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AI Can Tell If You’re Depressed by Listening to You Talk

Diagnosing Depression

Depression can manifest with many different symptoms, from a “loss of energy” to “indecisiveness” — broad criteria that make the condition difficult to diagnose with a high degree of certainty.

Now, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory are working on an algorithm that could eliminate some of that guesswork. They used text and audio data from 142 interviews with patients — 30 of whom had been diagnosed with depression — to teach a machine learning algorithm to listen for signs of depression in speech.

Tone of Voice

What makes this effort stand out is that the researchers examined the patients’ tone of voice, not just the specific words they used. That technique made the model surprisingly accurate: It was able to identify subjects who had been diagnosed with depression with a 77 percent success rate.

But before we go on and implement AI as a tool to diagnose mental disorders in the real world, we’ll have to take these results with a substantial grain of salt.

AI Therapy

While chatbots like Woebot have recently surfaced help people to deal with depression, they won’t be able to replace a human therapist, at least for the time being.

There are far too many variables, and while 77 percent sounds promising, a false positive could raise serious ethical concerns. For instance, AI diagnostic tools could fall into the wrong hands — like your employer or insurance company.

But the researchers are realistic about their machine learning model’s ability to detect depression. Rather than replacing human therapists, they see it as another tool in [a clinician’s] toolbox,” MIT researcher James Glass, who worked on the model, told Smithsonian.

READ MORECan Artificial Intelligence Detect Depression in a Person’s Voice? [Smithsonian]

More on treating depression: New App for Depression Uses Artificial Intelligence for Therapy Treatments

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AI Can Tell If You’re Depressed by Listening to You Talk

China Can Now Identify a Citizen Based on Their Walk

Big Brother

China’s latest weapon in its war against citizen privacy: gait recognition software.

According to a new story by the Associated Press, police in Beijing and Shanghai are using a gait recognition system developed by artificial intelligence company Watrix to identify Chinese citizens — even when their faces aren’t visible.

Walk This Way

Watrix claims its system can identify a person from up to 165 feet away even if their back is to a camera or their face turned away. It doesn’t require any special cameras, either — it can analyze existing surveillance footage to ID an individual with 94 percent accuracy.

“You don’t need people’s cooperation for us to be able to recognize their identity,” Watrix CEO Huang Yongzhen told the AP. “Gait analysis can’t be fooled by simply limping, walking with splayed feet, or hunching over, because we’re analyzing all the features of an entire body.”

However, the software doesn’t yet work in real time. It needs roughly 10 minutes to analyze about an hour’s worth of video, during which time it extracts a person’s silhouette and then creates a model of their individual gait.

Eyes Everywhere

It’s easy to see how this technology could be useful on a smaller scale. A company could produce a database of all its employees’ gaits and then use that database to ensure unauthorized individuals aren’t in restricted areas.

It’s harder to imagine how China could make use of the technology on a nationwide scale, though.

Facial recognition tech is easy to implement because the faces of most citizens are already in government databases. Would the nation need to produce a similar database of citizen gaits? Or would the tech work retroactively — arrest someone for a crime, have them walk for you, and then compare their gait to that of the criminal caught on camera?

Whatever the case may be, police in Beijing and Shanghai are making use of this tech somehow, which means it might just be a matter of time before anyone on the move in China will find themselves under the watchful eye of the nation’s government.

READ MORE: Chinese ‘Gait Recognition’ Tech IDs People by How They Walk [Associated Press]

More on Chinese surveillance: If You Jaywalk in China, Facial Recognition Means You’ll Walk Away With a Fine

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China Can Now Identify a Citizen Based on Their Walk

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 include supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, 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, physical cosmology, is concerned with 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, either the term “astronomy” or “astrophysics” may be used to refer to this 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] and “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] Few 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 times, astronomy only comprised 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, as well as 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 be explored. Most of early astronomy actually 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 heliocentric model of the solar system.[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. However, 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.[22][23][24] 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.[25] The SN 1006 supernova, the brightest apparent magnitude stellar event in recorded history, was observed by the Egyptian Arabic astronomer Ali ibn Ridwan and the 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.[26][27] It is also believed that the ruins at Great Zimbabwe and Timbuktu[28] may have housed an astronomical observatory.[29] Europeans had previously believed that there had been no astronomical observation in pre-colonial Middle Ages sub-Saharan Africa but modern discoveries show otherwise.[30][31][32][33]

The Roman Catholic Church gave more financial and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other, and, probably, all other, institutions. Among the Church’s motives was finding the date for Easter.[34]

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 described correctly the details of the motion of the planets with the Sun at the center. However, Kepler did not succeed in formulating a theory behind the laws he wrote down.[35] It was left to Newton’s invention of celestial dynamics and his law of gravitation to finally explain the motions of the planets. Newton also developed the reflecting telescope.[36]

The English astronomer John Flamsteed catalogued over 3000 stars.[37] Further discoveries paralleled the improvements in the size and quality of the telescope. More extensive star catalogues were produced by 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.[38] The distance to a star was announced in 1838 when the parallax of 61 Cygni was measured by Friedrich Bessel.[39]

During the 1819th centuries, the study of the three-body problem by Euler, Clairaut, and D’Alembert led to more accurate predictions about the motions of the Moon and planets. This work was further refined by Lagrange and Laplace, allowing the masses of the planets and moons to be estimated from their perturbations.[40]

Significant advances in astronomy came about with the introduction of new technology, including the spectroscope and photography. Fraunhofer discovered about 600 bands in the spectrum of the Sun in 181415, which, in 1859, 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.[26]

The existence of the Earth’s galaxy, the Milky Way, as a separate 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.[41] 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, with the model of the Big Bang, which is heavily supported by evidence provided 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.[42][43]

Our main source of information about celestial bodies and other objects is visible light, more generally electromagnetic radiation.[44] Observational astronomy may be divided according to the observed region of the electromagnetic spectrum. 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 outside the visible range with wavelengths greater than approximately one millimeter.[45] 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.[45]

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.[45] Additionally, a number of spectral lines produced by interstellar gas, notably the hydrogen spectral line at 21cm, are observable at radio wavelengths.[12][45]

A wide variety of objects are observable at radio wavelengths, including supernovae, interstellar gas, pulsars, and active galactic nuclei.[12][45]

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.[47][48]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.[49] Some molecules radiate strongly in the infrared. This allows the study of the chemistry of space; more specifically it can detect water in comets.[50]

Historically, optical astronomy, also called visible light astronomy, is the oldest form of astronomy.[51] 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),[51] 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).[45] Light at those wavelengths are 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.[45] However, as ultraviolet light is easily absorbed by interstellar dust, an adjustment of ultraviolet measurements is necessary.[45]

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.[45] 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.[45]

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.[45] 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.[52]

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.[45]

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.[45] 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.[53] Some future neutrino detectors may also be sensitive to the particles produced when cosmic rays hit the Earth’s atmosphere.[45]

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.[54] A second gravitational wave was detected on 26 December 2015 and additional observations should continue but gravitational waves require extremely sensitive instruments.[55][56]

The combination of observations made using electromagnetic radiation, neutrinos or gravitational waves and other complementary information, is known as multi-messenger astronomy.[57][58]

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.[59]

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.[60]

During the 1990s, the measurement of the stellar wobble of nearby stars was used to detect large extrasolar planets orbiting those stars.[61]

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.[62][63]

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,[64] as their discovery and controversy originated during the study of the galaxies.

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.[65]

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.[66] The Maunder minimum, for example, is believed to have caused the Little Ice Age phenomenon during the Middle Ages.[67]

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.[65]

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.[68]

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.[69]

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.[70] 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.[71]

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.[72]

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.[73]

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.[74] 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.[75]

Almost all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were created inside the cores of stars.[74]

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.[76]

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;[77] 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.[78] 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.[79] 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.[80] 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.[81]

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.[82]

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.[75]

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.[83]

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.[84]

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.[85]

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.[86]

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.[87]

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Cosmology (from the Greek (kosmos) “world, universe” and (logos) “word, study” or literally “logic”) could be considered the study of the Universe as a whole.

Observations of the large-scale structure of the Universe, a branch known as physical cosmology, have provided a deep understanding of the formation and evolution of the cosmos. Fundamental to modern cosmology is the well-accepted theory of the big bang, wherein our Universe began at a single point in time, and thereafter expanded over the course of 13.8 billion years[88] to its present condition.[89] The concept of the big bang can be traced back to the discovery of the microwave background radiation in 1965.[89]

See more here:

Astronomy – Wikipedia

astronomy | Definition & Facts | Britannica.com

Since the late 19th century astronomy has expanded to include astrophysics, the application of physical and chemical knowledge to an understanding of the nature of celestial objects and the physical processes that control their formation, evolution, and emission of radiation. In addition, the gases and dust particles around and between the stars have become the subjects of much research. Study of the nuclear reactions that provide the energy radiated by stars has shown how the diversity of atoms found in nature can be derived from a universe that, following the first few minutes of its existence, consisted only of hydrogen, helium, and a trace of lithium. Concerned with phenomena on the largest scale is cosmology, the study of the evolution of the universe. Astrophysics has transformed cosmology from a purely speculative activity to a modern science capable of predictions that can be tested.

Its great advances notwithstanding, astronomy is still subject to a major constraint: it is inherently an observational rather than an experimental science. Almost all measurements must be performed at great distances from the objects of interest, with no control over such quantities as their temperature, pressure, or chemical composition. There are a few exceptions to this limitationnamely, meteorites (most of which are from the asteroid belt, though some are from the Moon or Mars), rock and soil samples brought back from the Moon, samples of comet and asteroid dust returned by robotic spacecraft, and interplanetary dust particles collected in or above the stratosphere. These can be examined with laboratory techniques to provide information that cannot be obtained in any other way. In the future, space missions may return surface materials from Mars, or other objects, but much of astronomy appears otherwise confined to Earth-based observations augmented by observations from orbiting satellites and long-range space probes and supplemented by theory.

The solar system took shape 4.57 billion years ago, when it condensed within a large cloud of gas and dust. Gravitational attraction holds the planets in their elliptical orbits around the Sun. In addition to Earth, five major planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) have been known from ancient times. Since then only two more have been discovered: Uranus by accident in 1781 and Neptune in 1846 after a deliberate search following a theoretical prediction based on observed irregularities in the orbit of Uranus. Pluto, discovered in 1930 after a search for a planet predicted to lie beyond Neptune, was considered a major planet until 2006, when it was redesignated a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union.

The average Earth-Sun distance, which originally defined the astronomical unit (AU), provides a convenient measure for distances within the solar system. The astronomical unit was originally defined by observations of the mean radius of Earths orbit but is now defined as 149,597,870.7 km (about 93 million miles). Mercury, at 0.4 AU, is the closest planet to the Sun, while Neptune, at 30.1 AU, is the farthest. Plutos orbit, with a mean radius of 39.5 AU, is sufficiently eccentric that at times it is closer to the Sun than is Neptune. The planes of the planetary orbits are all within a few degrees of the ecliptic, the plane that contains Earths orbit around the Sun. As viewed from far above Earths North Pole, all planets move in the same (counterclockwise) direction in their orbits.

Most of the mass of the solar system is concentrated in the Sun, with its 1.99 1033 grams. Together, all of the planets amount to 2.7 1030 grams (i.e., about one-thousandth of the Suns mass), and Jupiter alone accounts for 71 percent of this amount. The solar system also contains five known objects of intermediate size classified as dwarf planets and a very large number of much smaller objects collectively called small bodies. The small bodies, roughly in order of decreasing size, are the asteroids, or minor planets; comets, including Kuiper belt, Centaur, and Oort cloud objects; meteoroids; and interplanetary dust particles. Because of their starlike appearance when discovered, the largest of these bodies were termed asteroids, and that name is widely used, but, now that the rocky nature of these bodies is understood, their more descriptive name is minor planets.

The four inner, terrestrial planetsMercury, Venus, Earth, and Marsalong with the Moon have average densities in the range of 3.95.5 grams per cubic cm, setting them apart from the four outer, giant planetsJupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptunewhose densities are all close to 1 gram per cubic cm, the density of water. The compositions of these two groups of planets must therefore be significantly different. This dissimilarity is thought to be attributable to conditions that prevailed during the early development of the solar system (see below Theories of origin). Planetary temperatures now range from around 170 C (330 F, 440 K) on Mercurys surface through the typical 15 C (60 F, 290 K) on Earth to 135 C (210 F, 140 K) on Jupiter near its cloud tops and down to 210 C (350 F, 60 K) near Neptunes cloud tops. These are average temperatures; large variations exist between dayside and nightside for planets closest to the Sun, except for Venus with its thick atmosphere.

The surfaces of the terrestrial planets and many satellites show extensive cratering, produced by high-speed impacts (see meteorite crater). On Earth, with its large quantities of water and an active atmosphere, many of these cosmic footprints have eroded, but remnants of very large craters can be seen in aerial and spacecraft photographs of the terrestrial surface. On Mercury, Mars, and the Moon, the absence of water and any significant atmosphere has left the craters unchanged for billions of years, apart from disturbances produced by infrequent later impacts. Volcanic activity has been an important force in the shaping of the surfaces of the Moon and the terrestrial planets. Seismic activity on the Moon has been monitored by means of seismometers left on its surface by Apollo astronauts and by Lunokhod robotic rovers. Cratering on the largest scale seems to have ceased about three billion years ago, although on the Moon there is clear evidence for a continued cosmic drizzle of small particles, with the larger objects churning (gardening) the lunar surface and the smallest producing microscopic impact pits in crystals in the lunar rocks.

All of the planets apart from the two closest to the Sun (Mercury and Venus) have natural satellites (moons) that are very diverse in appearance, size, and structure, as revealed in close-up observations from long-range space probes. The four outer dwarf planets have moons; Pluto has at least five moons, including one, Charon, fully half the size of Pluto itself. Over 200 asteroids and 80 Kuiper belt objects also have moons. Four planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), one dwarf planet (Haumea), and one Centaur object (Chariklo) have rings, disklike systems of small rocks and particles that orbit their parent bodies.

During the U.S. Apollo missions a total weight of 381.7 kg (841.5 pounds) of lunar material was collected; an additional 300 grams (0.66 pounds) was brought back by unmanned Soviet Luna vehicles. About 15 percent of the Apollo samples have been distributed for analysis, with the remainder stored at the NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas. The opportunity to employ a wide range of laboratory techniques on these lunar samples has revolutionized planetary science. The results of the analyses have enabled investigators to determine the composition and age of the lunar surface. Seismic observations have made it possible to probe the lunar interior. In addition, retroreflectors left on the Moons surface by Apollo astronauts have allowed high-power laser beams to be sent from Earth to the Moon and back, permitting scientists to monitor the Earth-Moon distance to an accuracy of a few centimetres. This experiment, which has provided data used in calculations of the dynamics of the Earth-Moon system, has shown that the separation of the two bodies is increasing by 4.4 cm (1.7 inches) each year. (For additional information on lunar studies, see Moon.)

Mercury is too hot to retain an atmosphere, but Venuss brilliant white appearance is the result of its being completely enveloped in thick clouds of carbon dioxide, impenetrable at visible wavelengths. Below the upper clouds, Venus has a hostile atmosphere containing clouds of sulfuric acid droplets. The cloud cover shields the planets surface from direct sunlight, but the energy that does filter through warms the surface, which then radiates at infrared wavelengths. The long-wavelength infrared radiation is trapped by the dense clouds such that an efficient greenhouse effect keeps the surface temperature near 465 C (870 F, 740 K). Radar, which can penetrate the thick Venusian clouds, has been used to map the planets surface. In contrast, the atmosphere of Mars is very thin and is composed mostly of carbon dioxide (95 percent), with very little water vapour; the planets surface pressure is only about 0.006 that of Earth. The outer planets have atmospheres composed largely of light gases, mainly hydrogen and helium.

Each planet rotates on its axis, and nearly all of them rotate in the same directioncounterclockwise as viewed from above the ecliptic. The two exceptions are Venus, which rotates in the clockwise direction beneath its cloud cover, and Uranus, which has its rotation axis very nearly in the plane of the ecliptic.

Some of the planets have magnetic fields. Earths field extends outward until it is disturbed by the solar windan outward flow of protons and electrons from the Sunwhich carries a magnetic field along with it. Through processes not yet fully understood, particles from the solar wind and galactic cosmic rays (high-speed particles from outside the solar system) populate two doughnut-shaped regions called the Van Allen radiation belts. The inner belt extends from about 1,000 to 5,000 km (600 to 3,000 miles) above Earths surface, and the outer from roughly 15,000 to 25,000 km (9,300 to 15,500 miles). In these belts, trapped particles spiral along paths that take them around Earth while bouncing back and forth between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, with their orbits controlled by Earths magnetic field. During periods of increased solar activity, these regions of trapped particles are disturbed, and some of the particles move down into Earths atmosphere, where they collide with atoms and molecules to produce auroras.

Jupiter has a magnetic field far stronger than Earths and many more trapped electrons, whose synchrotron radiation (electromagnetic radiation emitted by high-speed charged particles that are forced to move in curved paths, as under the influence of a magnetic field) is detectable from Earth. Bursts of increased radio emission are correlated with the position of Io, the innermost of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter. Saturn has a magnetic field that is much weaker than Jupiters, but it too has a region of trapped particles. Mercury has a weak magnetic field that is only about 1 percent as strong as Earths and shows no evidence of trapped particles. Uranus and Neptune have fields that are less than one-tenth the strength of Saturns and appear much more complex than that of Earth. No field has been detected around Venus or Mars.

More than 500,000 asteroids with well-established orbits are known, and thousands of additional objects are discovered each year. Hundreds of thousands more have been seen, but their orbits have not been as well determined. It is estimated that several million asteroids exist, but most are small, and their combined mass is estimated to be less than a thousandth that of Earth. Most of the asteroids have orbits close to the ecliptic and move in the asteroid belt, between 2.3 and 3.3 AU from the Sun. Because some asteroids travel in orbits that can bring them close to Earth, there is a possibility of a collision that could have devastating results (see Earth impact hazard).

Comets are considered to come from a vast reservoir, the Oort cloud, orbiting the Sun at distances of 20,00050,000 AU or more and containing trillions of icy objectslatent comet nucleiwith the potential to become active comets. Many comets have been observed over the centuries. Most make only a single pass through the inner solar system, but some are deflected by Jupiter or Saturn into orbits that allow them to return at predictable times. Halleys Comet is the best known of these periodic comets; its next return into the inner solar system is predicted for 2061. Many short-period comets are thought to come from the Kuiper belt, a region lying mainly between 30 AU and 50 AU from the Sunbeyond Neptunes orbit but including part of Plutosand housing perhaps hundreds of millions of comet nuclei. Very few comet masses have been well determined, but most are probably less than 1018 grams, one-billionth the mass of Earth.

Since the 1990s more than a thousand comet nuclei in the Kuiper belt have been observed with large telescopes; a few are about half the size of Pluto, and Pluto is the largest Kuiper belt object. Plutos orbital and physical characteristics had long caused it to be regarded as an anomaly among the planets. However, after the discovery of numerous other Pluto-like objects beyond Neptune, Pluto was seen to be no longer unique in its neighbourhood but rather a giant member of the local population. Consequently, in 2006 astronomers at the general assembly of the International Astronomical Union elected to create the new category of dwarf planets for objects with such qualifications. Pluto, Eris, and Ceres, the latter being the largest member of the asteroid belt, were given this distinction. Two other Kuiper belt objects, Makemake and Haumea, were also designated as dwarf planets.

Smaller than the observed asteroids and comets are the meteoroids, lumps of stony or metallic material believed to be mostly fragments of asteroids. Meteoroids vary from small rocks to boulders weighing a ton or more. A relative few have orbits that bring them into Earths atmosphere and down to the surface as meteorites. Most meteorites that have been collected on Earth are probably from asteroids. A few have been identified as being from the Moon, Mars, or the asteroid Vesta.

Meteorites are classified into three broad groups: stony (chondrites and achondrites; about 94 percent), iron (5 percent), and stony-iron (1 percent). Most meteoroids that enter the atmosphere heat up sufficiently to glow and appear as meteors, and the great majority of these vaporize completely or break up before they reach the surface. Many, perhaps most, meteors occur in showers (see meteor shower) and follow orbits that seem to be identical with those of certain comets, thus pointing to a cometary origin. For example, each May, when Earth crosses the orbit of Halleys Comet, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower occurs. Micrometeorites (interplanetary dust particles), the smallest meteoroidal particles, can be detected from Earth-orbiting satellites or collected by specially equipped aircraft flying in the stratosphere and returned for laboratory inspection. Since the late 1960s numerous meteorites have been found in the Antarctic on the surface of stranded ice flows (see Antarctic meteorites). Some meteorites contain microscopic crystals whose isotopic proportions are unique and appear to be dust grains that formed in the atmospheres of different stars.

The age of the solar system, taken to be close to 4.6 billion years, has been derived from measurements of radioactivity in meteorites, lunar samples, and Earths crust. Abundances of isotopes of uranium, thorium, and rubidium and their decay products, lead and strontium, are the measured quantities.

Assessment of the chemical composition of the solar system is based on data from Earth, the Moon, and meteorites as well as on the spectral analysis of light from the Sun and planets. In broad outline, the solar system abundances of the chemical elements decrease with increasing atomic weight. Hydrogen atoms are by far the most abundant, constituting 91 percent; helium is next, with 8.9 percent; and all other types of atoms together amount to only 0.1 percent.

The origin of Earth, the Moon, and the solar system as a whole is a problem that has not yet been settled in detail. The Sun probably formed by condensation of the central region of a large cloud of gas and dust, with the planets and other bodies of the solar system forming soon after, their composition strongly influenced by the temperature and pressure gradients in the evolving solar nebula. Less-volatile materials could condense into solids relatively close to the Sun to form the terrestrial planets. The abundant, volatile lighter elements could condense only at much greater distances to form the giant gas planets.

In the1990s astronomers confirmed that other stars have one or more planets revolving around them. Studies of these planetary systems have both supported and challenged astronomers theoretical models of how Earths solar system formed. Unlike the solar system, many extrasolar planetary systems have large gas giants like Jupiter orbiting very close to their stars, and in some cases these hot Jupiters are closer to their star than Mercury is to the Sun.

That so many gas giants, which form in the outer regions of their system, end up so close to their stars suggests that gas giants migrate and that such migration may have happened in the solar systems history. According to the Grand Tack hypothesis, Jupiter may have done so within a few million years of the solar systems formation. In this scenario, Jupiter is the first giant planet to form, at about 3 AU from the Sun. Drag from the protoplanetary disk causes it to fall inward to about 1.5 AU. However, by this time, Saturn begins to form at about 3 AU and captures Jupiter in a 3:2 resonance. (That is, for every three revolutions Jupiter makes, Saturn makes two.) The two planets migrate outward and clear away any material that would have gone to making Mars bigger. Mars should be bigger than Venus or Earth, but it is only half their size. The Grand Tack, in which Jupiter moves inward and then outward, explains Marss small size.

About 500 million years after the Grand Tack, according to the Nice Model (named after the French city where it was first proposed), after the four giant planetsJupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptuneformed, they orbited 517 AU from the Sun. These planets were in a disk of smaller bodies called planetesimals and in orbital resonances with each other. About four billion years ago, gravitational interactions with the planetesimals increased the eccentricity of the planets orbits, driving them out of resonance. Saturn, Uranus and Neptune migrated outward, and Jupiter migrated slightly inward. (Uranus and Neptune may even have switched places.) This migration scattered the disk, causing the Late Heavy Bombardment. The final remnant of the disk became the Kuiper belt.

The origin of the planetary satellites is not entirely settled. As to the origin of the Moon, the opinion of astronomers long oscillated between theories that saw its origin and condensation as simultaneous with the formation of Earth and those that posited a separate origin for the Moon and its later capture by Earths gravitational field. Similarities and differences in abundances of the chemical elements and their isotopes on Earth and the Moon challenged each group of theories. Finally, in the 1980s a model emerged that gained the support of most lunar scientiststhat of a large impact on Earth and the expulsion of material that subsequently formed the Moon. (See Moon: Origin and evolution.) For the outer planets, with their multiple satellites, many very small and quite unlike one another, the picture is less clear. Some of these moons have relatively smooth icy surfaces, whereas others are heavily cratered; at least one, Jupiters Io, is volcanic. Some of the moons may have formed along with their parent planets, and others may have formed elsewhere and been captured.

The measurable quantities in stellar astrophysics include the externally observable features of the stars: distance, temperature, radiation spectrum and luminosity, composition (of the outer layers), diameter, mass, and variability in any of these. Theoretical astrophysicists use these observations to model the structure of stars and to devise theories for their formation and evolution. Positional information can be used for dynamical analysis, which yields estimates of stellar masses.

In a system dating back at least to the Greek astronomer-mathematician Hipparchus in the 2nd century bce, apparent stellar brightness (m) is measured in magnitudes. Magnitudes are now defined such that a first-magnitude star is 100 times brighter than a star of sixth magnitude. The human eye cannot see stars fainter than about sixth magnitude, but modern instruments used with large telescopes can record stars as faint as about 30th magnitude. By convention, the absolute magnitude (M) is defined as the magnitude that a star would appear to have if it were located at a standard distance of 10 parsecs. These quantities are related through the expression m M = 5 log10 r 5, in which r is the stars distance in parsecs.

The magnitude scale is anchored on a group of standard stars. An absolute measure of radiant power is luminosity, which is related to the absolute magnitude and usually expressed in ergs per second (ergs/sec). (Sometimes the luminosity is stated in terms of the solar luminosity, 3.86 1033 ergs/sec.) Luminosity can be calculated when m and r are known. Correction might be necessary for the interstellar absorption of starlight.

There are several methods for measuring a stars diameter. From the brightness and distance, the luminosity (L) can be calculated, and, from observations of the brightness at different wavelengths, the temperature (T) can be calculated. Because the radiation from many stars can be well approximated by a Planck blackbody spectrum (see Plancks radiation law), these measured quantities can be related through the expression L = 4R2T4, thus providing a means of calculating R, the stars radius. In this expression, is the Stefan-Boltzmann constant, 5.67 105 ergs/cm2K4sec, in which K is the temperature in kelvins. (The radius R refers to the stars photosphere, the region where the star becomes effectively opaque to outside observation.) Stellar angular diameters can be measured through interferometrythat is, the combining of several telescopes together to form a larger instrument that can resolve sizes smaller than those that an individual telescope can resolve. Alternatively, the intensity of the starlight can be monitored during occultation by the Moon, which produces diffraction fringes whose pattern depends on the angular diameter of the star. Stellar angular diameters of several milliarcseconds can be measured.

Many stars occur in binary systems (see binary star), in which the two partners orbit their mutual centre of mass. Such a system provides the best measurement of stellar masses. The period (P) of a binary system is related to the masses of the two stars (m1 and m2) and the orbital semimajor axis (mean radius; a) via Keplers third law: P2 = 42a3/G(m1 + m2). (G is the universal gravitational constant.) From diameters and masses, average values of the stellar density can be calculated and thence the central pressure. With the assumption of an equation of state, the central temperature can then be calculated. For example, in the Sun the central density is 158 grams per cubic cm; the pressure is calculated to be more than one billion times the pressure of Earths atmosphere at sea level and the temperature around 15 million K (27 million F). At this temperature, all atoms are ionized, and so the solar interior consists of a plasma, an ionized gas with hydrogen nuclei (i.e., protons), helium nuclei, and electrons as major constituents. A small fraction of the hydrogen nuclei possess sufficiently high speeds that, on colliding, their electrostatic repulsion is overcome, resulting in the formation, by means of a set of fusion reactions, of helium nuclei and a release of energy (see proton-proton cycle). Some of this energy is carried away by neutrinos, but most of it is carried by photons to the surface of the Sun to maintain its luminosity.

Other stars, both more and less massive than the Sun, have broadly similar structures, but the size, central pressure and temperature, and fusion rate are functions of the stars mass and composition. The stars and their internal fusion (and resulting luminosity) are held stable against collapse through a delicate balance between the inward pressure produced by gravitational attraction and the outward pressure supplied by the photons produced in the fusion reactions.

Stars that are in this condition of hydrostatic equilibrium are termed main-sequence stars, and they occupy a well-defined band on the Hertzsprung-Russell (H-R) diagram, in which luminosity is plotted against colour index or temperature. Spectral classification, based initially on the colour index, includes the major spectral types O, B, A, F, G, K and M, each subdivided into 10 parts (see star: Stellar spectra). Temperature is deduced from broadband spectral measurements in several standard wavelength intervals. Measurement of apparent magnitudes in two spectral regions, the B and V bands (centred on 4350 and 5550 angstroms, respectively), permits calculation of the colour index, CI = mB mV, from which the temperature can be calculated.

For a given temperature, there are stars that are much more luminous than main-sequence stars. Given the dependence of luminosity on the square of the radius and the fourth power of the temperature (R2T4 of the luminosity expression above), greater luminosity implies larger radius, and such stars are termed giant stars or supergiant stars. Conversely, stars with luminosities much less than those of main-sequence stars of the same temperature must be smaller and are termed white dwarf stars. Surface temperatures of white dwarfs typically range from 10,000 to 12,000 K (18,000 to 21,000 F), and they appear visually as white or blue-white.

The strength of spectral lines of the more abundant elements in a stars atmosphere allows additional subdivisions within a class. Thus, the Sun, a main-sequence star, is classified as G2 V, in which the V denotes main sequence. Betelgeuse, a red giant with a surface temperature about half that of the Sun but with a luminosity of about 10,000 solar units, is classified as M2 Iab. In this classification, the spectral type is M2, and the Iab indicates a giant, well above the main sequence on the H-R diagram.

The range of physically allowable masses for stars is very narrow. If the stars mass is too small, the central temperature will be too low to sustain fusion reactions. The theoretical minimum stellar mass is about 0.08 solar mass. An upper theoretical bound called the Eddington limit, of several hundred solar masses, has been suggested, but this value is not firmly defined. Stars as massive as this will have luminosities about one million times greater than that of the Sun.

A general model of star formation and evolution has been developed, and the major features seem to be established. A large cloud of gas and dust can contract under its own gravitational attraction if its temperature is sufficiently low. As gravitational energy is released, the contracting central material heats up until a point is reached at which the outward radiation pressure balances the inward gravitational pressure, and contraction ceases. Fusion reactions take over as the stars primary source of energy, and the star is then on the main sequence. The time to pass through these formative stages and onto the main sequence is less than 100 million years for a star with as much mass as the Sun. It takes longer for less massive stars and a much shorter time for those much more massive.

Once a star has reached its main-sequence stage, it evolves relatively slowly, fusing hydrogen nuclei in its core to form helium nuclei. Continued fusion not only releases the energy that is radiated but also results in nucleosynthesis, the production of heavier nuclei.

Stellar evolution has of necessity been followed through computer modeling, because the timescales for most stages are generally too extended for measurable changes to be observed, even over a period of many years. One exception is the supernova, the violently explosive finale of certain stars. Different types of supernovas can be distinguished by their spectral lines and by changes in luminosity during and after the outburst. In Type Ia, a white dwarf star attracts matter from a nearby companion; when the white dwarfs mass exceeds about 1.4 solar masses, the star implodes and is completely destroyed. Type II supernovas are not as luminous as Type Ia and are the final evolutionary stage of stars more massive than about eight solar masses. Type Ib and Ic supernovas are like Type II in that they are from the collapse of a massive star, but they do not retain their hydrogen envelope.

The nature of the final products of stellar evolution depends on stellar mass. Some stars pass through an unstable stage in which their dimensions, temperature, and luminosity change cyclically over periods of hours or days. These so-called Cepheid variables serve as standard candles for distance measurements (see above Determining astronomical distances). Some stars blow off their outer layers to produce planetary nebulas. The expanding material can be seen glowing in a thin shell as it disperses into the interstellar medium while the remnant core, initially with a surface temperature as high as 100,000 K (180,000 F), cools to become a white dwarf. The maximum stellar mass that can exist as a white dwarf is about 1.4 solar masses and is known as the Chandrasekhar limit. More-massive stars may end up as either neutron stars or black holes.

The average density of a white dwarf is calculated to exceed one million grams per cubic cm. Further compression is limited by a quantum condition called degeneracy (see degenerate gas), in which only certain energies are allowed for the electrons in the stars interior. Under sufficiently great pressure, the electrons are forced to combine with protons to form neutrons. The resulting neutron star will have a density in the range of 10141015 grams per cubic cm, comparable to the density within atomic nuclei. The behaviour of large masses having nuclear densities is not yet sufficiently understood to be able to set a limit on the maximum size of a neutron star, but it is thought to be less than three solar masses.

Still more-massive remnants of stellar evolution would have smaller dimensions and would be even denser that neutron stars. Such remnants are conceived to be black holes, objects so compact that no radiation can escape from within a characteristic distance called the Schwarzschild radius. This critical dimension is defined by Rs = 2GM/c2. (Rs is the Schwarzschild radius, G is the gravitational constant, M is the objects mass, and c is the speed of light.) For an object of three solar masses, the Schwarzschild radius would be about three kilometres. Radiation emitted from beyond the Schwarzschild radius can still escape and be detected.

Although no light can be detected coming from within a black hole, the presence of a black hole may be manifested through the effects of its gravitational field, as, for example, in a binary star system. If a black hole is paired with a normal visible star, it may pull matter from its companion toward itself. This matter is accelerated as it approaches the black hole and becomes so intensely heated that it radiates large amounts of X-rays from the periphery of the black hole before reaching the Schwarzschild radius. Some candidates for stellar black holes have been founde.g., the X-ray source Cygnus X-1. Each of them has an estimated mass clearly exceeding that allowable for a neutron star, a factor crucial in the identification of possible black holes. (Supermassive black holes that do not originate as individual stars are thought to exist at the centre of active galaxies; see below Study of other galaxies and related phenomena.)

Whereas the existence of stellar black holes has been strongly indicated, the existence of neutron stars was confirmed in 1968 when they were identified with the then newly discovered pulsars, objects characterized by the emission of radiation at short and extremely regular intervals, generally between 1 and 1,000 pulses per second and stable to better than a part per billion. Pulsars are considered to be rotating neutron stars, remnants of some supernovas.

Stars are not distributed randomly throughout space. Many stars are in systems consisting of two or three members separated by less than 1,000 AU. On a larger scale, star clusters may contain many thousands of stars. Galaxies are much larger systems of stars and usually include clouds of gas and dust.

The solar system is located within the Milky Way Galaxy, close to its equatorial plane and about 8 kiloparsecs from the galactic centre. The galactic diameter is about 30 kiloparsecs, as indicated by luminous matter. There is evidence, however, for nonluminous matterso-called dark matterextending out nearly twice this distance. The entire system is rotating such that, at the position of the Sun, the orbital speed is about 220 km per second (almost 500,000 miles per hour) and a complete circuit takes roughly 240 million years. Application of Keplers third law leads to an estimate for the galactic mass of about 100 billion solar masses. The rotational velocity can be measured from the Doppler shifts observed in the 21-cm emission line of neutral hydrogen and the lines of millimetre wavelengths from various molecules, especially carbon monoxide. At great distances from the galactic centre, the rotational velocity does not drop off as expected but rather increases slightly. This behaviour appears to require a much larger galactic mass than can be accounted for by the known (luminous) matter. Additional evidence for the presence of dark matter comes from a variety of other observations. The nature and extent of the dark matter (or missing mass) constitutes one of todays major astronomical puzzles.

There are about 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Star concentrations within the galaxy fall into three types: open clusters, globular clusters, and associations (see star cluster). Open clusters lie primarily in the disk of the galaxy; most contain between 50 and 1,000 stars within a region no more than 10 parsecs in diameter. Stellar associations tend to have somewhat fewer stars; moreover, the constituent stars are not as closely grouped as those in the clusters and are for the most part hotter. Globular clusters, which are widely scattered around the galaxy, may extend up to about 100 parsecs in diameter and may have as many as a million stars. The importance to astronomers of globular clusters lies in their use as indicators of the age of the galaxy. Because massive stars evolve more rapidly than do smaller stars, the age of a cluster can be estimated from its H-R diagram. In a young cluster the main sequence will be well populated, but in an old cluster the heavier stars will have evolved away from the main sequence. The extent of the depopulation of the main sequence provides an index of age. In this way, the oldest globular clusters have been found to be about 12.5 billion years old, which should therefore be the minimum age for the galaxy.

The interstellar medium, composed primarily of gas and dust, occupies the regions between the stars. On average, it contains less than one atom in each cubic centimetre, with about 1 percent of its mass in the form of minute dust grains. The gas, mostly hydrogen, has been mapped by means of its 21-cm emission line. The gas also contains numerous molecules. Some of these have been detected by the visible-wavelength absorption lines that they impose on the spectra of more-distant stars, while others have been identified by their own emission lines at millimetre wavelengths. Many of the interstellar molecules are found in giant molecular clouds, wherein complex organic molecules have been discovered.

In the vicinity of a very hot O- or B-type star, the intensity of ultraviolet radiation is sufficiently high to ionize the surrounding hydrogen out to a distance as great as 100 parsecs to produce an H II region, known as a Strmgren sphere. Such regions are strong and characteristic emitters of radiation at radio wavelengths, and their dimensions are well calibrated in terms of the luminosity of the central star. Using radio interferometers, astronomers are able to measure the angular diameters of H II regions even in some external galaxies and can thereby deduce the great distances to those remote systems. This method can be used for distances up to about 30 megaparsecs. (For additional information on H II regions, see nebula: Diffuse nebulae (H II regions).)

Interstellar dust grains scatter and absorb starlight, the effect being roughly inversely proportional to wavelength from the infrared to the near ultraviolet. As a result, stellar spectra tend to be reddened. Absorption typically amounts to about one magnitude per kiloparsec but varies considerably in different directions. Some dusty regions contain silicate materials, identified by a broad absorption feature around a wavelength of 10 m. Other prominent spectral features in the infrared range have been sometimes, but not conclusively, attributed to graphite grains and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Starlight often shows a small degree of polarization (a few percent), with the effect increasing with stellar distance. This is attributed to the scattering of the starlight from dust grains that have been partially aligned in a weak interstellar magnetic field. The strength of this field is estimated to be a few microgauss, very close to the strength inferred from observations of nonthermal cosmic radio noise. This radio background has been identified as synchrotron radiation, emitted by cosmic-ray electrons traveling at nearly the speed of light and moving along curved paths in the interstellar magnetic field. The spectrum of the cosmic radio noise is close to what is calculated on the basis of measurements of the cosmic rays near Earth.

Cosmic rays constitute another component of the interstellar medium. Cosmic rays that are detected in the vicinity of Earth comprise high-speed nuclei and electrons. Individual particle energies, expressed in electron volts (eV; 1 eV = 1.6 1012 erg), range with decreasing numbers from about 106 eV to more than 1020 eV. Among the nuclei, hydrogen nuclei are the most plentiful at 86 percent, helium nuclei next at 13 percent, and all other nuclei together at about 1 percent. Electrons are about 2 percent as abundant as the nuclear component. (The relative numbers of different nuclei vary somewhat with kinetic energy, while the electron proportion is strongly energy-dependent.)

A minority of cosmic rays detected in Earths vicinity are produced in the Sun, especially at times of increased solar activity (as indicated by sunspots and solar flares). The origin of galactic cosmic rays has not yet been conclusively identified, but they are thought to be produced in stellar processes such as supernova explosions, perhaps with additional acceleration occurring in the interstellar regions. (For additional information on interstellar matter, see Milky Way Galaxy: The general interstellar medium.)

The central region of the Milky Way Galaxy is so heavily obscured by dust that direct observation has become possible only with the development of astronomy at nonvisual wavelengthsnamely, radio, infrared, and, more recently, X-ray and gamma-ray wavelengths. Together, these observations have revealed a nuclear region of intense activity, with a large number of separate sources of emission and a great deal of dust. Detection of gamma-ray emission at a line energy of 511,000 eV, which corresponds to the annihilation of electrons and positrons (the antimatter counterpart of electrons), along with radio mapping of a region no more than 20 AU across, points to a very compact and energetic source, designated Sagittarius A*, at the centre of the galaxy. Sagittarius A* is a supermassive black hole with a mass equivalent to 4,310,000 Suns.

Galaxies are normally classified into three principal types according to their appearance: spiral, elliptical, and irregular. Galactic diameters are typically in the tens of kiloparsecs and the distances between galaxies typically in megaparsecs.

Spiral galaxiesof which the Milky Way system is a characteristic exampletend to be flattened, roughly circular systems with their constituent stars strongly concentrated along spiral arms. These arms are thought to be produced by traveling density waves, which compress and expand the galactic material. Between the spiral arms exists a diffuse interstellar medium of gas and dust, mostly at very low temperatures (below 100 K [280 F, 170 C]). Spiral galaxies are typically a few kiloparsecs in thickness; they have a central bulge and taper gradually toward the outer edges.

Ellipticals show none of the spiral features but are more densely packed stellar systems. They range in shape from nearly spherical to very flattened and contain little interstellar matter. Irregular galaxies number only a few percent of all stellar systems and exhibit none of the regular features associated with spirals or ellipticals.

Properties vary considerably among the different types of galaxies. Spirals typically have masses in the range of a billion to a trillion solar masses, with ellipticals having values from 10 times smaller to 10 times larger and the irregulars generally 10100 times smaller. Visual galactic luminosities show similar spreads among the three types, but the irregulars tend to be less luminous. In contrast, at radio wavelengths the maximum luminosity for spirals is usually 100,000 times less than for ellipticals or irregulars.

Quasars are objects whose spectra display very large redshifts, thus implying (in accordance with the Hubble law) that they lie at the greatest distances (see above Determining astronomical distances). They were discovered in 1963 but remained enigmatic for many years. They appear as starlike (i.e., very compact) sources of radio waveshence their initial designation as quasi-stellar radio sources, a term later shortened to quasars. They are now considered to be the exceedingly luminous cores of distant galaxies. These energetic cores, which emit copious quantities of X-rays and gamma rays, are termed active galactic nuclei (AGN) and include the object Cygnus A and the nuclei of a class of galaxies called Seyfert galaxies. They may be powered by the infall of matter into supermassive black holes.

The Milky Way Galaxy is one of the Local Group of galaxies, which contains about four dozen members and extends over a volume about two megaparsecs in diameter. Two of the closest members are the Magellanic Clouds, irregular galaxies about 50 kiloparsecs away. At about 740 kiloparsecs, the Andromeda Galaxy is one of the most distant in the Local Group. Some members of the group are moving toward the Milky Way system while others are traveling away from it. At greater distances, all galaxies are moving away from the Milky Way Galaxy. Their speeds (as determined from the redshifted wavelengths in their spectra) are generally proportional to their distances. The Hubble law relates these two quantities (see above Determining astronomical distances). In the absence of any other method, the Hubble law continues to be used for distance determinations to the farthest objectsthat is, galaxies and quasars for which redshifts can be measured.

Cosmology is the scientific study of the universe as a unified whole, from its earliest moments through its evolution to its ultimate fate. The currently accepted cosmological model is the big bang. In this picture, the expansion of the universe started in an intense explosion 13.8 billion years ago. In this primordial fireball, the temperature exceeded one trillion K, and most of the energy was in the form of radiation. As the expansion proceeded (accompanied by cooling), the role of the radiation diminished, and other physical processes dominated in turn. Thus, after about three minutes, the temperature had dropped to the one-billion-K range, making it possible for nuclear reactions of protons to take place and produce nuclei of deuterium and helium. (At the higher temperatures that prevailed earlier, these nuclei would have been promptly disrupted by high-energy photons.) With further expansion, the time between nuclear collisions had increased and the proportion of deuterium and helium nuclei had stabilized. After a few hundred thousand years, the temperature must have dropped sufficiently for electrons to remain attached to nuclei to constitute atoms. Galaxies are thought to have begun forming after a few million years, but this stage is very poorly understood. Star formation probably started much later, after at least a billion years, and the process continues today.

Observational support for this general model comes from several independent directions. The expansion has been documented by the redshifts observed in the spectra of galaxies. Furthermore, the radiation left over from the original fireball would have cooled with the expansion. Confirmation of this relic energy came in 1965 with one of the most striking cosmic discoveries of the 20th centurythe observation, at short radio wavelengths, of a widespread cosmic radiation corresponding to a temperature of almost 3 K (about 270 C [454 F]). The shape of the observed spectrum is an excellent fit with the theoretical Planck blackbody spectrum. (The present best value for this temperature is 2.735 K, but it is still called three-degree radiation or the cosmic microwave background.) The spectrum of this cosmic radio noise peaks at approximately a one-millimetre wavelength, which is in the far infrared, a difficult region to observe from Earth; however, the spectrum has been well mapped by the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, and Planck satellites. Additional support for the big bang theory comes from the observed cosmic abundances of deuterium and helium. Normal stellar nucleosynthesis cannot produce their measured quantities, which fit well with calculations of production during the early stages of the big bang.

Early surveys of the cosmic background radiation indicated that it is extremely uniform in all directions (isotropic). Calculations have shown that it is difficult to achieve this degree of isotropy unless there was a very early and rapid inflationary period before the expansion settled into its present mode. Nevertheless, the isotropy posed problems for models of galaxy formation. Galaxies originate from turbulent conditions that produce local fluctuations of density, toward which more matter would then be gravitationally attracted. Such density variations were difficult to reconcile with the isotropy required by observations of the 3 K radiation. This problem was solved when the COBE satellite was able to detect the minute fluctuations in the cosmic background from which the galaxies formed.

The very earliest stages of the big bang are less well understood. The conditions of temperature and pressure that prevailed prior to the first microsecond require the introduction of theoretical ideas of subatomic particle physics. Subatomic particles are usually studied in laboratories with giant accelerators, but the region of particle energies of potential significance to the question at hand lies beyond the range of accelerators currently available. Fortunately, some important conclusions can be drawn from the observed cosmic helium abundance, which is dependent on conditions in the early big bang. The observed helium abundance sets a limit on the number of families of certain types of subatomic particles that can exist.

The age of the universe can be calculated in several ways. Assuming the validity of the big bang model, one attempts to answer the question: How long has the universe been expanding in order to have reached its present size? The numbers relevant to calculating an answer are Hubbles constant (i.e., the current expansion rate), the density of matter in the universe, and the cosmological constant, which allows for change in the expansion rate. In 2003 a calculation based on a fresh determination of Hubbles constant yielded an age of 13.7 billion 200 million years, although the precise value depends on certain assumed details of the model used. Independent estimates of stellar ages have yielded values less than this, as would be expected, but other estimates, based on supernova distance measurements, have arrived at values of about 15 billion years, still consistent, within the errors. In the big bang model the age is proportional to the reciprocal of Hubbles constant, hence the importance of determining H as reliably as possible. For example, a value for H of 100 km/sec/Mpc would lead to an age less than that of many stars, a physically unacceptable result.

A small minority of astronomers have developed alternative cosmological theories that are seriously pursued. The overwhelming professional opinion, however, continues to support the big bang model.

Finally, there is the question of the future behaviour of the universe: Is it open? That is to say, will the expansion continue indefinitely? Or is it closed, such that the expansion will slow down and eventually reverse, resulting in contraction? (The final collapse of such a contracting universe is sometimes termed the big crunch.) The density of the universe seems to be at the critical density; that is, the universe is neither open nor closed but flat. So-called dark energy, a kind of repulsive force that is now believed to be a major component of the universe, appears to be the decisive factor in predictions of the long-term fate of the cosmos. If this energy is a cosmological constant (as proposed in 1917 by Albert Einstein to correct certain problems in his model of the universe), then the result would be a big chill. In this scenario, the universe would continue to expand, but its density would decrease. While old stars would burn out, new stars would no longer form. The universe would become cold and dark. The dark (nonluminous) matter component of the universe, whose composition remains unknown, is not considered sufficient to close the universe and cause it to collapse; it now appears to contribute only a fourth of the density needed for closure.

An additional factor in deciding the fate of the universe might be the mass of neutrinos. For decades the neutrino had been postulated to have zero mass, although there was no compelling theoretical reason for this to be so. From the observation of neutrinos generated in the Sun and other celestial sources such as supernovas, in cosmic-ray interactions with Earths atmosphere, and in particle accelerators, investigators have concluded that neutrinos have some mass, though only an extremely small fraction of the mass of an electron. Although there are vast numbers of neutrinos in the universe, the sum of such small neutrino masses appears insufficient to close the universe.

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astronomy | Definition & Facts | Britannica.com

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.

2018 November 6

Explanation: There’s even a California in space. Drifting through the Orion Arm of the spiral Milky Way Galaxy,this cosmic cloudby chance echoes the outline of California on the west coast of the United States.Our own Sun also lies within the Milky Way’sOrionArm, only about 1,500 light-years from the California Nebula.Also known as NGC 1499, the classic emission nebula is around 100 light-years long.On the featured image, the most prominent glow of the California Nebula is the red light characteristic of hydrogen atoms recombining with longlost electrons, stripped away (ionized) by energetic starlight.The star most likely providing the energetic starlight that ionizes much of the nebular gas is the bright, hot, bluish Xi Perseijust to the right of the nebula. A regular target for astrophotographers, the California Nebula can be spotted with a wide-field telescope under a dark skytoward the constellation of Perseus, not far from the Pleiades.

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

A Stem Cell Transplant Let a Wheelchair-Bound Man Dance Again

Stand Up Guy

For 10 years, Roy Palmer had no feeling in his lower extremities. Two days after receiving a stem cell transplant, he cried tears of joy because he could feel a cramp in his leg.

The technical term for the procedure the British man underwent is hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). And while risky, it’s offering new hope to people like Palmer, who found himself wheelchair-bound after multiple sclerosis (MS) caused his immune system to attack his nerves’ protective coverings.

Biological Reboot

Ever hear the IT troubleshooting go-to of turning a system off and on again to fix it? The HSCT process is similar, but instead of a computer, doctors attempt to reboot a patient’s immune system.

To do this, they first remove stem cells from the patient’s body. Then the patient undergoes chemotherapy, which kills the rest of their immune system. After that, the doctors use the extracted stem cells to reboot the patient’s immune system.

It took just two days for the treatment to restore some of the feeling in Palmer’s legs. Eventually, he was able to walk on his own and even dance. He told the BBC in a recent interview that he now feels like he has a second chance at life.

“We went on holiday, not so long ago, to Turkey. I walked on the beach,” said Palmer. “Little things like that, people do not realize what it means to me.”

Risk / Reward

Still, HSCT isn’t some miracle cure for MS. Though it worked for Palmer, that’s not always the case, and HSCT can also cause infections and infertility. The National MS Society still considers HSCT to be an experimental treatment, and the Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve the therapy in the U.S.

However, MS affects more than 2.3 million people, and if a stem cell transplant can help even some of those folks the way it helped Palmer, it’s a therapy worth exploring.

READ MORE: Walking Again After Ten Years With MS [BBC]

More on HCST: New Breakthrough Treatment Could “Reverse Disability” for MS Patients

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A Stem Cell Transplant Let a Wheelchair-Bound Man Dance Again

AI Dreamed Up These Nightmare Fuel Halloween Masks

Nightmare Fuel

Someone programmed an AI to dream up Halloween masks, and the results are absolute nightmare fuel. Seriously, just look at some of these things.

“What’s so scary or unsettling about it is that it’s not so detailed that it shows you everything,” said Matt Reed, the creator of the masks, in an interview with New Scientist. “It leaves just enough open for your imagination to connect the dots.”

A selection of masks featured on Reed’s twitter. Credit: Matt Reed/Twitter

Creative Horror

To create the masks, Reed — whose day job is as a technologist at a creative agency called redpepper — fed an open source AI tool 5,000 pictures of Halloween masks he sourced from Google Images. He then instructed the tool to generate its own masks.

The fun and spooky project is yet another sign that AI is coming into its own as a creative tool. Just yesterday, a portrait generated by a similar system fetched more than $400,000 at a prominent British auction house.

And Reed’s masks are evocative. Here at the Byte, if we looked through the peephole and saw one of these on a trick or treater, we might not open our door.

READ MORE: AI Designed These Halloween Masks and They Are Absolutely Terrifying [New Scientist]

More on AI-generated art: Generated Art Will Go on Sale Alongside Human-Made Works This Fall

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AI Dreamed Up These Nightmare Fuel Halloween Masks

Robot Security Guards Will Constantly Nag Spectators at the Tokyo Olympics

Over and Over

“The security robot is patrolling. Ding-ding. Ding-ding. The security robot is patrolling. Ding-ding. Ding-ding.”

That’s what Olympic attendees will hear ad nauseam when they step onto the platforms of Tokyo’s train stations in 2020. The source: Perseusbot, a robot security guard Japanese developers unveiled to the press on Thursday.

Observe and Report

According to reporting by Kyodo News, the purpose of the AI-powered Perseusbot is to lower the burden on the stations’ staff when visitors flood Tokyo during the 2020 Olympics.

The robot is roughly 5.5 feet tall and equipped with security cameras that allow it to note suspicious behaviors, such as signs of violence breaking out or unattended packages, as it autonomous patrols the area. It can then alert security staff to the issues by sending notifications directly to their smart phones.

Prior Prepration

Just like the athletes who will head to Tokyo in 2020, Perseusbot already has a training program in the works — it’ll patrol Tokyo’s Seibu Shinjuku Station from November 26 to 30. This dry run should give the bot’s developers a chance to work out any kinks before 2020.

If all goes as hoped, the bot will be ready to annoy attendees with its incessant chant before the Olympic torch is lit. And, you know, keep everyone safe, too.

READ MORE: Robot Station Security Guard Unveiled Ahead of 2020 Tokyo Olympics [Kyodo News]

More robot security guards: Robot Security Guards Are Just the Beginning

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Robot Security Guards Will Constantly Nag Spectators at the Tokyo Olympics

People Would Rather a Self-Driving Car Kill a Criminal Than a Dog

Snap Decisions

On first glance, a site that collects people’s opinions about whose life an autonomous car should favor doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. But look closer, and you’ll catch a glimpse of humanity’s dark side.

The Moral Machine is an online survey designed by MIT researchers to gauge how the public would want an autonomous car to behave in a scenario in which someone has to die. It asks questions like: “If an autonomous car has to choose between killing a man or a woman, who should it kill? What if the woman is elderly but the man is young?”

Essentially, it’s a 21st century update on the Trolley Problem, an ethical thought experiment no doubt permanently etched into the mind of anyone who’s seen the second season of “The Good Place.”

Ethical Dilemma

The MIT team launched the Moral Machine in 2016, and more than two million people from 233 countries participated in the survey — quite a significant sample size.

On Wednesday, the researchers published the results of the experiment in the journal Nature, and they really aren’t all that surprising: Respondents value the life of a baby over all others, with a female child, male child, and pregnant woman following closely behind. Yawn.

It’s when you look at the other end of the spectrum — the characters survey respondents were least likely to “save” — that you’ll see something startling: Survey respondents would rather the autonomous car kill a human criminal than a dog.

moral machine
Image Credit: MIT

Ugly Reflection

While the team designed the survey to help shape the future of autonomous vehicles, it’s hard not to focus on this troubling valuing of a dog’s life over that of any human, criminal or not. Does this tell us something important about how society views the criminal class? Reveal that we’re all monsters when hidden behind the internet’s cloak of anonymity? Confirm that we really like dogs?

The MIT team doesn’t address any of these questions in their paper, and really, we wouldn’t expect them to — it’s their job to report the survey results, not extrapolate some deeper meaning from them. But whether the Moral Machine informs the future of autonomous vehicles or not, it’s certainly held up a mirror to humanity’s values, and we do not like the reflection we see.

READ MORE: Driverless Cars Should Spare Young People Over Old in Unavoidable Accidents, Massive Survey Finds [Motherboard]

More on the Moral Machine: MIT’s “Moral Machine” Lets You Decide Who Lives & Dies in Self-Driving Car Crashes

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People Would Rather a Self-Driving Car Kill a Criminal Than a Dog

Scientists Say New Material Could Hold up an Actual Space Elevator

Space Elevator

It takes a lot of energy to put stuff in space. That’s why one longtime futurist dream is a “space elevator” — a long cable strung between a geostationary satellite and the Earth that astronauts could use like a dumbwaiter to haul stuff up into orbit.

The problem is that such a system would require an extraordinarily light, strong cable. Now, researchers from Beijing’s Tsinghua University say they’ve developed a carbon nanotube fiber so sturdy and lightweight that it could be used to build an actual space elevator.

Going Up

The researchers published their paper in May, but it’s now garnering the attention of their peers. Some believe the Tsinghua team’s material really could lead to the creation of an elevator that would make it cheaper to move astronauts and materials into space.

“This is a breakthrough,” colleague Wang Changqing, who studies space elevators at Northwestern Polytechnical University, told the South China Morning Post.

Huge If True

There are still countless galling technical problems that need to be overcome before a space elevator would start to look plausible. Wang pointed out that it’d require tens of thousands of kilometers of the new material, for instance, as well as a shield to protect it from space debris.

But the research brings us one step closer to what could be a true game changer: a vastly less expensive way to move people and spacecraft out of Earth’s gravity.

READ MORE: China Has Strongest Fibre That Can Haul 160 Elephants – and a Space Elevator? [South China Morning Post]

More on space elevators: Why Space Elevators Could Be the Future of Space Travel

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Scientists Say New Material Could Hold up an Actual Space Elevator

Zero Gravity Causes Worrisome Changes In Astronauts’ Brains

Danger, Will Robinson

As famous Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield demonstrated with his extraterrestrial sob session, fluids behave strangely in space.

And while microgravity makes for a great viral video, it also has terrifying medical implications that we absolutely need to sort out before we send people into space for the months or years necessary for deep space exploration.

Specifically, research published Thursday In the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that our brains undergo lasting changes after we spend enough time in space. According to the study, cerebrospinal fluid — which normally cushions our brain and spinal cord — behaves differently in zero gravity, causing it to pool around and squish our brains.

Mysterious Symptoms

The brains of the Russian cosmonauts who were studied in the experiment mostly bounced back upon returning to Earth.

But even seven months later, some abnormalities remained. According to National Geographic, the researchers suspect that high pressure  inside the cosmonauts’ skulls may have squeezed extra water into brain cells which later drained out en masse.

Now What?

So far, scientists don’t know whether or not this brain shrinkage is related to any sort of cognitive or other neurological symptoms — it might just be a weird quirk of microgravity.

But along with other space hazards like deadly radiation and squished eyeballs, it’s clear that we have a plethora of medical questions to answer before we set out to explore the stars.

READ MORE: Cosmonaut brains show space travel causes lasting changes [National Geographic]

More on space medicine: Traveling to Mars Will Blast Astronauts With Deadly Cosmic Radiation, new Data Shows

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Zero Gravity Causes Worrisome Changes In Astronauts’ Brains

We Aren’t Growing Enough Healthy Foods to Feed Everyone on Earth

Check Yourself

The agriculture industry needs to get its priorities straight.

According to a newly published study, the world food system is producing too many unhealthy foods and not enough healthy ones.

“We simply can’t all adopt a healthy diet under the current global agriculture system,” said study co-author Evan Fraser in a press release. “Results show that the global system currently overproduces grains, fats, and sugars, while production of fruits and vegetables and, to a smaller degree, protein is not sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of the current population.”

Serving Downsized

For their study, published Tuesday in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers from the University of Guelph compared global agricultural production with consumption recommendations from Harvard University’s Healthy Eating Plate guide. Their findings were stark: The agriculture industry’s overall output of healthy foods does not match humanity’s needs.

Instead of the recommended eight servings of grains per person, it produces 12. And while nutritionists recommend we each consume 15 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, the industry produces just five. The mismatch continues for oils and fats (three servings instead of one), protein (three servings instead of five), and sugar (four servings when we don’t need any).

Overly Full Plate

The researchers don’t just point out the problem, though — they also calculated what it would take to address the lack of healthy foods while also helping the environment.

“For a growing population, our calculations suggest that the only way to eat a nutritionally balanced diet, save land, and reduce greenhouse gas emission is to consume and produce more fruits and vegetables as well as transition to diets higher in plant-based protein,” said Fraser.

A number of companies dedicated to making plant-based proteins mainstream are already gaining traction. But unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the agriculture industry will decide to prioritize growing fruits and veggies over less healthy options as long as people prefer having the latter on their plates.

READ MORE: Not Enough Fruits, Vegetables Grown to Feed the Planet, U of G Study Reveals [University of Guelph]

More on food scarcity: To Feed a Hungry Planet, We’re All Going to Need to Eat Less Meat

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We Aren’t Growing Enough Healthy Foods to Feed Everyone on Earth

Report Identifies China as the Source of Ozone-Destroying Emissions

Emissions Enigma

For years, a mystery puzzled environmental scientists. The world had banned the use of many ozone-depleting compounds in 2010. So why were global emission levels still so high?

The picture started to clear up in June. That’s when The New York Times published an investigation into the issue. China, the paper claimed, was to blame for these mystery emissions. Now it turns out the paper was probably right to point a finger.

Accident or Incident

In a paper published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, an international team of researchers confirms that eastern China is the source of at least half of the 40,000 tonnes of carbon tetrachloride emissions currently entering the atmosphere each year.

They figured this out using a combination of ground-based and airborne atmospheric concentration data from near the Korean peninsula. They also relied on two models that simulated how the gases would move through the atmosphere.

Though they were able to narrow down the source to China, the researchers weren’t able to say exactly who’s breaking the ban and whether they even know about the damage they’re doing.

Pinpoint

“Our work shows the location of carbon tetrachloride emissions,” said co-author Matt Rigby in a press release. “However, we don’t yet know the processes or industries that are responsible. This is important because we don’t know if it is being produced intentionally or inadvertently.”

If we can pinpoint the source of these emissions, we can start working on stopping them and healing our ozone. And given that we’ve gone nearly a decade with minimal progress on that front, there’s really no time to waste.

READ MORE: Location of Large ‘Mystery’ Source of Banned Ozone Depleting Substance Uncovered [University of Bristol]

More on carbon emissions: China Has (Probably) Been Pumping a Banned Gas Into the Atmosphere

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Report Identifies China as the Source of Ozone-Destroying Emissions

An AI Conference Refusing a Name Change Highlights a Tech Industry Problem

Name Game

There’s a prominent artificial intelligence conference that goes by the suggestive acronym NIPS, which stands for “Neural Information Processing Systems.”

After receiving complaints that the acronym was alienating to women, the conference’s leadership collected suggestions for a new name via an online poll, according to WIRED. But the conference announced Monday that it would be sticking with NIPS all the same.

Knock It Off

It’s convenient to imagine that this acronym just sort of emerged by coincidence, but let’s not indulge in that particular fantasy.

It’s more likely that tech geeks cackled maniacally when they came up with the acronym, and the refusal to do better even when people looking up the conference in good faith are bombarded with porn is a particularly telling failure of the AI research community.

Small Things Matter

This problem goes far beyond a silly name — women are severely underrepresented in technology research and even more so when it comes to artificial intelligence. And if human decency — comforting those who are regularly alienated by the powers that be — isn’t enough of a reason to challenge the sexist culture embedded in tech research, just think about what we miss out on.

True progress in artificial intelligence cannot happen without a broad range of diverse voices — voices that are silenced by “locker room talk” among an old boy’s club. Otherwise, our technological development will become just as stuck in place as our cultural development often seems to be.

READ MORE: AI RESEARCHERS FIGHT OVER FOUR LETTERS: NIPS [WIRED]

More on Silicon Valley sexism: The Tech Industry’s Gender Problem Isn’t Just Hurting Women

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An AI Conference Refusing a Name Change Highlights a Tech Industry Problem

Scientists Are Hopeful AI Could Help Predict Earthquakes

Quake Rate

Earlier this year, I interviewed U.S. Geological Survey geologist Annemarie Baltay for a story about why it’s incredibly difficult to predict earthquakes.

“We don’t use that ‘p word’ — ‘predict’ — at all,” she told me. “Earthquakes are chaotic. We don’t know when or where they’ll occur.”

Neural Earthwork

That could finally be starting to change, according to a fascinating feature in The New York Times.

By feeding seismic data into a neural network — a type of artificial intelligence that learns to recognize patterns by scrutinizing examples — researchers say they can now predict moments after a quake strikes how far its aftershocks will travel.

And eventually, some believe, they’ll be able to listen to signals from fault lines and predict when an earthquake will strike in the first place.

Future Vision

But like Baltay, some researchers aren’t convinced we’ll ever be able to predict earthquakes.University of Tokyo seismologist Robert Geller told the Times that until an algorithm actually predicts an upcoming quake, he’ll remain skeptical.

“There are no shortcuts,” he said. “If you cannot predict the future, then your hypothesis is wrong.”

READ MORE: A.I. Is Helping Scientist Predict When and Where the Next Big Earthquake Will Be [The New York Times]

More on earthquake AI: A New AI Detected 17 Times More Earthquakes Than Traditional Methods

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Scientists Are Hopeful AI Could Help Predict Earthquakes

FBI’s Tesla Criminal Probe Reportedly Centers on Model 3 Production

Ups and Downs

Can we please get off Mr. Musk’s Wild Ride now? We don’t know how much more of this Tesla rollercoaster we can take.

In 2018 alone, Elon Musk’s clean energy company has endured a faulty flufferbot, furious investors, and an SEC probe and settlement. But there was good news, too. Model 3 deliveries reportedly increased, and just this week, we found out that Tesla had a historic financial quarter, generating $312 million in profit.

And now we’re plummeting again.

Closing In

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is deepening a criminal probe into whether Tesla “misstated information about production of its Model 3 sedans and misled investors about the company’s business going back to early 2017.”

We’ve known about the FBI’s Tesla criminal probe since September 18, but this is the first report confirming that Model 3 production is at the center of the investigation.

According to the WSJ’s sources, FBI agents have been reaching out to former Tesla employees in recent weeks to ask if they’d be willing to testify in the criminal case, though no word yet on whether any have agreed.

Casual CEO

We might be having trouble keeping up with these twists and turns, but Musk seems to be taking the FBI’s Tesla criminal probe all in stride — he spent much of Friday afternoon joking around with his Twitter followers about dank memes.

Clearly he has the stomach for this, but it’d be hard to blame any Tesla investors for deciding they’d had enough.

READ MORE: Tesla Faces Deepening Criminal Probe Over Whether It Misstated Production Figures [The Wall Street Journal]

More on Tesla: Elon Musk Says Your Tesla Will Earn You Money While You Sleep

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FBI’s Tesla Criminal Probe Reportedly Centers on Model 3 Production

Clean Coal Startup Turns Human Waste Into Earth-Friendly Fuel

Gold Nuggets

A company called Ingelia says it’s figured out a way to turn human waste — the solid kind — into a combustible material it’s calling biochar. And if Ingelia’s claims are accurate, biochar can be burned for fuel just like coalexcept with nearzero greenhouse gas emissions, according to Business Insider.

That’s because almost all of the pollutants and more harmful chemicals that would normally be given off while burning solid fuels is siphoned away into treatable liquid waste, leaving a dry, combustible rod of poop fuel.

“Clean Coal

Ingelia, which is currently working to strike a deal with Spanish waste management facilities, hopes to make enough biochar to replace 220 thousand tons of coal per year, corresponding to 500 thousand tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

But that’s by 2022, at which point we’ll have even less time to reach the urgent clean energy goals of that doomsday United Nations report. In an ideal world, we would have moved away from coal years ago. At least this gives us a viable alternative as we transition to other, renewable forms of electricity.

So while we can, in part, poop our way to a better world, biochar — and other new sewage-based energy sources — will only be one of many new world-saving sources of clean energy.

READ MORE: This Spanish company found a way to produce a fuel that emits no CO2 — and it’s made of sewage [Business Insider]

More on poop: Edible Tech is Finally Useful, is Here to Help you Poop

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Clean Coal Startup Turns Human Waste Into Earth-Friendly Fuel

Ford’s Self-Driving Cars Are About to Chauffeur Your Senator

Green-Light District

It doesn’t matter how advanced our self-driving cars get — if they aren’t allowed on roads, they aren’t going to save any lives.

The future of autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the U.S. depends on how lawmakers in Washington D.C. choose to regulate the vehicles. But until now, AV testing has largely taken place far from the nation’s capital, mostly in California and Arizona.

Ford is about to change that. The company just announced plans to be the first automaker to test its self-driving cars in the Distinct of Columbia — and how lawmakers feel about those vehicles could influence future AV legislation.

Career Day

Sherif Marakby, CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles, announced the decision to begin testing in D.C. via a blog post last week. According to Marakby, Ford’s politician-friendly focus will be on figuring out how its AVs could promote job creation in the District.

To that end, Ford plans to assess how AVs could increase mobility in D.C., thereby helping residents get to jobs that might otherwise be outside their reach, as well as train residents for future positions as AV technicians or operators.

Up Close and Personal

Marakby notes that D.C. is a particularly suitable location for this testing because the District is usually bustling with activity. The population increases significantly during the day as commuters arrive from the suburbs for work, while millions of people flock to D.C. each year for conferences or tourism.

D.C. is also home to the people responsible for crafting and passing AV legislation. “[I]t’s important that lawmakers see self-driving vehicles with their own eyes as we keep pushing for legislation that governs their safe use across the country,” Marakby wrote.

Ford’s ultimate goal is to launch a commercial AV service in D.C. in 2021. With this testing, the company has the opportunity to directly influence the people who could help it reach that goal — or oppose it.

READ MORE: A Monumental Moment: Our Self-Driving Business Development Expands to Washington, D.C. [Medium]

More on AV legislation: U.S. Senators Reveal the Six Principles They’ll Use to Regulate Self-Driving Vehicles

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Ford’s Self-Driving Cars Are About to Chauffeur Your Senator

This AI Lie Detector Flags Falsified Police Reports

Minority Report

Imagine this: You file a police report, but back at the station, they feed it into an algorithm — and it accuses you of lying, as though it had somehow looked inside your brain.

That might sound like science fiction, but Spain is currently rolling out a very similar program, called VeriPol, in many of its police stations. VeriPol’s creators say that when it flags a report as false, it turns out to be correct more than four-fifths of the time.

Lie Detector

VeriPol is the work of researchers at Cardiff University and Charles III University of Madrid.

In a paper published earlier this year in the journal Knowledge-Based Systems, they describe how they trained the lie detector with a data set of more than 1,000 robbery reports — including a number that police identified as false — to identify subtle signs that a report wasn’t true.

Thought Crime

In pilot studies in Murcia and Malaga, Quartz reported, further investigation showed that the algorithm was correct about 83 percent of the time that it suspected a report was false.

Still, the project raises uncomfortable questions about allowing algorithms to act as lie detectors. Fast Company reported earlier this year that authorities in the United States, Canada, and the European Union are testing a separate system called AVATAR that they want to use to collect biometric data about subjects at border crossings — and analyze it for signs that they’re not being truthful.

Maybe the real question isn’t whether the tech works, but whether we want to permit authorities to act upon what’s essentially a good — but not perfect — assumption that someone is lying.

READ MORE: Police Are Using Artificial Intelligence to Spot Written Lies [Quartz]

More on lie detectors: Stormy Daniels Took a Polygraph. What Do We Do With the Results?

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This AI Lie Detector Flags Falsified Police Reports

These Bacteria Digest Food Waste Into Biodegradable Plastic

Factory Farm

Plastics have revolutionized manufacturing, but they’re still terrible for the environment.

Manufacturing plastics is an energy-intensive slog that ends in mountains of toxic industrial waste and greenhouse gas emissions. And then the plastic itself that we use ends up sitting in a garbage heap for thousands of years before it biodegrades.

Scientists have spent years investigating ways to manufacture plastics without ruining the planet, and a Toronto biotech startup called Genecis says it’s found a good answer: factories where vats of bacteria digest food waste and use it to form biodegradable plastic in their tiny microbial guts.

One-Two Punch

The plastic-pooping bacteria stand to clean up several kinds of pollution while churning out usable materials, according to Genecis.

That’s because the microbes feed on waste food or other organic materials — waste that CBC reported gives off 20 percent of Canada’s methane emissions as it sits in landfills.

Then What?

The plastic that the little buggers produce isn’t anything new. It’s called PHA and it’s used in anything that needs to biodegrade quickly, like those self-dissolving stitches. What’s new here is that food waste is much cheaper than the raw materials that usually go into plastics, leading Genecis to suspect it can make the same plastics for 40 percent less cost.

There are a lot of buzzworthy new alternative materials out there, but with a clear environmental and financial benefit, it’s possible these little bacteria factories might be here to stay.

READ MORE: Greener coffee pods? Bacteria help turn food waste into compostable plastic [CBC]

More on cleaning up plastics: The EU Just Voted to Completely ban Single-Use Plastics

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These Bacteria Digest Food Waste Into Biodegradable Plastic


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