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Astronomy – Wikipedia

Not to be confused with astrology, the pseudoscience.

Astronomy (from Greek: ) is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It applies mathematics, physics, and chemistry in an effort to explain the origin of those objects and phenomena and their evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, galaxies, and comets; the phenomena also includes supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, quasars, blazars, pulsars, and cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, all phenomena that originate outside Earth’s atmosphere are within the purview of astronomy. A related but distinct subject is physical cosmology, which is the study of the Universe as a whole.[1]

Astronomy is one of the oldest of the natural sciences. The early civilizations in recorded history, such as the Babylonians, Greeks, Indians, Egyptians, Nubians, Iranians, Chinese, Maya, and many ancient indigenous peoples of the Americas, performed methodical observations of the night sky. Historically, astronomy has included disciplines as diverse as astrometry, celestial navigation, observational astronomy, and the making of calendars, but professional astronomy is now often considered to be synonymous with astrophysics.[2]

Professional astronomy is split into observational and theoretical branches. Observational astronomy is focused on acquiring data from observations of astronomical objects, which is then analyzed using basic principles of physics. Theoretical astronomy is oriented toward the development of computer or analytical models to describe astronomical objects and phenomena. The two fields complement each other, with theoretical astronomy seeking to explain observational results and observations being used to confirm theoretical results.

Astronomy is one of the few sciences in which amateurs still play an active role, especially in the discovery and observation of transient events. Amateur astronomers have made and contributed to many important astronomical discoveries, such as finding new comets.

Astronomy (from the Greek from astron, “star” and – -nomia from nomos, “law” or “culture”) means “law of the stars” (or “culture of the stars” depending on the translation). Astronomy should not be confused with astrology, the belief system which claims that human affairs are correlated with the positions of celestial objects.[5] Although the two fields share a common origin, they are now entirely distinct.[6]

Generally, both of the terms “astronomy” and “astrophysics” may be used to refer to the same subject.[7][8][9] Based on strict dictionary definitions, “astronomy” refers to “the study of objects and matter outside the Earth’s atmosphere and of their physical and chemical properties,”[10] while “astrophysics” refers to the branch of astronomy dealing with “the behavior, physical properties, and dynamic processes of celestial objects and phenomena.”[11] In some cases, as in the introduction of the introductory textbook The Physical Universe by Frank Shu, “astronomy” may be used to describe the qualitative study of the subject, whereas “astrophysics” is used to describe the physics-oriented version of the subject.[12] However, since most modern astronomical research deals with subjects related to physics, modern astronomy could actually be called astrophysics.[7] Some fields, such as astrometry, are purely astronomy rather than also astrophysics. Various departments in which scientists carry out research on this subject may use “astronomy” and “astrophysics,” partly depending on whether the department is historically affiliated with a physics department,[8] and many professional astronomers have physics rather than astronomy degrees.[9] Some titles of the leading scientific journals in this field include The Astronomical Journal, The Astrophysical Journal, and Astronomy and Astrophysics.

In early historic times, astronomy only consisted of the observation and predictions of the motions of objects visible to the naked eye. In some locations, early cultures assembled massive artifacts that possibly had some astronomical purpose. In addition to their ceremonial uses, these observatories could be employed to determine the seasons, an important factor in knowing when to plant crops and in understanding the length of the year.[13]

Before tools such as the telescope were invented, early study of the stars was conducted using the naked eye. As civilizations developed, most notably in Mesopotamia, Greece, Persia, India, China, Egypt, and Central America, astronomical observatories were assembled and ideas on the nature of the Universe began to develop. Most early astronomy consisted of mapping the positions of the stars and planets, a science now referred to as astrometry. From these observations, early ideas about the motions of the planets were formed, and the nature of the Sun, Moon and the Earth in the Universe were explored philosophically. The Earth was believed to be the center of the Universe with the Sun, the Moon and the stars rotating around it. This is known as the geocentric model of the Universe, or the Ptolemaic system, named after Ptolemy.[14]

A particularly important early development was the beginning of mathematical and scientific astronomy, which began among the Babylonians, who laid the foundations for the later astronomical traditions that developed in many other civilizations.[15] The Babylonians discovered that lunar eclipses recurred in a repeating cycle known as a saros.[16]

Following the Babylonians, significant advances in astronomy were made in ancient Greece and the Hellenistic world. Greek astronomy is characterized from the start by seeking a rational, physical explanation for celestial phenomena.[17] In the 3rd century BC, Aristarchus of Samos estimated the size and distance of the Moon and Sun, and he proposed a model of the solar system where the Earth and planets rotated around the sun, now called the heliocentric model.[18] In the 2nd century BC, Hipparchus discovered precession, calculated the size and distance of the Moon and invented the earliest known astronomical devices such as the astrolabe.[19] Hipparchus also created a comprehensive catalog of 1020 stars, and most of the constellations of the northern hemisphere derive from Greek astronomy.[20] The Antikythera mechanism (c. 15080 BC) was an early analog computer designed to calculate the location of the Sun, Moon, and planets for a given date. Technological artifacts of similar complexity did not reappear until the 14th century, when mechanical astronomical clocks appeared in Europe.[21]

During the Middle Ages, astronomy was mostly stagnant in medieval Europe, at least until the 13th century. Nevertheless medieval Europe housed a number of astronomers who made a progress. Richard of Wallingford (12921336) made major contributions to astronomy and horology, including the invention of the first astronomical clock, the Rectangulus which allowed for the measurement of angles between planets and other astornomical bodies, as well as an equatorium called the Albion which could be used for astronomical calculations such as lunar, solar and planetary longitudes and could predict eclipses. Nicole Oresme (13201382) and Jean Buridan (13001361) first discussed evidence for the rotation of the Earth, furthermore, Buridan also developed the theory of impetus (predecessor of the modern scientific theory of inertia) which was able to show planets were capable of motion without the intervention of angels.[22] Georg von Peuerbach (14231461) and Regiomontanus (14361476) helped make astronomical progress instrumental to Copernicus’s development of the heliocentric model decades later.

Astronomy flourished in the Islamic world and other parts of the world. This led to the emergence of the first astronomical observatories in the Muslim world by the early 9th century.[23][24][25] In 964, the Andromeda Galaxy, the largest galaxy in the Local Group, was described by the Persian astronomer Azophi in his Book of Fixed Stars.[26] The SN 1006 supernova, the brightest apparent magnitude stellar event in recorded history, was observed by the Egyptian Arabic astronomer Ali ibn Ridwan and Chinese astronomers in 1006. Some of the prominent Islamic (mostly Persian and Arab) astronomers who made significant contributions to the science include Al-Battani, Thebit, Azophi, Albumasar, Biruni, Arzachel, Al-Birjandi, and the astronomers of the Maragheh and Samarkand observatories. Astronomers during that time introduced many Arabic names now used for individual stars.[27][28] It is also believed that the ruins at Great Zimbabwe and Timbuktu[29] may have housed astronomical observatories.[30] Europeans had previously believed that there had been no astronomical observation in sub-Saharan Africa during the pre-colonial Middle Ages, but modern discoveries show otherwise.[31][32][33][34]

For over six centuries (from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment), the Roman Catholic Church gave more financial and social support to the study of astronomy than probably all other institutions. Among the Church’s motives was finding the date for Easter.[35]

During the Renaissance, Nicolaus Copernicus proposed a heliocentric model of the solar system. His work was defended by Galileo Galilei and expanded upon by Johannes Kepler. Kepler was the first to devise a system that correctly described the details of the motion of the planets around the sun. However, Kepler did not succeed in formulating a theory behind the laws he wrote down.[36] It was Isaac Newton, with his invention of celestial dynamics and his law of gravitation, who finally explained the motions of the planets. Newton also developed the reflecting telescope.[37]

Improvements in the size and quality of the telescope led to further discoveries. The English astronomer John Flamsteed catalogued over 3000 stars,[38] More extensive star catalogues were produced by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. The astronomer William Herschel made a detailed catalog of nebulosity and clusters, and in 1781 discovered the planet Uranus, the first new planet found.[39] The distance to a star was announced in 1838 when the parallax of 61 Cygni was measured by Friedrich Bessel.[40]

During the 1819th centuries, the study of the three-body problem by Leonhard Euler, Alexis Claude Clairaut, and Jean le Rond d’Alembert led to more accurate predictions about the motions of the Moon and planets. This work was further refined by Joseph Louis Lagrange and Pierre Simon Laplace, allowing the masses of the planets and moons to be estimated from their perturbations.[41]

Significant advances in astronomy came about with the introduction of new technology, including the spectroscope and photography. Joseph von Fraunhofer discovered about 600 bands in the spectrum of the Sun in 181415, which, in 1859, Gustav Kirchhoff ascribed to the presence of different elements. Stars were proven to be similar to the Earth’s own Sun, but with a wide range of temperatures, masses, and sizes.[27]

The existence of the Earth’s galaxy, the Milky Way, as its own group of stars was only proved in the 20th century, along with the existence of “external” galaxies. The observed recession of those galaxies led to the discovery of the expansion of the Universe.[42] Theoretical astronomy led to speculations on the existence of objects such as black holes and neutron stars, which have been used to explain such observed phenomena as quasars, pulsars, blazars, and radio galaxies. Physical cosmology made huge advances during the 20th century. In the early 1900s the model of the Big Bang theory was formulated, heavily evidenced by cosmic microwave background radiation, Hubble’s law, and the cosmological abundances of elements. Space telescopes have enabled measurements in parts of the electromagnetic spectrum normally blocked or blurred by the atmosphere.[citation needed] In February 2016, it was revealed that the LIGO project had detected evidence of gravitational waves in the previous September.[43][44]

Our main source of information about celestial bodies and other objects is visible light, or more generally electromagnetic radiation.[45] Observational astronomy may be categorized according to the corresponding region of the electromagnetic spectrum on which the observations are made. Some parts of the spectrum can be observed from the Earth’s surface, while other parts are only observable from either high altitudes or outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Specific information on these subfields is given below.

Radio astronomy uses radiation with wavelengths greater than approximately one millimeter, outside the visible range.[46] Radio astronomy is different from most other forms of observational astronomy in that the observed radio waves can be treated as waves rather than as discrete photons. Hence, it is relatively easier to measure both the amplitude and phase of radio waves, whereas this is not as easily done at shorter wavelengths.[46]

Although some radio waves are emitted directly by astronomical objects, a product of thermal emission, most of the radio emission that is observed is the result of synchrotron radiation, which is produced when electrons orbit magnetic fields.[46] Additionally, a number of spectral lines produced by interstellar gas, notably the hydrogen spectral line at 21cm, are observable at radio wavelengths.[12][46]

A wide variety of other objects are observable at radio wavelengths, including supernovae, interstellar gas, pulsars, and active galactic nuclei.[12][46]

Infrared astronomy is founded on the detection and analysis of infrared radiation, wavelengths longer than red light and outside the range of our vision. The infrared spectrum is useful for studying objects that are too cold to radiate visible light, such as planets, circumstellar disks or nebulae whose light is blocked by dust. The longer wavelengths of infrared can penetrate clouds of dust that block visible light, allowing the observation of young stars embedded in molecular clouds and the cores of galaxies. Observations from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have been particularly effective at unveiling numerous Galactic protostars and their host star clusters.[48][49]With the exception of infrared wavelengths close to visible light, such radiation is heavily absorbed by the atmosphere, or masked, as the atmosphere itself produces significant infrared emission. Consequently, infrared observatories have to be located in high, dry places on Earth or in space.[50] Some molecules radiate strongly in the infrared. This allows the study of the chemistry of space; more specifically it can detect water in comets.[51]

Historically, optical astronomy, also called visible light astronomy, is the oldest form of astronomy.[52] Images of observations were originally drawn by hand. In the late 19th century and most of the 20th century, images were made using photographic equipment. Modern images are made using digital detectors, particularly using charge-coupled devices (CCDs) and recorded on modern medium. Although visible light itself extends from approximately 4000 to 7000 (400 nm to 700nm),[52] that same equipment can be used to observe some near-ultraviolet and near-infrared radiation.

Ultraviolet astronomy employs ultraviolet wavelengths between approximately 100 and 3200 (10 to 320nm).[46] Light at those wavelengths is absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere, requiring observations at these wavelengths to be performed from the upper atmosphere or from space. Ultraviolet astronomy is best suited to the study of thermal radiation and spectral emission lines from hot blue stars (OB stars) that are very bright in this wave band. This includes the blue stars in other galaxies, which have been the targets of several ultraviolet surveys. Other objects commonly observed in ultraviolet light include planetary nebulae, supernova remnants, and active galactic nuclei.[46] However, as ultraviolet light is easily absorbed by interstellar dust, an adjustment of ultraviolet measurements is necessary.[46]

X-ray astronomy uses X-ray wavelengths. Typically, X-ray radiation is produced by synchrotron emission (the result of electrons orbiting magnetic field lines), thermal emission from thin gases above 107 (10million) kelvins, and thermal emission from thick gases above 107 Kelvin.[46] Since X-rays are absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere, all X-ray observations must be performed from high-altitude balloons, rockets, or X-ray astronomy satellites. Notable X-ray sources include X-ray binaries, pulsars, supernova remnants, elliptical galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and active galactic nuclei.[46]

Gamma ray astronomy observes astronomical objects at the shortest wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. Gamma rays may be observed directly by satellites such as the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory or by specialized telescopes called atmospheric Cherenkov telescopes.[46] The Cherenkov telescopes do not detect the gamma rays directly but instead detect the flashes of visible light produced when gamma rays are absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere.[53]

Most gamma-ray emitting sources are actually gamma-ray bursts, objects which only produce gamma radiation for a few milliseconds to thousands of seconds before fading away. Only 10% of gamma-ray sources are non-transient sources. These steady gamma-ray emitters include pulsars, neutron stars, and black hole candidates such as active galactic nuclei.[46]

In addition to electromagnetic radiation, a few other events originating from great distances may be observed from the Earth.

In neutrino astronomy, astronomers use heavily shielded underground facilities such as SAGE, GALLEX, and Kamioka II/III for the detection of neutrinos. The vast majority of the neutrinos streaming through the Earth originate from the Sun, but 24 neutrinos were also detected from supernova 1987A.[46] Cosmic rays, which consist of very high energy particles (atomic nuclei) that can decay or be absorbed when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere, result in a cascade of secondary particles which can be detected by current observatories.[54] Some future neutrino detectors may also be sensitive to the particles produced when cosmic rays hit the Earth’s atmosphere.[46]

Gravitational-wave astronomy is an emerging field of astronomy that employs gravitational-wave detectors to collect observational data about distant massive objects. A few observatories have been constructed, such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory LIGO. LIGO made its first detection on 14 September 2015, observing gravitational waves from a binary black hole.[55] A second gravitational wave was detected on 26 December 2015 and additional observations should continue but gravitational waves require extremely sensitive instruments.[56][57]

The combination of observations made using electromagnetic radiation, neutrinos or gravitational waves and other complementary information, is known as multi-messenger astronomy.[58][59]

One of the oldest fields in astronomy, and in all of science, is the measurement of the positions of celestial objects. Historically, accurate knowledge of the positions of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars has been essential in celestial navigation (the use of celestial objects to guide navigation) and in the making of calendars.

Careful measurement of the positions of the planets has led to a solid understanding of gravitational perturbations, and an ability to determine past and future positions of the planets with great accuracy, a field known as celestial mechanics. More recently the tracking of near-Earth objects will allow for predictions of close encounters or potential collisions of the Earth with those objects.[60]

The measurement of stellar parallax of nearby stars provides a fundamental baseline in the cosmic distance ladder that is used to measure the scale of the Universe. Parallax measurements of nearby stars provide an absolute baseline for the properties of more distant stars, as their properties can be compared. Measurements of the radial velocity and proper motion of stars allows astronomers to plot the movement of these systems through the Milky Way galaxy. Astrometric results are the basis used to calculate the distribution of speculated dark matter in the galaxy.[61]

During the 1990s, the measurement of the stellar wobble of nearby stars was used to detect large extrasolar planets orbiting those stars.[62]

Theoretical astronomers use several tools including analytical models and computational numerical simulations; each has its particular advantages. Analytical models of a process are generally better for giving broader insight into the heart of what is going on. Numerical models reveal the existence of phenomena and effects otherwise unobserved.[63][64]

Theorists in astronomy endeavor to create theoretical models and from the results predict observational consequences of those models. The observation of a phenomenon predicted by a model allows astronomers to select between several alternate or conflicting models as the one best able to describe the phenomena.

Theorists also try to generate or modify models to take into account new data. In the case of an inconsistency between the data and model’s results, the general tendency is to try to make minimal modifications to the model so that it produces results that fit the data. In some cases, a large amount of inconsistent data over time may lead to total abandonment of a model.

Phenomena modeled by theoretical astronomers include: stellar dynamics and evolution; galaxy formation; large-scale distribution of matter in the Universe; origin of cosmic rays; general relativity and physical cosmology, including string cosmology and astroparticle physics. Astrophysical relativity serves as a tool to gauge the properties of large scale structures for which gravitation plays a significant role in physical phenomena investigated and as the basis for black hole (astro)physics and the study of gravitational waves.

Some widely accepted and studied theories and models in astronomy, now included in the Lambda-CDM model are the Big Bang, Cosmic inflation, dark matter, and fundamental theories of physics.

A few examples of this process:

Dark matter and dark energy are the current leading topics in astronomy,[65] as their discovery and controversy originated during the study of the galaxies.

Astrophysics is the branch of astronomy that employs the principles of physics and chemistry “to ascertain the nature of the astronomical objects, rather than their positions or motions in space”.[66][67] Among the objects studied are the Sun, other stars, galaxies, extrasolar planets, the interstellar medium and the cosmic microwave background.[68][69] Their emissions are examined across all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, and the properties examined include luminosity, density, temperature, and chemical composition. Because astrophysics is a very broad subject, astrophysicists typically apply many disciplines of physics, including mechanics, electromagnetism, statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, relativity, nuclear and particle physics, and atomic and molecular physics.

In practice, modern astronomical research often involves a substantial amount of work in the realms of theoretical and observational physics. Some areas of study for astrophysicists include their attempts to determine the properties of dark matter, dark energy, and black holes; whether or not time travel is possible, wormholes can form, or the multiverse exists; and the origin and ultimate fate of the universe.[68] Topics also studied by theoretical astrophysicists include Solar System formation and evolution; stellar dynamics and evolution; galaxy formation and evolution; magnetohydrodynamics; large-scale structure of matter in the universe; origin of cosmic rays; general relativity and physical cosmology, including string cosmology and astroparticle physics.

At a distance of about eight light-minutes, the most frequently studied star is the Sun, a typical main-sequence dwarf star of stellar class G2 V, and about 4.6 billion years (Gyr) old. The Sun is not considered a variable star, but it does undergo periodic changes in activity known as the sunspot cycle. This is an 11-year oscillation in sunspot number. Sunspots are regions of lower-than- average temperatures that are associated with intense magnetic activity.[70]

The Sun has steadily increased in luminosity by 40% since it first became a main-sequence star. The Sun has also undergone periodic changes in luminosity that can have a significant impact on the Earth.[71] The Maunder minimum, for example, is believed to have caused the Little Ice Age phenomenon during the Middle Ages.[72]

The visible outer surface of the Sun is called the photosphere. Above this layer is a thin region known as the chromosphere. This is surrounded by a transition region of rapidly increasing temperatures, and finally by the super-heated corona.

At the center of the Sun is the core region, a volume of sufficient temperature and pressure for nuclear fusion to occur. Above the core is the radiation zone, where the plasma conveys the energy flux by means of radiation. Above that is the convection zone where the gas material transports energy primarily through physical displacement of the gas known as convection. It is believed that the movement of mass within the convection zone creates the magnetic activity that generates sunspots.[70]

A solar wind of plasma particles constantly streams outward from the Sun until, at the outermost limit of the Solar System, it reaches the heliopause. As the solar wind passes the Earth, it interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field (magnetosphere) and deflects the solar wind, but traps some creating the Van Allen radiation belts that envelop the Earth. The aurora are created when solar wind particles are guided by the magnetic flux lines into the Earth’s polar regions where the lines the descend into the atmosphere.[73]

Astrobiology is an interdisciplinary scientific field concerned with the origins, early evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. Astrobiology considers the question of whether extraterrestrial life exists, and how humans can detect it if it does.[74] The term exobiology is similar.[75]

Astrobiology makes use of molecular biology, biophysics, biochemistry, chemistry, astronomy, physical cosmology, exoplanetology and geology to investigate the possibility of life on other worlds and help recognize biospheres that might be different from that on Earth.[76] The origin and early evolution of life is an inseparable part of the discipline of astrobiology.[77] Astrobiology concerns itself with interpretation of existing scientific data, and although speculation is entertained to give context, astrobiology concerns itself primarily with hypotheses that fit firmly into existing scientific theories.

This interdisciplinary field encompasses research on the origin of planetary systems, origins of organic compounds in space, rock-water-carbon interactions, abiogenesis on Earth, planetary habitability, research on biosignatures for life detection, and studies on the potential for life to adapt to challenges on Earth and in outer space.[78][79][80]

Planetary science is the study of the assemblage of planets, moons, dwarf planets, comets, asteroids, and other bodies orbiting the Sun, as well as extrasolar planets. The Solar System has been relatively well-studied, initially through telescopes and then later by spacecraft. This has provided a good overall understanding of the formation and evolution of this planetary system, although many new discoveries are still being made.[81]

The Solar System is subdivided into the inner planets, the asteroid belt, and the outer planets. The inner terrestrial planets consist of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. The outer gas giant planets are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.[82] Beyond Neptune lies the Kuiper Belt, and finally the Oort Cloud, which may extend as far as a light-year.

The planets were formed 4.6 billion years ago in the protoplanetary disk that surrounded the early Sun. Through a process that included gravitational attraction, collision, and accretion, the disk formed clumps of matter that, with time, became protoplanets. The radiation pressure of the solar wind then expelled most of the unaccreted matter, and only those planets with sufficient mass retained their gaseous atmosphere. The planets continued to sweep up, or eject, the remaining matter during a period of intense bombardment, evidenced by the many impact craters on the Moon. During this period, some of the protoplanets may have collided and one such collision may have formed the Moon.[83]

Once a planet reaches sufficient mass, the materials of different densities segregate within, during planetary differentiation. This process can form a stony or metallic core, surrounded by a mantle and an outer crust. The core may include solid and liquid regions, and some planetary cores generate their own magnetic field, which can protect their atmospheres from solar wind stripping.[84]

A planet or moon’s interior heat is produced from the collisions that created the body, by the decay of radioactive materials (e.g. uranium, thorium, and 26Al), or tidal heating caused by interactions with other bodies. Some planets and moons accumulate enough heat to drive geologic processes such as volcanism and tectonics. Those that accumulate or retain an atmosphere can also undergo surface erosion from wind or water. Smaller bodies, without tidal heating, cool more quickly; and their geological activity ceases with the exception of impact cratering.[85]

The study of stars and stellar evolution is fundamental to our understanding of the Universe. The astrophysics of stars has been determined through observation and theoretical understanding; and from computer simulations of the interior.[86] Star formation occurs in dense regions of dust and gas, known as giant molecular clouds. When destabilized, cloud fragments can collapse under the influence of gravity, to form a protostar. A sufficiently dense, and hot, core region will trigger nuclear fusion, thus creating a main-sequence star.[87]

Almost all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were created inside the cores of stars.[86]

The characteristics of the resulting star depend primarily upon its starting mass. The more massive the star, the greater its luminosity, and the more rapidly it fuses its hydrogen fuel into helium in its core. Over time, this hydrogen fuel is completely converted into helium, and the star begins to evolve. The fusion of helium requires a higher core temperature. A star with a high enough core temperature will push its outer layers outward while increasing its core density. The resulting red giant formed by the expanding outer layers enjoys a brief life span, before the helium fuel in the core is in turn consumed. Very massive stars can also undergo a series of evolutionary phases, as they fuse increasingly heavier elements.[88]

The final fate of the star depends on its mass, with stars of mass greater than about eight times the Sun becoming core collapse supernovae;[89] while smaller stars blow off their outer layers and leave behind the inert core in the form of a white dwarf. The ejection of the outer layers forms a planetary nebula.[90] The remnant of a supernova is a dense neutron star, or, if the stellar mass was at least three times that of the Sun, a black hole.[91] Closely orbiting binary stars can follow more complex evolutionary paths, such as mass transfer onto a white dwarf companion that can potentially cause a supernova.[92] Planetary nebulae and supernovae distribute the “metals” produced in the star by fusion to the interstellar medium; without them, all new stars (and their planetary systems) would be formed from hydrogen and helium alone.[93]

Our solar system orbits within the Milky Way, a barred spiral galaxy that is a prominent member of the Local Group of galaxies. It is a rotating mass of gas, dust, stars and other objects, held together by mutual gravitational attraction. As the Earth is located within the dusty outer arms, there are large portions of the Milky Way that are obscured from view.

In the center of the Milky Way is the core, a bar-shaped bulge with what is believed to be a supermassive black hole at its center. This is surrounded by four primary arms that spiral from the core. This is a region of active star formation that contains many younger, population I stars. The disk is surrounded by a spheroid halo of older, population II stars, as well as relatively dense concentrations of stars known as globular clusters.[94]

Between the stars lies the interstellar medium, a region of sparse matter. In the densest regions, molecular clouds of molecular hydrogen and other elements create star-forming regions. These begin as a compact pre-stellar core or dark nebulae, which concentrate and collapse (in volumes determined by the Jeans length) to form compact protostars.[87]

As the more massive stars appear, they transform the cloud into an H II region (ionized atomic hydrogen) of glowing gas and plasma. The stellar wind and supernova explosions from these stars eventually cause the cloud to disperse, often leaving behind one or more young open clusters of stars. These clusters gradually disperse, and the stars join the population of the Milky Way.[95]

Kinematic studies of matter in the Milky Way and other galaxies have demonstrated that there is more mass than can be accounted for by visible matter. A dark matter halo appears to dominate the mass, although the nature of this dark matter remains undetermined.[96]

Astrochemistry is the study of the abundance and reactions of molecules in the Universe, and their interaction with radiation.[97] The discipline is an overlap of astronomy and chemistry. The word “astrochemistry” may be applied to both the Solar System and the interstellar medium. The study of the abundance of elements and isotope ratios in Solar System objects, such as meteorites, is also called cosmochemistry, while the study of interstellar atoms and molecules and their interaction with radiation is sometimes called molecular astrophysics. The formation, atomic and chemical composition, evolution and fate of molecular gas clouds is of special interest, because it is from these clouds that solar systems form.

Studies in this field contribute to the understanding of the formation of the solar system, Earth’s origin and geology, abiogenesis, and the origin of climate and oceans.

The study of objects outside our galaxy is a branch of astronomy concerned with the formation and evolution of Galaxies, their morphology (description) and classification, the observation of active galaxies, and at a larger scale, the groups and clusters of galaxies. Finally, the latter is important for the understanding of the large-scale structure of the cosmos.

Most galaxies are organized into distinct shapes that allow for classification schemes. They are commonly divided into spiral, elliptical and Irregular galaxies.[98]

As the name suggests, an elliptical galaxy has the cross-sectional shape of an ellipse. The stars move along random orbits with no preferred direction. These galaxies contain little or no interstellar dust, few star-forming regions, and generally older stars. Elliptical galaxies are more commonly found at the core of galactic clusters, and may have been formed through mergers of large galaxies.

A spiral galaxy is organized into a flat, rotating disk, usually with a prominent bulge or bar at the center, and trailing bright arms that spiral outward. The arms are dusty regions of star formation within which massive young stars produce a blue tint. Spiral galaxies are typically surrounded by a halo of older stars. Both the Milky Way and one of our nearest galaxy neighbors, the Andromeda Galaxy, are spiral galaxies.

Irregular galaxies are chaotic in appearance, and are neither spiral nor elliptical. About a quarter of all galaxies are irregular, and the peculiar shapes of such galaxies may be the result of gravitational interaction.

An active galaxy is a formation that emits a significant amount of its energy from a source other than its stars, dust and gas. It is powered by a compact region at the core, thought to be a super-massive black hole that is emitting radiation from in-falling material.

A radio galaxy is an active galaxy that is very luminous in the radio portion of the spectrum, and is emitting immense plumes or lobes of gas. Active galaxies that emit shorter frequency, high-energy radiation include Seyfert galaxies, Quasars, and Blazars. Quasars are believed to be the most consistently luminous objects in the known universe.[99]

The large-scale structure of the cosmos is represented by groups and clusters of galaxies. This structure is organized into a hierarchy of groupings, with the largest being the superclusters. The collective matter is formed into filaments and walls, leaving large voids between.[100]

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Astronomy – Wikipedia

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe isfeatured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2019 January 3

Explanation: On January 1New Horizons encounteredthe Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule.Some 6.5 billion kilometers from the Sun, UltimaThule is the most distant world ever explored by a spacecraftfrom Earth.This historic image,the highest resolution image released so far,was made at a range of about 28,000 kilometers only30 minutes before the New Horizons closest approach.Likely the result of agentlecollision shortly after the birth of the Solar System,Ultima Thule is revealed to be a contactbinary, two connected sphere-like shapesheld in contact by mutual gravity.Dubbed separately by the science team Ultima and Thule, the largerlobe Ultima is about 19 kilometers in diameter.Smaller Thule is 14 kilometers across.

Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff(MTU) &Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)NASA Official: Phillip NewmanSpecific rights apply.NASA WebPrivacy Policy and Important NoticesA service of:ASD atNASA /GSFC& Michigan Tech. U.

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Astronomy Picture of the Day

Scientists to Test New Cancer Treatment on Human Patients in 2019

A new cancer treatment that uses the body's own immune system to fight cancer is scheduled to start human trials in 2019.

Cancer Treatment

A new cancer treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer is scheduled to start human trials in 2019.

The U.K.’s Telegraph reports that the new treatment, devised by researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London, uses implanted immune system cells from strangers to fight tumors, instead of old-school cancer treatments like chemotherapy — a new tack in oncology that the researchers say could boost cancer ten-year cancer survival rates from 50 percent to 75 percent.

Immune System

The scientists behind the project explained it as a “do-it-yourself” approach to cancer treatment in interviews with the Telegraph. Instead of relying on chemicals or radiation outside the body to fight tumors, the transplants aim to help the bodies of cancer patients fight the tumors on their own.

“It’s a very exciting time,” said Charlie Swanton, one of the Francis Crick researchers involved in the work, in an interview with the paper. “Using the body’s own immune cells to target the tumor is elegant because tumours evolve so quickly there is no way a pharmaceutical company can keep up with it, but the immune system has been evolving for over four billion years to do just that.”

“Rapidly Treated Diseases”

Swanton told the Telegraph that he believes the trials could lead to a whole new tool set that doctors will be able to use to fight cancer.

“I would go so far as to say that we might reach a point, maybe 20 years from now, where the vast majorities of cancers are rapidly treated diseases or long-term chronic issues that you can manage,” he said. “And I think the immune system will be essential in doing that.”

READ MORE: Cancer breakthrough: Scientists say immune system transplants mean ‘future is incredibly bright’ [The Telegraph]

More on cancer research: Researchers May Have Discovered a New Way to Kill off Cancer Cells

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Scientists to Test New Cancer Treatment on Human Patients in 2019

Holograms Are Resurrecting Dead Musicians, Raising Legal Questions

Dead Musicians

Michael Jackson. Amy Winehouse. Tupac. Roy Orbison.

Those are just a few of the dead musicians who have been resurrected on stage in recent years as holograms — and a new feature by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation explores not just the critical reception and technological frontiers of the new industry, but the legal minefield it raises to dust off the visage of a famous person and bring them out on the road.

Back to Life

According to University of Sydney digital human researcher Mike Seymour, today’s musical holograms have only started to tap the medium’s potential. In the future, he predicted to the ABC, machine learning will let these long-dead holograms interact with the crowd and improvise.

Additionally, according to the report, the law is still grappling with how to handle life-after-death performances. In the U.S., a legal concept called a “right to publicity” gives a person, or their estate, the right to profit from their likeness. But whether right to publicity applies after death, and for how long, differs between states.

Atrocity

Of course, no legal or technical measures will win over fans of an act who find it disrespectful to raise a performer from death and trot them out on tour.

“If you are appalled by [the idea], because you think it’s an atrocity to the original act, you are going to hate it,” Seymour told the broadcaster. “And if you are a fan that just loves seeing that song being performed again, you are going to think it’s the best thing ever.”

READ MORE: Dead musicians are touring again, as holograms. It’s tricky — technologically and legally [Australian Broadcasting Corporation]

More on hologram performances: Wildly Famous Japanese Pop Star Sells Thousands of Tickets in NYC. Also, She’s A Hologram

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Holograms Are Resurrecting Dead Musicians, Raising Legal Questions

New Theory: The Universe is a Bubble, Inflated by Dark Energy

A mind-bending new theory claims to make sense not just of the expanding universe and extra dimensions, but string theory and dark energy as well.

Dark Energy

A mind-bending new theory claims to make sense not just of the expanding universe and extra dimensions, but string theory and dark energy as well.

According to the new model, proposed in the journal Physical Review Letters by researchers from Uppsala University, the entire universe is riding on an expanding bubble in an “additional dimension” — which is being inflated by dark energy and which is home to strings that extend outwards from it and correspond to all the matter that it contains.

Breaking It Down

The paper is extraordinarily dense and theoretical. But the surprising new theory it lays out, its authors say, could provide new insights about the creation and ultimate destiny of the cosmos.

In the long view, though, physicists have suggested many outrageous models for the universe over the years — many of which we’ve covered here at Futurism. The reality: until a theory not only conforms to existing evidence but helps explain new findings, the road to a consensus will be long.

READ MORE: Our universe: An expanding bubble in an extra dimension [Uppsala University]

More on dark energy: An Oxford Scientist May Have Solved the Mystery of Dark Matter

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New Theory: The Universe is a Bubble, Inflated by Dark Energy

Poll: Two Thirds of Americans Support Human Gene Editing to Cure Disease

The majority of U.S. adults would support gene editing embryos to protect babies against disease, according to a new poll.

Human Gene Editing

The majority of U.S. adults support human gene editing to protect babies against disease, according to a new poll.

But they wouldn’t support gene edits that make babies smarter or taller, according to the new research by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which polled about a thousand U.S. adults this month to learn about public attitudes toward genetic engineering.

Deep Divides

The AP research found that 71 percent of respondents support gene editing to protect a baby from an inherited condition, and 67 percent support reducing the risk of diseases like cancer.

But just 12 percent would be okay with tampering with intelligence or athletic ability, and only 10 percent would consider altering physical characteristics like eye color or height.

CRISPR Drawer

Questions about using technologies like CRISPR to gene edit human embryos gained immediacy last month, when Chinese scientists claimed to have edited the genes of two babies in order to protect them against HIV — a move that prompted an international outcry, but also questions about when the technology will be ready for human testing.

“People appear to realize there’s a major question of how we should oversee and monitor use of this technology if and when it becomes available,” Columbia University bioethicist Robert Klitzman told the AP of the new research. “What is safe enough? And who will determine that? The government? Or clinicians who say, ‘Look, we did it in Country X a few times and it seems to be effective.

READ MORE: Poll: Edit baby genes for health, not smarts [Associated Press]

More on human gene editing: Chinese Scientists Claim to Have Gene-Edited Human Babies For the First Time

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Poll: Two Thirds of Americans Support Human Gene Editing to Cure Disease

Experts: Stop Adding Cancer-Causing Chemicals to our Meats

Burgers full of beef and bacon are facing a new threat from cancer causing chemicals.

Bringing Home The Bacon

Experts in the UK are smoking mad over a lack of regulation surrounding food additives which may be leading to increased rates of cancer in people who eat processed meats.

Meat has had a mighty difficult go of things since a concerning 2015 World Health Organization report which reclassified processed meats as Group 1, carcinogenic to humans. The news that your crispy bacon might be causing cancer was met with mixed reactions. But scientists in the UK are now suggesting there may be a way to have your bacon and eat it too.

Nasty Nitrites

Part of the problem may center around the meat industry’s use of nitrites as preservatives. Nitrites are used as both a preservative and color fixture, ensuring meat has a pinkish hue, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A coalition led by Queen’s University professor Chris Elliott claims there is a “consensus of scientific opinion” that adding nitrites to cure meats can cause an increased risk of cancer in humans and leading to 6,600 cases of bowl cancer in the UK. Coalition members, like cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra, are calling upon the UK government to stop the use of nitrites are preservatives.

“Government action to remove nitrites from processed meats should not be far away. Nor can a day of reckoning for those who dispute the incontrovertible facts. The meat industry must act fast, act now – or be condemned to a similar reputational blow to that dealt to tobacco,” Malhotra said to The Guardian.

Home Of The Whopper

In the United States, nitrites are considered to be a safe food additive by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established guidelines on the recommended limit for nitrite and sodium nitrite additives.

“To meat or not to meat” may be a question one has to decide for one’s own self. Thankfully, we may be about to get many more plant-based meat alternatives that seem almost like the real thing, even as debates rage whether plant-based alternatives should be allowed to be called meat.

READ MORE: Stop adding cancer-causing chemicals to our bacon, experts tell meat industry [TheGuardian]

More on Meat: Think Big Oil’s a Problem? “Big Meat” Emits More Greenhouse Gas Than Most Countries

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Experts: Stop Adding Cancer-Causing Chemicals to our Meats

Google Wins Lawsuit Over Facial Recognition Technology

Google won a key Illinois lawsuit that has long been a barrier to big tech companies' use of facial recognition software.

Apple Of My Eye

After weeks of notoriety and backlash, Google has scored a legal victory allowing it to keep a close watch on users of Google products.

On Saturday, a U.S. District Judge in Chicago dismissed a lawsuit filled against the internet giant which alleged that Google violated users’ right to privacy by using facial recognition technology without their consent. The lawsuit, originally filed in 2016, was the result of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, one of the strictest biometric security laws in the nation. It requires tech companies to obtain explicit permission from Illinois citizens in order to make any biometric scans of their bodies.

Facebook and Snapchat are facing similar challenges from the law, but Google’s victory could signal a new era in the use and development of facial recognition technology.

“Concrete Injuries”

In his dismissal of the case, U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang cited the lack of “concrete injuries.” In the legal realm this means either physical damage or damage to one’s reputation which actually exists. In short, Chang’s conclusion was that despite not asking permission, Google’s use of the plaintiff’s photos didn’t result in any physical harm or damage to their reputation and was therefore legal. The cases against Facebook and Snapchat are still pending, but Google’s win could provide lawyers with some ammunition in defending the other two tech giants.

Big Brother

Facial recognition technology may take center stage in increasingly common debates about the intersection of advanced technology and rights to personal privacy.  Still, development continues despite the technology’s imperfections and warnings from other tech executives calling for stricter legal guidelines.

Facial recognition technology is becoming increasingly common in everyday life, cropping up at airports and even Taylor Swift concerts. Yet, as we continue to decide who has what right to our data and why, big technology companies are moving quickly to decide our future for themselves.

READ MORE: Google wins dismissal of facial recognition lawsuit over biometric privacy act [TheVerge]

More on facial recognition: Microsoft President Warns Of “1984” Facial Recognition Future

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Google Wins Lawsuit Over Facial Recognition Technology

Elon Musk Thinks the First Mars Settler Could Be an AI

On Friday, Elon Musk speculated that a sophisticated artificial intelligence might touch down on the Red Planet before the first human Mars settler.

The MartAIn

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wants to establish a base on Mars — but he isn’t sure its first resident will be human.

On Friday, the mercurial billionaire responded to a question on Twitter about whether a sophisticated artificial intelligence might touch down on the Red Planet before human colonists. Musk’s answer: 30 percent.

30%

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 27, 2018

AI Overlords

Musk has a fraught relationship with the topic of AI. He’s publicly warned about the danger’s of unregulated AI, even going so far as to found the organization Open AI to encourage the development of responsible machine learning systems.

It’s such a signature issue for Musk that other tech personalities have weighed in on his claims — including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who said the notion of killer AI was “pretty irresponsible,” and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who quipped at an event earlier this month that Musk was “writing a great screenplay for a Black Mirror episode.”

Case For Optimism

But Musk also believes that AI could be made to help humankind — or that the two could even merge, ushering in a new era of evolution.

Or, as the Friday tweet shows, it seems that Musk could get on board with AI as long as it could help further his visions for the colonization of space.

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Elon Musk Thinks the First Mars Settler Could Be an AI

Leaked Documents Show How Facebook Controls Speech Across the Globe

Leaked documents showing how Facebook controls speech online raise deep questions about the future of the company's role in international discourse.

Unfriended

Documents obtained by the New York Times show how the social giant’s international content moderation strategy is dictated by thousands of pages of PowerPoint presentations and spreadsheets that “sometimes clumsily” tell thousands of moderators what to allow and what to delete. The revelation raises deep questions about the future of Facebook’s role in international discourse — especially in the wake of damaging revelations about how the platform allowed propaganda during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

“Facebook’s role has become so hegemonic, so monopolistic, that it has become a force unto itself,” political scientist Jasmin Mujanovic told the Times. “No one entity, especially not a for-profit venture like Facebook, should have that kind of power to influence public debate and policy.”

It’s Complicated

Facebook moderators who spoke to the Times under condition of anonymity said they felt hamstrung by the extraordinarily complex rule set, which forces them to make rapid decisions, sometimes using Google Translate, about fraught topics including terrorism and sectarian violence.

“You feel like you killed someone by not acting,” said a moderator who spoke to the paper on condition of anonymity.

The result, according to the Times, is that Facebook has become a “far more powerful arbiter of global speech than has been publicly recognized or acknowledged by the company itself.”

“A Lot of Mistakes”

Facebook executives pushed back against the implication that its content moderation efforts were murky or disorganized, arguing that the platform has a responsibility to moderate the content its users post and defending its efforts to do so.

“We have billions of posts every day, we’re identifying more and more potential violations using our technical systems,” Facebook’s head of global policy management Monika Bickert told the Times. “At that scale, even if you’re 99 percent accurate, you’re going to have a lot of mistakes.”

READ MORE: Inside Facebook’s Secret Rulebook for Global Political Speech [The New York Times]

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Gov Shutdown Means 95 Percent of NASA Employees Aren’t At Work

The ongoing government shutdown means that 95 percent of NASA's workforce is home on furlough during New Horizons' historic flyby.

Get Furlough

When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft soars by the space rock Ultima Thule on New Years Eve, it will be the most distant object humankind has ever explored.

Though you’ll be able to stream the historic flyby on the YouTube channel of Johns Hopkins Univerisity’s Applied Physics Laboratory, the event — which is arguably the most awe-inspiring item of space news all year — won’t be available on NASA TV, which typically offers extensive commentary and access to subject matter experts regarding the space agency’s projects. The reason: the ongoing government shutdown means that 95 percent of NASA’s workforce is home on furlough.

“Act of Ineptitude”

NASA employees are disgusted by the legislative dysfunction that’s keeping all but the most mission-critical workers home during the historic flyby, according to the Houston Chronicle — and their ire is reportedly focused on politicians who have allowed the science agency’s work to grind to a halt.

“We have not heard from a single member who supports the president’s inaction,” said the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, a union that represents federal workers, in a statement quoted by the paper. “Most view this as an act of ineptitude.”

Heat Death

The Chronicle also pointed to a post by Casey Dreier, a senior space policy adviser to the nonprofit scientific advocacy organization The Planetary Society, that chastised leaders for failing the nation’s scientific workers — and worried that the political brinkmanship of a shutdown could lead talented workers away from government work entirely, altering the dynamics of space exploration.

“I fear that we will see more and more NASA employees ask themselves why they put up with such needless disruptions and leave for jobs the private sector,” Dreier wrote. “We know that NASA can get back to work, but how long will the best and the brightest want to work at an agency that continues to get callously tossed into political churn?”

READ MORE: NASA, other federal workers not as supportive of government shutdown as Trump claims, union rep says [Houston Chronicle]

More on government shutdowns and space travel: Government Shutdown Hampers SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Testing

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Gov Shutdown Means 95 Percent of NASA Employees Aren’t At Work

NASA Clears “Dream Chaser” Space Cargo Plane For Full-Scale Production

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser cargo spacecraft has been cleared by NASA for full-scale production

Space Plane

Watch out space, there’s a new commercial cargo carrier entering the race.

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has been given the go ahead from NASA to begin full-scale production of it’s “Dream Chaser” commercial space cargo plane. Scheduled to make its first mission in 2020, the company announced on December 18 that it had cleared the last milestone in its Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract. Now the company is able to move ahead with the full-scale production of the carrier which will be used to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).

T-minus 2 Years

The Dream Chaser was originally conceptualized for NASA’s commercial crew program but ultimately sidelined by NASA in favor of designs from Boeing and SpaceX. A redesigned version of the original Dream Chaser, the cargo version includes fold-able wings and is capable of carrying 5,500 kilograms (approximately 12125 lbs) of cargo to the International Space Station and return 1,850 kilograms (approximately 4078 lbs) to Earth in a runway landing.

SNC was one of three companies, alongside SpaceX and Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems), to receive a commercial cargo contract from NASA in 2016. The contract guarantees each corporation at least six missions to the ISS.

Various components of the full-scale Dream Chaser have already been produced and tested. At a conference last October, Steve Lindsey, Steve Lindsey, Vice President for Space Exploration Systems at SNC said he expected to be “the majority of the way through” assembly and testing of the first Dream Chaser by next October.

Commercial Space Race

High launch costs are one of the most limiting factors in commercial space operations. Increased competition between corporations is helping to reduce the cost of launches opening new doors for smaller companies.

“When those launch vehicle prices come down — which, by the way, is about 80 percent of our costs on every mission we fly — that opens up the commercial market,” said Lindsey. As both competition and innovation increase, companies will face new pressure to stake their claim among the stars.

READ MORE: Private Dream Chaser Space Plane Cleared to Begin Full-Scale Production [Space]

More on Dream Chaser: United Nations Set To Launch Its First Ever Space Mission for 2021 

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Rerouting Nerves During Amputation May Reduce Phantom Limb Pain

Nerve cells could be rerouted to help prevent phantom limb pain

Begone Ghost

If you’ve never had to feel pain in a limb you no longer have, consider yourself lucky.

“Phantom limb pain” is a sensation of pain and muscle tension in a limb which isn’t actually attached to the body anymore. Roughly 60% to 80% of amputees feel some sort of phantom limb pain after their procedure. The effects, beyond being painful, can be outright debilitating for some people.

Now, doctors from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have discovered that a procedure originally meant to help with advanced prosthetic devices may also reduce or prevent phantom limb pain entirely.

Un-Nerving

Primary targeted muscle reinnervation or TMR, the process of rerouting nerves cut by amputation into surrounding muscle, was originally developed to help patients have better control of upper-limb prosthetics. Normally the procedure is performed month or even years after an initial amputation. By performing TMR at the time of amputation, however, doctors can tie up loose ends (so to speak) helping to prevent pain.

Over the course of three years, surgeons performed 22 TMR surgeries on below-the-knee amputees. None of the patients have developed neuromas, or pinched nerves, and six months later only 13 percent of patients reported having pain.

Attaching severed nerves “allows the body to re-establish its neural circuitry. This alleviates phantom and residual limb pain by giving those severed nerves somewhere to go and something to do,” said Dr. Ian Valerio, division chief of Burn, Wound and Trauma in Ohio State’s Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Sweet Relief

By making TMR surgery a normal part of amputation procedures, doctors may be able to prevent a lifetime of pain for patients and later enable them to have more precise control over prosthetic limbs. In the United States alone there are approximately 185,000 amputations annually, according the Amputee Coalition. Developments, like those made by Valerio and team, will go a long way toward helping new amputees and those who use advanced prosthetic devices.

READ MORE: Rerouting nerves during amputation reduces phantom limb pain before it starts [EurekAlert]

More on Advanced Prosthetics: Electronic Skin Lets Amputees Feel Pain Through Their Prosthetics

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Demand for Combustion Engine Cars May Have Peaked in 2018

combustion engine

No Sale

The reign of the fossil fuel-powered car may be ending.

In a report published on Sunday, several experts told the Financial Times that they believe sales of fossil fuel-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles peaked in 2018, meaning that it’s unlikely that more ICE cars will be sold in any future year— and if they’re correct, this epochal change in the auto industry could majorly benefit the environment.

Going Down

Many experts predicted at the beginning of 2018 that demand for ICE vehicles wouldn’t peak until 2022 at the earliest, according to the FT report. But a combination of several factors — including Brexit, the U.S.-China trade war, and new emissions targets in Europe — has dealt a major blow to global car sales this year.

“When you look at 2018 since the summer, new car sales in all of the important markets are going down,” Axel Schmidt, global automotive lead at Accenture, told FT. “Selling combustion engine cars to customers — this will not grow in the future.”

Even if overall car sales increase in 2019, ICE sales would likely fall thanks to the continued adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).

Road to Recovery

This might not be what ICEcar manufacturers want to hear, but it’s excellent news for the environment.

According to energy research group Wood Mackenzie, a mid-sized EV produces 67 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a comparable gasoline-powered ICE vehicle. That figure doesn’t just take into account the emissions produced while the car is in use, either — it includes emissions caused by everything from electricity generation to crude oil refinement.

In 2016, transportation was the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., so if EVs continue to replace ICE cars in this nation and others, the world could significantly cut down on the climate-destroying emissions emanating from its roadways.

READ MORE: Combustion Engine Car Sales to Hit Peak Demand in 2018, Say Analysts [Financial Times]

More on ICE cars: These 7 Countries Want to Say Goodbye to Fossil Fuel-Based Cars

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Demand for Combustion Engine Cars May Have Peaked in 2018

Scientist Who Gene Edited Babies Is Being Held By Mysterious Guards

Ball and chain.

Spotted

After Chinese scientist He Jiankui shocked the scientific community by announcing last month that he had edited the genes of human babies, he mysteriously vanished.

And now he’s been found. The New York Times reports that guards are holding He in a guesthouse at his university, the Southern University of Science and Technology. It’s unclear whether the guards work for the Chinese government, the university, or another organization — but their presence is the latest sign that He’s transgressive research upset the delicate balance of the genetics research community and regulatory systems, prompting retaliation from powerful interests.

Plainclothes Guards

The Chinese government condemned He’s work after he announced it, launching an investigation and banning him from continuing his research. What was unclear, however, was whether He’s disappearance was a result of him laying low or being held somewhere.

Now the Times has found that He is staying at a university guesthouse normally used to house visiting scholars, where a dozen plainclothes guards refused to identify themselves to a Times reporter. He is able to communicate over email and phone calls, according to the Times, and has corresponded with business colleagues.

“He was extremely irresponsible to the employees, partners and investors,” said Liu Chaoyu, with whom He co-founded the gene-testing company Vienomics, in an interview with the Times. Liu last saw He the day before the conference at which he disclosed the existence of the gene-edited babies. “He did not discuss anything with us before he made his announcement and we had to deal with all of it unexpectedly.”

Shock and Awe

The university and Shenzhen police both declined to comment to the Times. In fact, all employees of the university have been barred from speaking to the press, according to a message obtained by the paper.

What’s clear is that He’s unprecedented work sent shockwaves not just through the research ecosystem but through the powerful machinery of international government — and as the saga of his treatment in the wake of the announcement unfolds, it could be a roadmap to the challenges other researchers would face if they follow in his footsteps.

READ MORE: Chinese Scientist Who Claimed to Make Genetically Edited Babies Is Kept Under Guard [The New York Times]

More on He Jiankui: Chinese Scientists Claim to Have Gene-Edited Human Babies For the First Time

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Washington May Become the First State to Legalize Human Composting

Washington State may be set to become the first state to allow human composting

Death Reimagined

Grandma is in the garden. No, literally.

There’s something beautiful in deciding how one’s final moments should be confined to the memory of our loved ones. Advances in technology and changing mindsets seem to have people wondering why a coffin in the ground should have to be the only option of final resting place. Residents in Washington state have a brand new vision of returning to the Earth. Now a bill being sponsored in the state’s legislature could see Washington become the first state to legalize human composting.

A Tree of Me

The bill, backed by state Senator Jamie Pedersen, would allow for the “recomposition” of human remains, a process which speeds up decomposition and turns remains into a nutrient-packed soil which could be returned to families.

“People from all over the state who wrote to me are very excited about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative for themselves,” Pedersen told NBCnews.

Although “becoming a tree” and other futuristic burial ideas aren’t entirely new concepts, Washington would become the first state to allow human composting if the bill is passed. The idea isn’t just futuristic, it’s also economical. More and more Americans are turning to crowdfunding to support funeral costs, with the average funeral costing more than $7,000 in 2017, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. The recomposition process in comparison is somewhat cheaper with costs expected to fall around $5,500.

Safety First

The process is very similar to traditional composting. Unembalmed human remains are placed in a composting chamber and left to decompose with organic material like woodchips or straw. Air is occasionally pulled into the chamber to help microbes speed up decomposition and in about one month all that remains is a cubic yard of compost.

A five-month study, in which six donor bodies were decomposed, was led by researcher Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, Associate Professor of Sustainable and Organic Agriculture at Washington State. The study was carefully controlled to prevent spreading any harmful pathogens, a concern which led to the defeat of a similar bill sponsored by Pederson in 2017.

Carpenter-Boggs’ study concluded in August that the remains produced were safe and she plans to submit her research for publication in 2019. If the bill passes, it would take effect May 1, 2020. Until then, we can keep dreaming of “becoming trees” but Pederson’s bill could open doors to new burial alternatives and ways we can choose to have our memory honored.

READ MORE: Washington could become the first state to legalize human composting [NBCNews]

More on Burial Alternatives: 7 Futuristic Things To Do With Your Body When You Die

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Washington May Become the First State to Legalize Human Composting

Tiny Robots That Repair Pipes Could Eliminate Road Work

The U.K. is investing millions of dollars into the development of micro-robots capable of navigating and repairing underground pipes.

Micro-Robots

The road workers of the future could be smaller. And a lot less human.

On Monday, the United Kingdom’s Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy announced an $8.9 million investment into a project to develop micro-robots capable of inspecting and repairing the nation’s network of underground pipes.

If successful, the project could save the country billions of dollars annually — and change how road work gets done across the globe.

Pipe Dream

According to a government press release, a team of researchers from four U.K. universities will work together to develop the micro-robots, which will each be approximately just one-centimeter long. The goal is for these bots to fly, swim, or crawl through the pipes that transport water, gas, and sewage beneath U.K. streets.

One of the researchers working on the project, the University of Sheffield’s Kirill Horoshenkov, told The Daily Telegraph that the team plans to develop two versions of the robots.

One will be an “inspection bot” that can autonomously navigate and examine the pipes using sonar technology. The other will be a “worker bot” capable of repairing pipes using cement and adhesives or cleaning them with a high-powered jet. That robot will be slightly larger and steered via remote control.

According to Horoshenkov, the bots could be ready for use within five years.

Down the Road

Each year, 1.5 million road excavations take place in the U.K., and the traffic closures and business disruptions caused by this roadwork cost the nation an estimated $6.3 billion.

That means if this $8.9 million investment in the development of micro-robots pans out the way the U.K. is hoping, it’ll soon pay for itself many times over. There’s also the possibility of other nations adopting the same or similar tech after witnessing the U.K.’s success.

As U.K. Science Minister Chris Skidmore noted in the press release, “While for now we can only dream of a world without roadworks disrupting our lives, these pipe-repairing robots herald the start of technology that could make that dream a reality in the future.”

READ MORE: UK Invests in Micro-Robots Which Could Make Roadworks a Thing of the Past [The Telegraph]

More on micro-robots: Rolls-Royce Is Building Cockroach-Like Robots to Fix Plane Engines

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Tiny Robots That Repair Pipes Could Eliminate Road Work

Edible Coating Can Keep Food Fresh Longer and Cut Down on Waste

A new FDA-approved food coating can double a vegetable's shelf life. It may help reduce the $2 trillion cost and carbon emissions of food waste.

Greenhouse Gas

People waste a lot of food. In America alone, the National Resources Defense Council estimates that as much as 40 percent of the food people buy ends up in the trash, not to mention the perfectly-good food that never leaves the grocery store or even the farm.

The United Nations estimates that the world wastes 30 percent of all produced food, the total cost of which adds up to about $2.6 trillion. But the problem is bigger than an embarrassing misstep in your weekly budget — the methane emissions of all that rotting food are worse for the climate than if we had simply thrown that cash into the incinerator.

Slap a Fresh Coat on it

Since people struggle to avoid wasting all that food and the market for unsightly-but-good vegetables still isn’t there, a Californian startup called Apeel Sciences developed a thin, transparent, edible coating that can keep food fresh much longer than normal, according to CNBC.

The coating, Epideel, preserves food by preventing the two main causes of spoilage. Acting as a physical barrier, Epideel blocks the water in the food from evaporating away and also blocks atmospheric oxygen from reacting with the food. Reportedly, the coating can double the shelf life of notoriously finicky foods like avocados.

Big Strides

Epideel, which is made up of fats and other compounds taken from fruits and vegetables, was designed in accordance with “Generally Recognized as Safe” U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations that allowed Apeel Sciences to circumvent the FDA’s normal approval process. Epideel-coated avocados are already on the shelves of grocery chains Kroger, Costco, and Harps Food.

Part of that success likely comes from the involvement of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated a sizable portion of the $110 million that Apeel Sciences has raised since its start back in 2012. The company has already found its way to CNBC‘s 2018 list of the top 50 disruptors, which highlights how CEO James Rogers hopes Epideel-coated foods can help feed the world’s hungry.

READ MORE: This Bill Gates-backed start-up is fighting world hunger by making your avocados last longer [CNBC]

More on food waste: Reducing Food Waste in Creative Ways Could Help the World’s Hunger Problem

The post Edible Coating Can Keep Food Fresh Longer and Cut Down on Waste appeared first on Futurism.

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Edible Coating Can Keep Food Fresh Longer and Cut Down on Waste

Bill Gates: U.S. Leaders Must Embrace Nuclear Energy

Gates nuclear energy

Power Play

Think your New Year’s resolution to hit the gym is daunting? Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates wants to change an entire nation’s energy policy in 2019.

On Saturday, the billionaire philanthropist released a letter detailing what he learned in 2018 and what he hopes to accomplish in 2019. One of his goals for the next year is to persuade U.S. leaders to “get into the game” of advanced nuclear energy — and the future of our environment could be riding on his success.

Nuclear Option

Nuclear energy is produced by splitting the nucleus of an atom (fission) or combining the nuclei of two atoms (fusion). Nuclear fission reactors already meet 20 percent of the U.S.’s electricity needs. But while fission doesn’t produce greenhouse gas emissions, the technology is currently less than ideal — the U.S. built most of its reactors more than 30 years ago, and they require plutonium, which isn’t exactly easily accessible. The process also produces unwanted byproducts, some of which are radioactive.

Researchers have yet to figure out a way to produce stable nuclear fusion, but they’re getting closer. If — or, hopefully, when — they do succeed, we’ll have a near-limitless source of clean energy that we can create from hydrogen, which is far more accessible than plutonium, and the only byproduct would be a small amount of helium.

Worthy Investment

According to Gates, “Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day.”

But the U.S. has been slacking off in terms of nuclear energy research in recent decades. To regain its position as a global nuclear energy leader it needs to “commit new funding, update regulations, and show investors that it’s serious,” wrote Gates.

He believes this renewed commitment will allow the nation to overcome the limitations of existing nuclear technology in a way that could significantly benefit the environment.

“The United States is uniquely suited to create these advances with its world-class scientists, entrepreneurs, and investment capital,” Gates wrote, later adding that the “world needs to be working on lots of solutions to stop climate change. Advanced nuclear is one, and I hope to persuade U.S. leaders to get into the game.”

READ MORE: As China Option Fades, Bill Gates Urges U.S. To Take the Lead in Nuclear Power, for the Good of the Planet [GeekWire]

More on nuclear energy: Nuclear Power Used to Seem Like the Future. Now Its Fate in the US Is in Question.

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