Astronomers Discover Milky Way Galaxy’s Most-Distant Stars
By Reuters | Updated: 13 January 2023
Astronomers have detected in the stellar halo that represents the Milky Way’s outer limits a group of stars more distant from Earth than any known within our own galaxy — almost halfway to a neighboring galaxy.
The researchers said these 208 stars inhabit the most remote reaches of the Milky Way’s halo, a spherical stellar cloud dominated by the mysterious invisible substance called dark matter that makes itself known only through its gravitational influence. The furthest of them is 1.08 million light years from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km).
These stars, spotted using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea mountain, are part of a category of stars called RR Lyrae that are relatively low mass and typically have low abundances of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. The most distant one appears to have a mass about 70 percent that of our sun. No other Milky Way stars have been confidently measured farther away than these.
The stars that populate the outskirts of the galactic halo can be viewed as stellar orphans, probably originating in smaller galaxies that later collided with the larger Milky Way.
“Our interpretation about the origin of these distant stars is that they are most likely born in the halos of dwarf galaxies and star clusters which were later merged – or more straightforwardly, cannibalised — by the Milky Way,” said Yuting Feng, an astronomy doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the study, presented this week at an American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.
“Their host galaxies have been gravitationally shredded and digested, but these stars are left at that large distance as debris of the merger event,” Feng added.
The Milky Way has grown over time through such calamities.
“The larger galaxy grows by eating smaller galaxies — by eating its own kind,” said study co-author Raja GuhaThakurta, UC Santa Cruz’s chair of astronomy and astrophysics.
Containing an inner and outer layer, the Milky Way’s halo is vastly larger than the galaxy’s main disk and central bulge that are teeming with stars. The galaxy, with a supermassive black hole at its center about 26,000 light years from Earth, contains perhaps 100 billion–400 billion stars including our sun, which resides in one of the four primary spiral arms that make up the Milky Way’s disk. The halo contains about 5 percent of the galaxy’s stars.
Dark matter, which dominates the halo, makes up most of the universe’s mass and is thought to be responsible for its basic structure, with its gravity influencing visible matter to come together and form stars and galaxies.
The halo’s remote outer edge is a poorly understood region of the galaxy. These newly identified stars are almost half the distance to the Milky Way’s neighboring Andromeda galaxy.
“We can see that the suburbs of the Andromeda halo and the Milky Way halo are really extended – and are almost ‘back-to-back,'” Feng said.
The search for life beyond the Earth focuses on rocky planets akin to Earth orbiting in what is called the “habitable zone” around stars. More than 5,000 planets beyond our solar system, called exoplanets, already have been discovered.
“We don’t know for sure, but each of these outer halo stars should be about as likely to have planets orbiting them as the sun and other sun-like stars in the Milky Way,” GuhaThakurta said.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
Galaxies Spotted by Webb Space Telescope Rewrite Prior Understanding of Universe
By Reuters | Updated: 22 February 2023
Observations by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope are upending the understanding of the early universe, indicating the presence of large and mature but remarkably compact galaxies teeming with stars far sooner than scientists had considered possible.
Astronomers said data obtained by the telescope reveals what appear to be six big galaxies as mature as our Milky Way existing about 540 million to 770 million years after the explosive Big Bang that kicked off the universe 13.8 billion years ago. The universe was roughly 3 percent of its current age at the time.
These galaxies, one of which appears to have a mass rivaling our Milky Way but 30 times more densely packed, seem to differ in fundamental ways from those populating the universe today.
“Oh, they are radically different — truly bizarre creatures,” said astrophysicist Ivo Labbe of Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature. “If the Milky Way were a regular-sized average adult, say about 5 feet, 9 inch (1.75 meters) and 160 pounds (70 kg), these would be 1-year-old babies weighing about the same but standing just under 3 inches (7 cm) tall. The early universe is a freak show.”
Webb was launched in 2021 and began collecting data last year. The findings were based upon the first dataset released by NASA last July from Webb, a telescope boasting infrared-sensing instruments able to detect light from the most ancient stars and galaxies.
“This is an astounding discovery and unexpected. We thought that galaxies form over much longer periods of time,” said Penn State astrophysicist and study co-author Joel Leja. “No one expected to find these. These galaxy candidates are simply too evolved for our expectations. They seem to have evolved faster than allowed by our standard models.”
Leja called them galaxy candidates because further observations are needed to confirm that they all are galaxies rather than some other source of light like a supermassive black hole.
“The exciting part is that even if only some turn out to be massive galaxies, these things are so massive that they alone would upend our measurements of the total mass in stars at this time. It would suggest 10 to 100 times more mass in stars existing at this epoch than expected and would imply that galaxies form way, way faster in the universe than anyone thought.”
The galaxies appear to contain mass equivalent to 10 billion to 100 billion times that of our sun. The latter figure is similar to the Milky Way’s mass.
The journey to galaxy formation following the Big Bang apparently hinged on mysterious material called dark matter that is invisible to us but is known to exist because of the gravitational influence it exerts on normal matter.
“The leading theory is that an ocean of dark matter filled the early universe after the Big Bang,” Labbe said.
“This dark matter — we don’t know what it is actually is — started out really smooth, with only the tiniest of ripples. These ripples grew over time due to gravity and eventually the dark matter started to collect in concentrated clumps, dragging hydrogen gas along for the ride. It’s that hydrogen gas that will eventually turn into stars. Clumps of dark matter, gas and stars is what we call a galaxy,” Labbe added.
Astronomers suspect the first stars began forming 100 million to 200 million years after the Big Bang, each perhaps 1,000 more massive than our sun but much shorter-lived.
“Their explosion set off the chain of events that formed subsequent generations of stars,” Labbe said.
“Webb continuous to amaze and surprise us,” Labbe added. “So yes, the early universe was a lot richer and lot more diverse — monsters and dragons. And the curtain is still being lifted.”
© Thomson Reuters 2023
ISRO Launches SSLV-D2 Mission Months After Facing Partial Failure
By ANI | Updated: 10 February 2023
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle — SSLV-D2 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota on Friday.
The launch has put ISRO’s earth observation satellite EOS-07 and two co-passenger satellites Janus-1 and AzaadiSAT-2 into a 450 km circular orbit around the Earth.
According to ISRO, the second developmental flight of SSLV-D2 was scheduled at 09:18 hours IST from the first launch pad at SDSC SHAR in Sriharikota. SSLV-D2 is intended to inject the EOS-07, Janus-1 and AzaadiSAT-2 satellites into 450 km circular orbit, in its 15-minute flight.
Soon after the launch, Mission Director, ISRO Vinoth said “Janus-1 satellite separated. SSLV D2 mission accomplished.”
The new vehicle was developed to capture the emerging small and microsatellite commercial market. “SSLV-D2/EOS-07 Mission is accomplished successfully. SSLV-D2 placed EOS-07, Janus-1, and AzaadiSAT-2 into their intended orbits,” the ISRO director said.
EOS-07 is 156.3 kg satellite designed, developed and realized by ISRO. New experiments include mm-Wave Humidity Sounder and Spectrum Monitoring Payload. Janus-1, a 10.2 kg satellite belongs to US-based firm Antaris . It is configured with three solid propulsion stages and a velocity terminal module. It is a 34 m tall, 2 m diameter vehicle having a lift-off mass of 120 t.
Meanwhile the 8.7 kg satellite AzaadiSAT-2 is a combined effort of about 750 girl students across India guided by Chennai-based Space Kidz India.
SSLV caters to the launch of up to 500 kg satellites to Low Earth Orbits on ‘launch-on-demand’ basis. The space research body said it provides low-cost access to Space, offers low turn-around time and flexibility in accommodating multiple satellites, and demands minimal launch infrastructure. The first test flight of SSLV ended in partial failure on August 9, 2022.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink to Be Investigated Over Potentially Hazardous Pathogens
By Reuters | Updated: 10 February 2023
The US Department of Transportation said on Thursday it is investigating Elon Musk’s brain-implant company Neuralink over the potentially illegal movement of hazardous pathogens.
A Department of Transportation spokesperson told Reuters about the probe after the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine (PCRM), an animal-welfare advocacy group, wrote to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg earlier on Thursday to alert it of records it obtained on the matter.
PCRM said it obtained emails and other documents that suggest unsafe packaging and movement of implants removed from the brains of monkeys. These implants may have carried infectious diseases in violation of federal law, PCRM said.
The Department of Transportation spokesperson said the agency took PCRM’s allegations “very seriously.”
“We are conducting an investigation to ensure that Neuralink is in full compliance with federal regulations and keeping their workers and the public safe from potentially dangerous pathogens,” the spokesperson said.
Representatives for Neuralink, including Musk, did not respond to comment requests.
The Department of Transportation probe adds to the scrutiny facing Neuralink, which is developing a brain implant it hopes will help paralyzed people walk again and cure other neurological ailments.
In December, Reuters reported that Neuralink has been under a federal investigation over potential animal welfare violations and that some of its staff made internal complaints about experiments being rushed, causing needless suffering and deaths.
The letter said records that the group obtained showed instances of pathogens, such as antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus and herpes B virus, that may have been transported without proper containment measures.
The incidents that involved potential breaches of hazardous material transportation regulations happened in 2019, when Neuralink relied on University of California, Davis to help carry out its experiments on primates, according to the documents cited by PCRM.
While Neuralink’s partnership with UC Davis ended in 2020, PCRM said the company continues to employ the neurosurgeon who oversaw the experiments and other staff involved may also still be employed.
Reuters reviewed the UC Davis records cited by PCRM in its letter. It is unclear whether further records exist that provide a different or fuller account of what happened. PCRM obtained the records from UC Davis through public information requests. Neuralink messages and records not shared with UC Davis are not subject to such information requests.
A UC Davis spokesperson would only say that the university abides by all biohazard and lab safety regulations.
PCRM’s letter said pathogens were carried on removed implants from monkeys after improper sanitization and packaging. The group said those pathogens could cause serious health issues in infected humans, such as bloodstream infections, pneumonia and severe brain damage, among other problems.
PCRM, which opposes the use of animals in medical research, did not identify any harm as a result of these incidents, but said Neuralink’s actions “may pose a serious and ongoing public health risk.”
“The company’s documented track record of sloppy, unsafe laboratory practices compel DOT to investigate and levy appropriate fines,” PCRM said in the letter.
PCRM said it also found instances that appear to describe UC Davis employees urging immediate biohazard training for Neuralink employees following incidents that had caused contamination concerns. On one occasion in April 2019, a UC Davis employee wrote in an email that the university’s primate center is “at risk” for “monkey contaminated hardware.”
“This is an exposure to anyone coming in contact with the contaminated explanted hardware and we are making a big deal about this because we are concerned for human safety,” wrote the employee, whose name was redacted from the records.
PCRM has raised concerns about Neuralink in the past. Last year, it wrote to federal officials about alleged animal-welfare issues during Neuralink’s research partnership with UC Davis, citing another set of records it obtained. A federal prosecutor in the Northern District of California referred PCRM’s complaint to the USDA Inspector General, which later launched the federal probe into Neuralink, Reuters previously reported.
During its partnership with UC Davis, Neuralink grew frustrated with what it regarded as the slow pace of testing on primates, current and former company employees told Reuters, and has since built out extensive in-house animal testing facilities. The company has missed deadlines set by Musk to proceed to human trials, however. His pressure on Neuralink’s staff to make progress contributed to mistakes plaguing some experiments, Reuters reported.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
Microsoft, ISRO Partner to Support Space Technology Startups in India: All Details
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 5 January 2023
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Microsoft on Thursday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to fuel the growth of space technology start-ups in India. The MoU seeks to empower space tech start-ups across the country with technology tools and platforms, go-to-market support and mentoring to help them scale and become enterprise-ready.
This collaboration has come at a time when Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella is in the city to take part in Microsoft Future Ready Technology Summit . The collaboration seeks to strengthen ISRO’s vision of harnessing the market potential of the most promising space tech innovators and entrepreneurs in India, Microsoft said in a release.
Through this tie-up, the space tech start-ups identified by ISRO will be onboarded onto the ‘Microsoft for Start-ups Founders Hub platform’, that supports start-ups at every stage of their journey from idea to unicorn, it said.
Noting that through the hub, space-tech start-up founders in India will have free access to the tech tools and resources they need to build and run their business, the release further said, this includes technical support to build and scale on Azure, best-in-class developer and productivity tools including GitHub Enterprise, Visual Studio Enterprise and Microsoft 365 and access to smart analytics with Power BI and Dynamics 365.
ISRO Chairman S Somanath said the space agency’s collaboration with Microsoft will greatly benefit space tech start-ups in their analysis and processing of vast amounts of satellite data for various applications, using cutting-edge methods like AI, Machine Learning and Deep Learning.
“The Microsoft for Start-ups Founders Hub is a useful platform for bringing together start-ups and providers of technology solutions to support the national space technology ecosystem. We are pleased to work together to assist and support entrepreneurs, to in-turn benefit the Indian economy as a whole,” he said.
Beyond access to technology, Microsoft will provide mentoring support to space tech entrepreneurs in areas ranging from space engineering to cloud technologies, product and design, fund-raising and sales and marketing.
In addition, founders will have access to Microsoft Learn for tailored start-up-centric training content and programmes to help them build connections with the industry and potential customers.
“Space tech start-ups in India are playing a significant role in advancing the country’s space capabilities with the power of technology. We are pleased to collaborate with ISRO to accelerate this transformation of what’s possible in space. Through our technology tools, platforms and mentorship opportunities, we are deeply committed to empowering space tech start-ups in the country to drive cutting-edge innovation and accelerate scientific discovery,” Microsoft India President Anant Maheshwari said.
Microsoft and ISRO will also jointly organise knowledge-sharing and thought leadership sessions for the start-ups with space industry experts. In addition, the collaboration will support founders with go-to-market strategies, technical support and opportunities to sell their solutions via Microsoft channels and marketplace, the release said.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX Raising $750 Million in Fresh Round of Funding at $137 Billion Valuation: Report
By Reuters | Updated: 3 January 2023 12:51 IST
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is raising $750 million (roughly Rs. 6,200 crore) in a new round of funding that values the rocket and satellite company at $137 billion (roughly Rs. 11,33,800 crore) from investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, CNBC reported late Monday.
Reuters had reported in November that SpaceX was in talks about an offering of mostly secondary shares that could value the company at up to $150 billion (roughly Rs. 12,41,800 crore), representing a 20 percent increase in valuation.
SpaceX, which counts Alphabet and Fidelity Investments among its investors, had raised about $1.68 billion (roughly Rs. 13,900 crore) through equity financing in June.
Spokespersons for SpaceX and Horowitz did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Horowitz was also a co-investor in Musk’s Twitter buyout deal worth $44 billion (roughly Rs.3,64,260).
SpaceX has launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Starlink, SpaceX’s growing network of thousands of internet satellites, is looking at generating major revenue with commercialised applications such as the rollout of high-speed internet on commercial airlines.
SpaceX competes with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s space venture Blue Origin and billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.
Back in November, it was reported that SpaceX bought an advertising package on Twitter for its satellite internet service Starlink. Elon Musk, who owns the rocket company and the social media platform that is seeing an exodus of advertisers, said the ad package was purchased to test effectiveness of Twitter advertising in Australia and Spain.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
NASA Formally Retires Mars InSight Lander 4 Years After Its Arrival on Red Planet
By Reuters | Updated: 23 December 2022
NASA has formally retired its Mars InSight lander, the first robotic probe specially designed to study the deep interior of a distant world, four years after it arrived on the surface of the red planet, the US space agency announced on Wednesday.
Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles determined the mission was over when two consecutive attempts to re-establish radio contact with the lander failed, a sign that InSight’s solar-powered batteries had run out of energy.
NASA predicted in late October that the spacecraft would reach the end of its operational life in a matter of weeks due to increasingly heavy accumulations of dust on its solar panels, depleting the ability of its batteries to recharge.
JPL engineers will continue to listen for a signal from the lander, just in case, but hearing from InSight again is unlikely, NASA said. The three-legged stationary probe last communicated with Earth on December 15.
InSight landed on Mars in late November 2018 with instruments designed to detect planetary seismic rumblings never before measured anywhere but Earth, and its original two-year mission was later extended to four.
From its perch in a vast and relatively flat plain called Elysium Planitia just north of the planet’s equator, the lander has helped scientists gain new understanding of Mars’ internal structure.
Researchers said InSight’s data revealed the thickness of the planet’s outer crust, the size and density of its inner core and the structure of the mantle that lies in between.
One of InSight’s chief accomplishments was establishing that the red planet is, indeed, seismically active, recording more than 1,300 marsquakes. It also measured seismic waves generated by meteorite impacts.
“The seismic data alone from this discovery program mission offers tremendous insights not just into Mars but other rocky bodies, including Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s science mission directorate.
One such impact a year ago was found to have gouged boulder-sized chunks of water ice surprisingly close to Mars’ equator.
Even as InSight retires, a more recent robotic visitor to the red planet, NASA’s science rover Perseverance, continues to prepare a collection of Martian mineral samples for future analysis on Earth.
This week, Perseverance deposited the first of 10 sample tubes it was directed to leave at a surface collection site on Mars as a backup cache, in case the primary supply stored in the rover’s belly cannot for some reason be transferred as planned to a retrieval spacecraft in the future, NASA said.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
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