13.5-Billion-Year-Old Star, One Of The Oldest In The Universe, Discovered In Earth's Backyard - Canadanewsmedia
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13.5-Billion-Year-Old Star, One Of The Oldest In The Universe, Discovered In Earth's Backyard

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Astronomers have stumbled upon what they believe to be one of the most ancient stars in the entire universe. Dubbed 2MASS J18082002–5104378 B, the newfound star resides in a double star system located in our own galaxy — a mere 2,000 light-years from Earth, reports Astronomy magazine.

At 13.5-billion-years-old, this star dates back to just 300 million years after the Big Bang — and was forged out of the nearly pristine cloud of material leftover from the creation of the universe.

The discovery belongs to a team of scientists from Johns Hopkins University, who tracked down the star to our corner of the Milky Way after another group of astronomers originally spotted its much brighter companion.

“What’s most interesting about this star is that it had perhaps only one ancestor separating it and the beginnings of everything,” said team leader Kevin Schlaufman, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University.

Similar to many of the stars lingering from the early days of the universe, 2MASS J18082002–5104378 B is a red dwarf star with a remarkably low metal content. However, unlike other ancient stars that are short on metals, this particular red dwarf is very tiny and has a peculiar orbit that keeps it within the plane of our galaxy.

The location of the newfound red dwarf star (yellow box) in the disk of the Milky Way.

ESO/BELETSKY/DSS1 + DSS2 + 2MASS

(CC BY 4.0)


The first wave of stars to appear after the Big Bang were churned from a handful of elements available at the time — mostly hydrogen, some helium, and a touch of lithium. As these stars matured, they started to produce heavier elements, also known as metals, which were scattered across the universe at the end of each star’s life cycle via powerful supernova explosions.

The next generation of stars sparked into existence from the slightly metal-enhanced material left behind by their predecessors — and went on to create even more metals that fueled the birth of new stars.

“Our sun likely descended from thousands of generations of short-lived massive stars that have lived and died since the Big Bang,” explained Schlaufman.

His team examined the newfound star with the Gemini Observatory and found it to be “ultra metal-poor,” states a news release from Johns Hopkins. Judging by its composition, the red dwarf “could be as little as one generation removed from the Big Bang.”

According to the university, only around 30 ancient stars with a low metal content have ever been discovered. While these stars are almost as massive as our sun, 2MASS J18082002–5104378 B weighs just 14 percent of the sun’s mass.

“Indeed, it is the new record holder for the star with the smallest complement of heavy elements — it has about the same heavy element content as the planet Mercury. In contrast, our sun is thousands of generations down that line and has a heavy element content equal to 14 Jupiters.”

Instead of wandering away from the galactic plane, as most stars with low metallicity often do, this particular red dwarf has remained within the galactic plane of the Milky Way, going around our galaxy in a circular orbit. In fact, 2MASS J18082002–5104378 B “is likely the oldest known star in the disk of our galaxy,” notes a news release from the Gemini Observatory.

Given the age of this remarkable star, astronomers suggest that our galactic neighborhood might be a lot older than previously calculated — about 3 billion years older, to be precise.

“This star is maybe one in 10 million,” said Schlaufman. “It tells us something very important about the first generations of stars.”

His team believes that even older stars — with a more primitive composition — could be observed in the future, unraveling more details about the early days of the universe.

“If our inference is correct, then low-mass stars that have a composition exclusively [composed of] the outcome of the Big Bang can exist,” explained Schlaufman.

While no such object has been detected in our galaxy so far, the astronomer holds out hope that one will be eventually spotted in the Milky Way.

More details about the ancient star — and its discovery — can be found in the Astrophysical Journal.

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Researchers walk back major ocean warming result

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Scripps Pier after sunset in La Jolla, California. Image via Hayne Palmour IV/ San Diego Union-Tribune/ os Angeles Times.http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-oceans-heat-error-20181114-story.html

This is good news. It is less certain today that Earth’s oceans are 60% warmer than we thought (although they may still be that warm). As reported in the Los Angeles Times today (November 14, 2018), researchers with UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Princeton University have had to walk back a widely reported scientific result – based on a paper published in Nature last month – showing that showed Earth’s oceans were heating up dramatically faster than previously thought, as a result of climate change.

The October 31 paper in Nature stated the oceans had warmed 60% more than outlined by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). On November 6, mathematician Nic Lewis posted his criticisms of the paper at Judith Curry’s blog. Both Lewis and Curry are critics of the scientific consensus that global warming is ongoing and human-caused.

In his November 6 blog post, Lewis pointed out flaws in the October 31 paper. The authors of the October 31 paper now say they’ve redone their calculations, and – although they find the ocean is still likely warmer than the estimate used by the IPCC – they agree that they “miffed” the range of probability. They can no longer support the earlier statement of a heat increase 60% greater than indicated. They now say there is a larger range of probability, between 10% and 70%, as other studies have already found.

A correction has been submitted to Nature.

The Los Angeles Times reported that one of the co-author’s on the paper – Ralph Keeling at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography – “took full blame” and thanked Lewis for alerting him to the mistake. Keeling told the Los Angeles Times:

When we were confronted with his insight it became immediately clear there was an issue there. We’re grateful to have it be pointed out quickly so that we could correct it quickly.

In the meantime, the Twitter-verse today has done the expected in a situation like this, where a widely reported and dramatic climate result has had to be walked back. Many are making comments like this one:

But cooler heads on Twitter and elsewhere in the media are also weighing in, pointing out – as has been necessary to point out time and again – that science is not a “body of facts.” Science is a process. Part of the reason scientists publish is so that other scientists can find errors in their work, so that the errors can be corrected.

All scientists know this. The Los Angeles Times explained it this way:

While papers are peer-reviewed before they’re published, new findings must always be reproduced before gaining widespread acceptance throughout the scientific community …

The Times quoted Gerald Meehl, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, as saying:

This is how the process works. Every paper that comes out is not bulletproof or infallible. If it doesn’t stand up under scrutiny, you review the findings.

Bottom line: An error has been found in the October 31, 2018 paper published in Nature – showing an increase in ocean warming 60% greater than that estimated by the IPCC. The authors have acknowledged the error, and a correction has been submitted to Nature.

October 31 paper in Nature: Quantification of ocean heat uptake from changes in atmospheric O2 and CO2 composition

November 6 blog post by Nic Lewis: A major problem with the Resplandy et al. ocean heat uptake paper

Deborah Byrd

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Upsettingly Large Fungus in Michigan Weighs 440 Tons and Is 2500 Years Old

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  1. Upsettingly Large Fungus in Michigan Weighs 440 Tons and Is 2500 Years Old  Gizmodo
  2. Could this giant 2500-year-old fungus hold the cure to cancer?  Mother Nature Network
  3. Full coverage



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NASA wants Canadian boots on the moon but feds still pondering space options

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OTTAWA — The Trudeau government faced criticism Wednesday for a tepid response to the head of the U.S. space agency saying he wants to see Canadian astronauts walking on the moon in the near future.

Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of he National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said a reconstituted lunar program is the first step toward deeper space exploration, including a mission to Mars.

On a two-day trip to Ottawa, the NASA chief made an impassioned pitch for Canada to continue its decades-long space partnership with the U.S., including by supplying astronauts.

NASA is embarking on the creation of its new Lunar Gateway, a space station it is planning to send into orbit around the moon starting in 2021. The agency wants to create a “sustainable lunar architecture” that would allow people and equipment to go back and forth to the moon regularly, Bridenstine said.

“If Canadians want to be involved in missions to the surface of the moon with astronauts, we welcome that. We want to see that day materialize,” he told a small group of journalists in Ottawa ahead of his keynote speech to the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada.

“We think it would be fantastic for the world to see people on the surface of the moon that are not just wearing the American flag, but wearing the flags of other nations.”

The U.S. is seeking broad international support for its new lunar initiative, Bridenstine told the industry conference. He said NASA wants Canada’s expertise in artificial intelligence and robotics, which could include a next-generation Canadarm on the Lunar Gateway and more Canadian technology inside.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, a vocal booster of Canada’s AI hubs in Ontario and Quebec, said the government is committed to sustaining its partnership with NASA, but he had no specifics.

The minister said the government is still working on a long-awaited space policy that has many dimensions and will be made public before next fall’s federal election.

“At this stage, we would not take anything off the table,” Bains told reporters, when on pressed on the possibility of contributing astronauts to moon missions. “We demonstrated very clearly we want to work with NASA. We want to work with other allies as well.”

The head of one leading Canadian space technology firm said he and many other business leaders at the conference were surprised by the government’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for Bridenstine’s ambitious request.

“There was a lot of excitement about the opportunity that was clearly being given to Canada here,” Mike Greenley, the president of MDA, said in an interview. “I’m a little bit concerned about that lack of response.”

MDA makes sensors, robots and components for satellites.

Greenley said it is possible the government is still considering its options, but given the urgency of the U.S. timetable, that might not be wise.

“The concern would be if we wait too long we can miss the opportunity,” he said. “We best not ponder this too long.”

Greenley said he’d like to see Canadian astronauts on the moon one day, but to get to that stage Canada needs to participate in NASA’s broader lunar program.

Bridenstine said the return to the moon is a stepping stone to a much more ambitious goal: exploration that could include reaching Mars in the next two decades.

“The moon is, in essence, a proving ground for deeper space exploration,” he said.

Marc Garneau, who was the first Canadian to reach outer space in 1984 and is now Canada’s transport minister, told the conference he wants Canada to continue being a “star player” in all fields of the aerospace industry. But he had no new space initiatives to announce.

On Dec. 3, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will travel to the International Space Station on his first mission.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press


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