some of the galaxies have very obvious merger signatures; some of them look a lot like the Milky Way and have very obvious spiral arms. Some of them are very compact. From this diverse population, we then have a further 10 percent that is really unique and unexpected. These are very compact, blue, luminous sources. They look exactly like you would expect a supermassive black hole to look in the end stages after it has quenched all of the star formation in a galaxy. This is evolving into a passive elliptical galaxy, yet we have found a lot of cold gas in these as well. These are the population that I’m calling ‘cold quasars.'”

The KU astrophysicist suspected the “cold quasars” in her survey represented a brief period yet to be recognized in the end-phases of a galaxy’s lifespan—in terms of a human life, the fleeting “cold quasar” phase may something akin to a galaxy’s retirement party.

“These galaxies are rare because they’re in a transition phase—we’ve caught them right before star formation in the galaxy is quenched and this transition period should be very short,” she said.

Kirkpatrick first identified the objects of interest in an area of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the most detailed digital map of the universe available. In an area dubbed “Stripe 82,” Kirkpatrick and her colleagues were able to visually identify quasars.

“Then we went over this area with the XMM Newton telescope and surveyed it in the X-ray,” she said. “X-rays are the key signature of growing black holes. From there, we surveyed it with the Herschel Space Telescope, a far infrared telescope, which can detect dust and gas in the host galaxy. We selected the galaxies that we could find in both the X-ray and in the infrared.”

Astrophysicist announces her discovery that could rewrite story of how galaxies die
The dust emission of the same blue-quasar galaxy. It is surprisingly bright — in fact, it’s one of the brightest objects in the field, indicating a lot of dust. Due to the resolution of the telescope, we cannot see what that dust actually looks like. Credit: Herschel/ESA

The KU researcher said her findings give scientists new understanding and detail of how the quenching of star formation in galaxies proceeds, and overturns presumptions about quasars.

“We already knew quasars go through a dust-obscured phase,” Kirkpatrick said. “We knew they go through a heavily shrouded phase where dust is surrounding the supermassive black hole. We call that the red quasar phase. But now, we’ve found this unique transition regime that we didn’t know before. Before, if you told someone you had found a luminous quasar that had a blue optical color—but it still had a lot of dust and gas in it, and a lot of star formation—people would say, ‘No, that’s not the way these things should look.'”

Next, Kirkpatrick hopes to determine if the “cold quasar” phase happens to a specific class of galaxies or every galaxy.

“We thought the way these things proceed was you have a growing black hole, it’s enshrouded by dust and gas, it begins to blow that material out,” she said. “Then it becomes a luminous blue object. We assumed when it blew out its own gas, it would blow out its host gas as well. But it seems with these objects, that’s not the case. These have blown out their own dust—so we see it as a blue object—but they haven’t yet blown out all of the dust and gas in the host galaxies. This is a transition phase, let’s say of 10 million years. In universal timescales, that’s really short—and it’s hard to catch this thing. We’re doing what we call a blind survey to find objects we weren’t looking for. And by finding these objects, yes, it could imply that this happens to every galaxy.”

An Asteroid Impact With the Earth in September Is Not Entirely Impossible 



An Asteroid Impact With the Earth in September Is Not Entirely Impossible

It is extremely unlikely, but the probability is actually higher than zero.

Dinosaur asteroid impact

Filed Under AsteroidsESA & NASA

Keep September free … because a massive, football field-sized asteroid has a one in 7,300 chance of smashing into the Earth on the morning of September 9, 2019, according to the European Space Agency.

But it most likely won’t hit us.

Known as asteroid 2006 QV89, it has a diameter of 164 feet — that’s double the width of the meteor that exploded in the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk in Russia in 2013. That meteor came from behind the shadow of the sun and wasn’t seen by astronomers until it was already entering our atmosphere.

Current modeling of the asteroid’s orbit shows it more likely passing by Earth at a distance of over 4.2 million miles this September, but ESA says there’s roughly a one hundredth of a 1 percent chance the model is wrong and it hits our planet instead.

Only last month, US scientists took part in an exercise simulating an imminent asteroid impact with the Earth, and NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine warned that we need to take the real-world threat seriously during his keynote speech at the International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference in College Park, Maryland.

But it most likely won’t hit us.

New York gets hit by a meteor shower in the 1998 movie 'Armageddon'
New York gets hit by a meteor shower in the 1998 movie ‘Armageddon’. 

Bridenstine also said that detecting, tracking, and studying asteroids and other near-Earth objects (NEOs) should be taken more seriously following the Chelyabinsk event. The resulting shock wave from that 65-foot-wide asteroid damaged thousands of buildings, and debris and flying glass injured over 1,500 people.

Last June, NASA produced a 20-page plan that details the steps the US should take to be better prepared for NEOs that come within 30 million miles of Earth.

Lindley Johnson, the space agency’s planetary defense officer, said that the country “already has significant scientific, technical, and operational capabilities” to help with NEOs, but implementing the new plan would “greatly increase our nation’s readiness and work with international partners to effectively respond should a new potential asteroid impact be detected.”

According to a 2018 report put together by, there are more than 18,000 NEOs.

Hollywood enjoyed a brief spell of asteroid impact-themed disaster movies during the summer of 1998. In the movie Deep Impact, a comet 1½ miles long slammed into the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Cape Hatteras, creating, at first, a tsunami 100 feet high traveling at 1,100 mph (that’s faster than the speed of sound). Then, when it reached shallow water, it slowed but increased in height to 3,500 feet. The wave washed away farmland and cities and eventually reached as far inland as the Ohio and Tennessee valleys (over 600 miles).

But it most likely won’t hit us.


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