Astronomers Find Galaxy Cluster With Bursting Heart

In a rare find, an international team of astronomers has discovered a gargantuan galaxy cluster with a core bursting with new stars – churning out 800 new stars per year – while our Milky Way galaxy forms two stars per year at the most!

The discovery is the first to show that gigantic galaxies at the centre of massive clusters can grow significantly by feeding off gas stolen from other galaxies.

The giant galaxy at the heart of a cluster named SpARCS1049+56 seems to be forming new stars at an incredible rate.

The SpARCS1049+56 cluster is so far away that its light took 9.8 billion years to reach us.

It houses at least 27 galaxies and has a combined mass equal to 400 trillion Suns.

Galaxy clusters are vast families of galaxies bound together by gravity.

Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, resides within a small galaxy group known as the Local Group, which itself is a member of the massive Laniakea supercluster.

“We think the giant galaxy at the centre of this cluster is furiously making new stars after merging with a smaller galaxy,” explained Tracy Webb from McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

The galaxy was initially discovered using Nasa’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, located on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Follow-up observations using the Nasa/ ESA Hubble Space Telescope allowed the astronomers to explore the galaxy’s activity.

“The Spitzer data showed us a truly enormous amount of star formation in the heart of this cluster, something that has rarely been seen before, and certainly not in a cluster this distant,” commented co-author Adam Muzzin from University of Cambridge.

Galaxies at the centres of clusters are usually made of stellar fossils – old, red or dead stars.

The new discovery is one of the first known cases of a wet merger at the core of a galaxy cluster.

Hubble had previously discovered another closer galaxy cluster containing a wet merger but it was not forming stars as vigorously.

Other galaxy clusters grow in mass through dry mergers, or by siphoning gas towards their centres.

The astronomers now aim to explore how common this type of growth mechanism is in galaxy clusters.

The paper is forthcoming in The Astrophysical Journal.

Intel Says It Will End Its Sponsorship of a Prestigious Science Contest

Intel, the world’s largest maker of semiconductors, is dropping its longtime support of the most prestigious science and mathematics competition for US high school students.

The contest, called the Science Talent Search, brings 40 finalists to Washington for meetings with leaders in government and industry and counts among its past competitors eight Nobel Prize winners, along with chief executives, university professors and award-winning scientists.

Over the years, the award for work in so-called STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – has made national headlines and been an important indicator of America’s educational competitiveness and national priorities. When it was started as an essay competition in 1942, its first topic was “How science can help win the war.” The male winner, or “Top Boy,” went on to develop an artificial kidney. The “Top Girl” became an ophthalmologist. A single winner was first named in 1949.

“When I was a finalist in 1961, it was the Sputnik generation, when America was competing with Russia to get into space,” said Mary Sue Coleman, a former president of the University of Michigan and a current member of the board of the Society for Science and the Public, which administers the contest. “It was a national obsession. People in school cheered us on like we were star athletes. I got letters from the heads of corporations.”

Dropping support for the high school contest is a puzzling decision by Intel, since it costs about $6 million (roughly Rs. 40 crores) a year – about 0.01 percent of Intel’s $55.6 billion (roughly Rs. 3,71,015 crores) in revenue last year – and it generates significant goodwill for the sponsoring organization. Intel has also increased the size and scope of the award, giving more than $1.6 million (roughly Rs. 10,674 crores) annually to students and schools, compared with $207,000 (roughly Rs. 1.4 crores) when it began its sponsorship in 1998.

The Silicon Valley giant took over sponsorship of the award with great fanfare from Westinghouse, becoming only the second company to back the prize in its 73-year history. At the time it was seen as something of a passing of the torch in US industry, to a company then at the heart of the Information Age from one renowned for industrial work in things like nuclear power plants.

Craig Barrett, a former chief executive of Intel, is even a member of the board of the Society for Science and the Public. He said he was “surprised and a little disappointed” by Intel’s decision.

“It’s such a premier event in terms of young people and technology,” Barrett said. “But they appear to be more interested in applied things, like” Maker Faire, an all-ages event that showcases homemade engineering projects.

Barrett said he had talked with Brian M. Krzanich, Intel’s chief executive for the past two years, about the contest. Although Barrett thought it was inappropriate to aggressively lobby his old employer, he termed the annual cost “a rounding error” against Intel’s finances.

“My only comment to Brian was that we’d move forward,” said Barrett, who became Intel’s chief executive in 1998 and retired as chairman of Intel’s board in 2009.

He now runs a chain of charter schools, called Basis, from Phoenix.

There is little indication that the contest has lost its prestige. Applications have held steady at around 1,800 a year for a decade. And in March, President Barack Obama met with the Talent Search finalists at the White House.

Gail Dudas, a spokeswoman for Intel, could not say why it was ending its support, but she said the company, which has struggled with a shift to mobile computing devices but is still one of the tech industry’s most influential names, is “proud of its legacy” in supporting the award.

The Science Talent Search is open to any student in the United States or its territories in his or her last year of secondary school. Independent individual research by thousands of students is narrowed down to 300 semifinalists. Of those, 40 finalists are chosen.

Previous finalists include Ray Kurzweil, a well-known author and director of engineering at Google, and Brian Greene, a best-selling science writer. Thomas Leighton, the chief executive of the Internet company Akamai, was a finalist and is now on the society’s board.

The finalists travel to Washington, where they present their work, meet government and private sector leaders and have their projects reviewed by a panel of judges. There were nine top awards in 2015, worth $35,000 to $150,000 (roughly Rs. 23,34,473 to Rs. 1.1 crores).

This year, Intel gave out three first prizes to highlight the variety of the research conducted. One student developed an algorithm to study adaptive mutations across the human genome. Another studied how phonons, the basic particles of sound, interact with electrons.

“They have been an excellent partner for almost 20 years, but their corporate priorities have changed,” said Maya Ajmera, president of the Society for Science and the Public.

To more recent winners, Intel may have received a benefit besides publicity – it got to teach the young stars more about Intel.

“They showed us stuff they were doing with wearable technologies and machine learning,” a type of artificial intelligence, said Noah Gulwich, a freshman at Harvard. He shared this year’s prize for his work in a branch of mathematics known as the Ramsey theory, which finds structure in complex systems. “I didn’t know much about all the things Intel does before I went to Washington.”

Agmera said her group would start looking for a new corporate sponsor Wednesday.

“We pride ourselves on recognizing thousands of leaders in science and technology and hope to keep doing so,” she said.

Other board members expressed confidence that national competition would produce another corporate sponsor.

Coleman was a finalist in 1961 for researching drug-resistant bacteria. First prize that year was awarded to a study of bowing in the courtship behavior of the male ring dove.

She said she was “very aware” that Larry Page, co-founder and chief executive of Google, is a Michigan graduate and that Google might be a candidate.

“This isn’t a huge amount of money for what it represents,” she said. “I assume another corporation will step up to this.”

Intel informed the group of its decision about 18 months ago, she said, and it will continue to support the award through 2017, in keeping with an earlier contract.

Intel will continue to support a separate talent search aimed at international student competition at least through 2019, which is Intel’s contractual term, said Dudas, the Intel spokeswoman.

In addition to the Intel-sponsored prize, the society also runs a science and technology competition for middle school students, financed by the Broadcom Foundation. Although Broadcom, another semiconductor company, was bought this year, the Broadcom Foundation is independent and will continue to support the prize.

“Intel’s interests have changed,” Coleman said. “But we still think this is a very attractive prize to a number of corporations. It is still really important for the nation.”

Nasa Dawn Probe Reveals Bright Spots on Dwarf Planet Ceres

Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft has shown the brightest spots on the dwarf planet Ceres that are gleaming with mystery.

The closest-yet view of Occator crater, with a resolution of 450 feet per pixel, on its surface gives scientists a deeper perspective on these very unusual features.

The new up-close view reveals better-defined shapes of the brightest, central spot and features on the crater floor.

“Dawn has transformed what was so recently a few bright dots into a complex and beautiful, gleaming landscape,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Dawn is the first mission to visit a dwarf planet, and the first to orbit two distinct solar system targets.

“Soon, the scientific analysis will reveal the geological and chemical nature of this mysterious and mesmerising extraterrestrial scenery,” he said in a statement.

Because these spots are so much brighter than the rest of Ceres’ surface, the Dawn team combined two different images into a single composite view – one properly exposed for the bright spots, and one for the surrounding surface.

Scientists also have produced animations that provide a virtual fly-around of the crater, including a colourful topographic map.

Dawn scientists note the rim of Occator crater is almost vertical in some places, where it rises steeply for nearly two km.

The spacecraft has already completed two 11-day cycles of mapping the surface of Ceres from its current altitude.

Dawn will map all of Ceres six times over the next two months.

Doctor in Blockaded Gaza Makes Stethoscope With 3D Printer

A Palestinian-Canadian doctor has created a low-cost stethoscope using a 3D printer, the first in a series of inventions he hopes will help alleviate medical supply shortages caused by an eight-year blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Dr. Tarek Loubani says his stethoscope can be made for just $2.50 (roughly Rs. 170) – a fraction of the cost of leading brands and some doctors say the equipment is just as good.

The shortage of basic medical devices in the isolated Palestinian territory “is something that I think we can translate from a big problem to a big win for us in Gaza,” said Loubani, an emergency medicine doctor from London, Canada, whose Glia Project aims to provide medical supplies to impoverished places like Gaza.

Hospitals have been struggling since the militant Hamas group took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 and Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on the territory. The import restrictions have led to shortages of medicines and basic supplies like medical consumables and IV bags.

Three wars with Israel, a bitter political rift between rival Palestinian factions and a failure by international donors to deliver on promised pledges of money have compounded the crisis.

Loubani hopes to “produce these devices locally so they meet local need and so that they are not dependent of the political winds of the Israelis and of the donor community.”

The 34-year-old emergency medicine doctor from London, Ontario, helped out at Shifa, Gaza City’s main hospital, during an eight-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in 2012.

As wounded Palestinians poured into the emergency room, the doctors there had to make due with just two stethoscopes, he said.

Back in Canada after the war, he was playing with his nephew’s toy stethoscope when he realized a real stethoscope’s ear tube might not need to be made of stainless steel. After several years of researching, designing and testing, Loubani and his team unveiled a plastic prototype last month.

The first 3D printed stethoscope was tested in Canada using a balloon filled with water. Audio tests showed that the Glia stethoscope was on par with the leading model on the market, the Littmann Cardiology III.

“The Glia model stethoscope is indeed a high quality instrument,” said Dr. Jonathan Dreyer, research director of emergency medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario, who is not a member of the Glia Project.

“I have used it on many of my patients in the emergency department and can attest to the fidelity of the sound,” he said, adding that it is “as good or better” than the Littmann Cardiology III.

The Glia Project has also developed designs for 3D printable surgical tools like needle drivers, used by surgeons to hold suturing needles, and pulse oximeters, used to measure the oxygen levels in a patient’s blood.

On a humid day this week, Loubani, who is visiting Gaza, watched as members of his team began printing a stethoscope head on a 3D printer at a store in Gaza City.

The printer, assembled locally, melted layers of red filament in a circular motion over a heated surface. As soon as the printer finished, Loubani connected the head to red ear tubes and ear tips that were also created with a 3D printer.

“This is simple, cheap and it’s enough for us here,” said Dr. Ayman Sahbani, head of the emergency department at Shifa, who tested the Glia stethoscope. “Now we can make a stethoscope available for each doctor.”

Loubani is slowly introducing his invention to doctors here. It’s a slow process because he said many doctors in Gaza don’t use stethoscopes, but he hopes the price and quality will encourage them and doctors in impoverished countries elsewhere.

“I’m very happy that patients in Gaza and patients all around the world can now, with these stethoscopes, receive the best care possible,” Loubani said.

Nasa Mulls Lander to Explore Jupiter’s Moon Europa for Alien Life

Nasa may send a lander on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa – the most likely candidate for hosting life in our solar system after the Blue Marble – to find signs of life.

The main focus of the launch, that may happen in as early as 2022, will mainly study Europa from the orbit but the US space agency is also exploring the idea for surface investigation, reported on Friday.

“We are actively pursuing the possibility of a lander,” said Robert Pappalardo, Europa project scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, was quoted as saying.

“Nasa has asked us to investigate: What would it take? How much would it cost? Could we put a small surface package on Europa with this mission?” Pappalardo told a panel discussion at the “Space 2015” conference earlier this month.

The final decision is expected by the end of this year, Pappalardo added.

The conditions on Europa have made the icy moon top choice on the researchers’ list of finding alien life in our solar system.

Past research has shown that this icy world has a huge sub-surface ocean that is twice as deep as the deepest spot in Earth’s oceans.

It has existed for billions of years, being almost as old as the solar system itself.

According to a report in, the probe will use as many as nine different ways to study the icy world, including high-resolution cameras, a heat detector and ice-penetrating radar.

Scientists believe it will give them plenty of new data about Europa’s composition, the nature of its sub-surface ocean, as well as its ability to host life similar to that which we know on Earth.

The mission is also expected to serve as a reconnaissance mission to facilitate future landings, as getting to the ice world may be really challenging.

Astronomers Discover How a Dwarf Galaxy Becomes a Star-Forming Powerhouse

An international team of astronomers has discovered an unexpected population of compact interstellar clouds hidden within the nearby dwarf irregular galaxy.

These clouds, which are nestled within a heavy blanket of interstellar material, help explain how dense star clusters are able to form in the tenuous environments of a galaxy thousands of times smaller and far more diffuse than our own Milky Way.

The galaxy is named Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte, more commonly known as WLM, which is located approximately three million light years away from Earth.

“For many reasons, dwarf irregular galaxies like WLM are poorly equipped to form star clusters,” said Monica Rubio, astronomer with the University of Chile and lead author.

These galaxies are fluffy with very low densities. They also lack the heavy elements that contribute to star formation.

“Such galaxies should only form dispersed stars rather than concentrated clusters, but that is clearly not the case,” Rubio noted.

By studying this galaxy with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in northren Chile, the astronomers were able to locate for the first time compact regions that appear able to emulate the nurturing environments found in larger galaxies.

These regions were discovered by pinpointing the almost imperceptible and highly localised millimeter wavelength light emitted by carbon monoxide (CO) molecules, which are typically associated with star-forming interstellar clouds.

Molecules, and carbon monoxide in particular, play an important role in star formation

Further studies with ALMA will also help determine the conditions that formed the globular clusters found in the halo of the Milky Way.

Astronomers believe these much larger clusters may have originally formed in dwarf galaxies and later migrated to the halo after their host dwarf galaxies dispersed.

The paper appeared in the scientific journal Nature.

Elon Musk Tells Stephen Colbert He Wants to Nuke Mars

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and chairman of SolarCity, stands out from other tech billionaires because he isn’t just talking about saving the planet, but actually taking steps to do it with electric cars and batteries, and plans for a human colony on Mars. But when someone starts talking about using nuclear bombs for terraforming, you’ve got to ask if they’ve tripped across some line from hero to villain, like Ozymandias from Watchmen.

Yet that’s exactly what Musk said, during an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show. The segment, which you can see for yourself below, starts off with Colbert comparing Musk to Tony Stark, Iron Man from the Marvel universe.

Musk starts off tamely enough, saying only that he’s “trying to do good things.” They then talked about the Tesla “power arm”, a snakelike charger that automatically moves to connect a Tesla to a power source, to recharge the car’s battery.


Things took a turn for the unexpected when the discussion moved to Musk’s idea of establishing a colony on Mars. Colbert used the word uninhabitable, and Musk quickly corrected him, saying, “it’s very inhospitable.”

He also admitted that while initially you might need atmospheric domes, terraforming Mars could make it more habitable, describing it as a “fixer-upper of a planet”.

“At first, you’re going to have to live in transparent domes, but eventually, you can transport Mars into an Earth-like planet,” Musk said.

“Just warm it up. There’s a fast way, and the slow way,” he added. “The fast way is just drop thermonuclear weapons on the poles.”

Colbert then summed up what everyone was thinking, as he exclaimed, “You’re a super-villain, that’s what the villain does!”

The slow way, which Colbert did not want to find out more about, involves warming up Mars to melt frozen carbon dioxide, which will in turn make the atmosphere of the Red Planet thicker. Doing that makes the planet even warmer; and the process can continue in a cycle until it reaches an equilibrium point. Of course, that’s a very slow process, but would nuking the planet be enough to make it “Earthlike”.

The average temperature on Mars is similar to that of Antarctica in the winter, said Brian Toon, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who co-wrote a paper in 1991 about making the Red Planet habitable, told the Los Angeles Times.

“It seems possible to make it earthlike, but there’s a lot of barriers to overcome,” Toon said to the LA Times. “Blowing up bombs is not a good one.”