Something New Under A (Dead) Sun

Something New Under A (Dead) Sun

For all their enormous size and furious energies, stars are remarkably simple. Knowing just their mass and the smattering of elements heavier than hydrogen we can predict their lives from cradles to grave. But every now and then, nature throws us something truly bizarre as as reminder that we aint seen everything yet.

As reported in Science, just such an oddity has been found in a search of over 30,000 white dwarfs, the end state of stars similar to our sun. This white dwarf appears to be made almost entirely of oxygen. And how it formed is truly a puzzle.

Life cycle

A star is a fusion bomb, burning light elements like hydrogen and helium through nuclear fusion to form heavier elements like carbon and oxygen. The bigger the star, the brighter it burns and the faster it uses up this fuel.

Stars no more than ten times the mass of our Sun will tend to throw out their nuclear ash of heavy elements into space, forming planetary nebulaes, which will eventually condense to form new stars, rocky planets and ultimately maybe even give rise to life like us that breathes the oxygen and eats this carbon. As Carl Sagan noted, were made of star-stuff.

3D visualisation of the Ring Nebula, with material flung out from the dying star in the centre. This gas may eventually form new stars, planets and ultimately even life. Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA, M. Kornmesse

Whats left behind in a dying star is a glowing cinder with the mass of our sun crushed to the size of the Earth. This incredible density means that a teaspoon worth of this object would be about the mass of a truck. We call this a white dwarf and it is the fate of our own sun in 5 billion years time.

End of the road, not the story

This newly discovered white dwarf has half of our suns mass in a size no bigger than Earth, meaning the surface gravity is 100,000 times that of Earth. For you to walk on this would be like trying to walk with 40 blue whales on your back. Thats assuming you havent burnt to a crisp on its glowing white hot surface, with temperatures over 20,000K (red hot would be just 1,000K).

Like the ash of campfire, you can tell whats been burnt by examining whats left over. In your camp you might wood ash or melted plastic perhaps but with the tremendous nuclear fires in stars we are left with individual elements. The bigger the initial star, the hotter it burns, and the heavier the elements left over.

In the case of this white dwarf we only see oxygen, meaning all the carbon has been fused into this heavier element. The puzzle is, our models tell us that it cant have produced the conditions to fuse carbon, meaning theres something were missing in our models of how stars can die.

One idea is that towards the end of the progenitor stars life it began to pulse as its outer layers were raised up by the intense pressure of the radiation only for this material to crash back to the surface and temporarily create intense conditions to fuse all the carbon into oxygen.

Then any remaining lighter elements like hydrogen and helium might also have been gravitationally stolen by a nearby companion (that has yet to be found) finally leaving a white dwarf containing only oxygen.

In having oxygen 25 times more common than any other element, this object is unique amongst the tens of thousands white dwarfs that have been surveyed. Yet the fact it exists at all has implications for the way that amazingly destructive events in our universe, called supernovae.

In some supernovae, white dwarfs detonate like ticking time bombs, all with the same brightness. This means we can use them as standard candles to measure distances based on how faint they appear. Measuring the expansion of the universe with these standard candles earned ANU Vice Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt a share of the Nobel Prize in Physics 2011.

While a white dwarf is the end of the road for a star, this latest discovery shows theres still much to be learnt about these extreme objects.

Alan Duffy, Research Fellow, Swinburne University of Technology

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Top NASA Climate Scientist Says Temperatures Are Rising At Fastest Rate In 1,000 Years

Top NASA Climate Scientist Says Temperatures Are Rising At Fastest Rate In 1,000 Years

In December last year at the UN Climate Change Conference, 195 countries agreed to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-Industrial averages. But accordingto a top NASA climate scientist, our chances of keeping that promise are very unlikely due to a recent rise in temperatures thathave been unprecedented in 1,000 years.

The latest data says this July was the warmest month ever recorded. That news came after repeatedly smashed records for monthly global temperatures. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has continually affirmed there is a 99 percent chance that 2016 will be the warmest year on record. In a recent interview withThe Guardian,he went on to explain that the commitment to keep Earth temperatures within the agreed 1.5C band is also looking increasingly unlikely,unless we rapidlymake considerable cuts to carbon emissions or organize widespread geoengineering projects.

In the last 30 years weve really moved into exceptional territory, Schmidt said in an interview with The Guardian. Its unprecedented in 1,000 years. Theres no period that has the trend seen in the 20th century in terms of the inclination (of temperatures).

The latest data from NASA and the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggest that the warming temperatures experienced in recent years are rising considerably higher than any period over the past millennium.

These projections were made using both records dating back to 1880 and proxy data from ice cores and sediments thatcan give an indication of Earth’s temperatures throughout the past 1,000years.

Its the long-term trend we have to worry about though and theres no evidence its going away and lots of reasons to think its here to stay, Schmidt added. Theres no pause or hiatus in temperature increase. People who think this is over are viewing the world through rose-tinted spectacles. This is a chronic problem for society for the next 100 years.

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I’m A Stupid Freaking Cat Song

I’m A Stupid Freaking Cat Song

NSFW – language.

Let’s get real. What is the point of cats? What exactly do they do? Dogs can be taught tricks, can guard the house, and are loyal. Cats don’t really do any of those things. They just run around like they are busy, eat, and sleep. It sounds like an awesome life. I wish I was a stupid F***ing cat too. 


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According To DARPA, This Is What The World Will Look Like In 2045

According To DARPA, This Is What The World Will Look Like In 2045

The U.S. militarys scientific and technological wing, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is essentially tasked with constructing the future. Robotic soldiers and artificial intelligence (AI) have both been in development for some time, as have instantaneous language translation systems and advanced contact lenses. So it shouldnt come as a surprise that DARPA has given its predictions for what the world will be like in 2045, as reported by Tech Insider.

In a video series entitled Forward to the Future released on YouTube, three DARPA researchers have explained how the technologies they are actively working on could transform the world in 30 years time.

The first of these predictions comes fromPam Melroy,an aerospace engineer, former astronaut, anddeputy director of DARPAs Tactical Technologies Office.This department, along with others, handles the development of drones.

Militarized drones are becoming increasingly spooky, with oneDARPA project aiming to create vampire drones, those that sublimate into nothingness in direct sunlight, leaving no trace of their exploits.

Melroytakes this one step further. Instead of merely ordering drones and other machines around, advanced AI will allow us to work as partners with machines and have them understand our intent for much more complex tasks. Instead of having rudimentary voice recognition and keyboards, machines drones, aircraft, and even spacecraft will respond to our commands dynamically and control multiple systems simultaneously.

DARPA is currently developing an empathetic system that will even allow robots on the battlefield to detect and analyze our emotional and physical state in real-time; this will permit them to predict our needs before we even need them. Even before this system is operational, a quarter of combat soldiers will be robots by just 2030, according to one U.S. general.

Stefanie Tompkins, a geologist and director of DARPAs Defense Sciences Office, believes the world of 2045 will be dominated by nanotechnology. Our ability to manipulate materials at the atomic level already means we can produce incredible materials, including prosthetic limbs that have the ability to feel and night vision contact lenses only a few atoms thick.

The future will bring with it increasingly strong and lightweight materials, according to Tompkins. You can now start to control properties of materials that we always thought were impossible to exist but by building it at the atomic level, we can force them to [exist].

Justin Sanchez, a neuroscientist and one of the program managers in DARPAs Biological Technologies Office, is convinced that thought-powered technology will become far more common by 2045. Neuroscientists are already working on prosthetic limbs that are controlled by your mind, andprototypes of mind-controlled cars already exist. Sanchez thinks that by 2045 we might be able to communicate with our friends and family just using neural activity from [our] brain.

The future may see this technology come in leaps and bounds, with the electronic architecture of your home, from the heating to the lights, possibly controlled by just your thoughts. Combining this ability with miniature sensors that power themselves, the homes of the future will be almost unrecognizable to the ones we have today.

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MAVEN Returns First Light Data From Mars

MAVEN Returns First Light Data From Mars

Though it might not seem like it today, Mars once had an atmosphere thick enough to sustain liquid water on the surface. It isn’t entirely clear what happened over the last four billion years that changed those conditions, but NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter will attempt to find out by studying what is left of the red planet’s upper atmosphere. MAVEN reached Mars on September 21 and though it is still making adjustments to its orbit and turning instruments on, it has already sent back the first data describing the variable composition of the upper atmosphere.

A contributing factor to the loss of the martian atmosphere is believed to be high-speed solar energetic particles (SEP). During times of solar activity, such as during flares or coronal mass ejections, SEPs can shoot out from the sun and potentially help strip away the atmosphere of Mars. MAVEN has an instrument to detect and study SEPs and wasted no time. Days after MAVEN entered orbit, a solar flare kicked out SEPs that reached Mars on September 29.

“After traveling through interplanetary space, these energetic particles of mostly protons deposit their energy in the upper atmosphere of Mars,” Davin Larson said in a press release. Larson is the SEP instrument lead. “A SEP event like this typically occurs every couple weeks. Once all the instruments are turned on, we expect to also be able to track the response of the upper atmosphere to them.”

The upper atmosphere is the final barrier that prevents this material from escaping into space. It is very thin, and held together by the red planet’s gravity, which is only 38% as strong as Earth’s. 

Image Credit: University of Colorado/NASA

Using the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS), the team was able to construct an ozone map (pictured above) of the carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen within the upper atmosphere; the three products of the breakdown of carbon dioxide and water. Tracking these molecules can help scientists understand how the atmosphere is being stripped away, and thus how the conditions of the surface of Mars have changed so drastically over time. The map revealed to scientists that the atmosphere of Mars is highly variable. 

“With these maps we have the kind of complete and simultaneous coverage of Mars that is usually only possible for Earth,” added MAVEN researcher Justin Deighan. “On Earth, ozone destruction by refrigerator CFCs is the cause of the polar ozone hole. On Mars, ozone is just as easily destroyed by the byproducts of water vapor breakdown by ultraviolet sunlight. Tracking the ozone lets us track the photochemical processes taking place in the Martian atmosphere. We’ll be exploring this in more complete detail during MAVEN’s primary science mission.”

This commissioning phase, where MAVEN is making adjustments and testing out instruments, will continue for another two weeks. In the first week of November, MAVEN will begin the primary science mission which is expected to last for one Earth year.



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ZTE unveils Grand X Max+ smartphone and Spro 2 projector

ZTE unveils Grand X Max+ smartphone and Spro 2 projector


ZTE’s new Grand X Max+ is a smartphone with impressive specs and a $199.99 off-contract price tag.
Image: Mashable, Karissa Bell

LAS VEGAS— ZTE is betting that its next two products will help continue the Chinese company’s rapid growth in the US.

ZTE introduced a new low-cost Android smartphone, the Grand X Max+, as well as a new Android-powered smart projector, the Spro 2.

The ZTE Grand X Max+ has a 6-inch HD display, 13-megapixel camera, and 16GB of memory and 2GB of RAM. Even more impressive is its price: The smartphone will be available for $199 off-contract on Cricket Wireless when it goes on sale later this year.

The company also previewed an updated version of its Android-powered smart projector, the Spro 2. The new version doubled its battery life over last year’s model, with three hours of streaming. Spro 2 will be available in the first quarter of 2015, with carrier and pricing details to be announced at a later date.


ZTE’s Spro 2 smart projector.

Image: Mashable, Tyler Tronson

ZTE CEO Lixin Cheng also recapped the company’s 2014 progress, saying that it shipped more than a 100 million devices in the U.S. last year. Of those, Cheng said, 48 million were smartphones. ZTE currently has 20 million active users in the U.S.

The Chinese company has ambitious plans in the U.S. — namely luring users away from Samsung, Apple, HTC and other competitors. It has done this by focusing on prepaid users; Cheng said ZTE is now no. 2 in the U.S. prepaid market.

He added that the overall focus on increasing brand awareness in the U.S. has paid off: ZTE is one of the fastest-growing brands, with awareness growing from 1% to 16% in the last year.

NASA To Make A "Surprising" Announcement About Jupiter's Moon Europa Next Monday

NASA To Make A “Surprising” Announcement About Jupiter’s Moon Europa Next Monday

Whenever NASA announces an upcoming announcement, it normally sends Internet predictions up the wazoo. And this latest one is probably going to be no different, although its probably not aliens. Sorry.

On Monday, September 26, at 2pm EDT (7pm BST), NASA is going to reveal surprising evidence of activity on Jupiters moon Europa. In a short statement, NASA said this evidence may be related to the presence of a subsurface ocean on Europa. So, its going to be pretty exciting.

There wont be any video of the announcement, but there will be audio streamed online that you can listen to here.

Of the people taking part in the announcement, one in particular stands out. That would be Britney Schmidt, an assistant professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. On her online bio, her research includes the detection of habitable systems, and the ocean dynamics of moons and planets, especially Europa.

Scientists have thought for a while that Europa has a subsurface ocean beneath its icy crust, with most estimates saying it contains more water than is on Earth. Weve got indirect evidence that it exists, but were still not sure exactly how big or deep it is and nor, crucially, what is in it.

Some think it may be fed heat and energy by hydrothermal vents on the sea floor, for example. For this reason, many see it as a good bet for finding life elsewhere in the Solar System.

These latest findings come from NASAs Hubble Space Telescope, which has previously spotted evidence for plumes above Europa that were believed to originate in its ocean, but no repeat detection has been made. You could reasonably predict, therefore, that they’ve made a similar discovery again.

For now, that’s all we know. So keep your eyes peeled next Monday. Europa is probably about to get a lot more enticing as a destination for future missions.

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Simon’s Cat In ‘Screen Grab’

Simon’s Cat In ‘Screen Grab’

The web’s most popular animated feline, Simon’s Cat, has finally returned with a new episode. In Screen Grab, Simon’s cat, and his kitty friend, accidentally turn the TV on. After flipping through the channels, they finally knock the television over like so many household pets have before them.

JubJubBirdProduction is fond of the days when cats could sit on the TV without an issue, commenting, “Good old times, when your cat could sit on those huge TVs. Not crash it.”


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U.S. Air Force Blast The Record Speed For A Magnetically Levitated Vehicle

U.S. Air Force Blast The Record Speed For A Magnetically Levitated Vehicle

The United States Air Force has smashed the world speed record for a vehicle traveling by magnetic levitation. Last month at the Holloman Air Force Base in the outbacks of New Mexico, their rocket-propelled Maglev sled levitated down a magnetic track at a speed of 633 miles per hour.

At its peak, the sled accelerated at 282 meters (928 feet) every second down the 6,400-meter (21,000-foot) track. The sled is able to levitate through superconducting magnets cooled with liquid helium.

Holloman AFB/YouTube

In fact, the same team managed to break the record twice in the same week. The original record was 510mph. On March 2, 2016, they managed to narrowly top that by making 513mph. Just two days later, they managed to reach 633mph. Check out the recently released video of the Maglev train in action below.

Lt. Col. Shawn Morgenstern expects that this record will once again be broken over the coming years, as this is just the start of a developmental project. Although, as cool as it is, next time they really need to strap on a GoPro.

Photo Gallery

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