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Milky Way's Supermassive Black Hole is Closer than Astronomers Thought | Astronomy –



The distance between our Solar System and Sagittarius A*, the 4-million-solar-mass black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, is approximately 25,800 light-years, about 1,900 light-years closer than previous estimate, according to an analysis of data from the Japanese VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometer) project VERA (VLBI Exploration of Radio Astrometry).

Position and velocity map of the Milky Way Galaxy; arrows show position and velocity data for 224 objects used to model the Galaxy; the solid black lines show the positions of the Galaxy’s spiral arms; the colors indicate groups of objects belonging the same arm. Image credit: NAOJ.

“Because Earth is located inside the Milky Way, we can’t step back and see what our Galaxy looks like from the outside,” said Dr. Tomoya Hirota, an astronomer from the Mizusawa VLBI Observatory at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the Department of Astronomical Sciences at SOKENDAI, and his colleagues from the VERA Collaboration.

“Astrometry, accurate measurement of the positions and motions of objects, is a vital tool to understand the overall structure of the Galaxy and our place in it.”

“VERA was initiated by National Astronomical Observatory of Japan in the 2000s,” they added.

“The project was designed to dedicate for the VLBI astrometry observations to reveal 3D velocity and spatial structures in the Milky Way.”

“It involved four 20-m radio telescopes in Japan: at Mizusawa, Iriki, Ogasawara, and Ishigaki-jima stations.”

Using data from the first VERA astrometry catalog, the astronomers modeled the structure of the Milky Way to estimate the fundamental parameters such as the distance toward the Galactic center and the velocity of the Sun around it.

“Our results suggest that the center of the Galaxy, and the supermassive black hole which resides there, is located 25,800 light-years from Earth,” they said.

“This is closer than the official value of 27,700 light-years adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1985.”

“The velocity component of the map indicates that the Sun is traveling at 227 km/s as it orbits around the Galactic center. This is faster than the official value of 220 km/s.”

The VERA researchers now plan to observe more objects, particularly ones close to Sagittarius A*, to better characterizes the structure and motion of the Milky Way.

“As part of these efforts VERA will participate in EAVN (East Asian VLBI Network) comprised of radio telescope located in Japan, South Korea, and China,” they said.

“By increasing the number of telescopes and the maximum separation between telescopes, EAVN can achieve even higher accuracy.”

The VERA catalog was published recently in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan.


Tomoya Hirota et al. (VERA Collaboration). 2020. The First VERA Astrometry Catalog. Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan 72 (4): 50; doi: 10.1093/pasj/psaa018

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COVID-19 outbreak declared over at Coastal Gas Link work sites –



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Starlink satellite internet grants instant sign-up for eligible Canadians – IT World Canada



Depending on where they live, some Canadians can now sign up for Starlink’s satellite internet service.

Starlink, the new high-speed internet service provided by Elon Musk’s U.S.-based SpaceX firm, recently expanded its first public testing stage to Canada in these coordinates:

Province Latitudes (°N)
Alberta 49.0 – 51.5
British Columbia 48.4 – 51.7
Manitoba 49.0 – 51.1
New Brunswick 45.3 – 47.6
Nova Scotia 45.0 – 46.0
Ontario 43.1 – 51.0
Saskatchewan 49.6 – 50.7

But as Tesla North reported with notes from a Reddit thread, the updated Starlink registration website now asks users for their exact location as part of the invite process. Users within certain zones can sign up immediately. Currently, users in the following areas have seen the most success:

Province Latitudes (°N)
Ontario 44.52; 45.3; 44.1; 43.1
Manitoba 50.01
Alberta 50.71

Once approved, the eligible users can purchase the necessary Starlink hardware, which includes a satellite dish. The Satellite dish costs CA$649, and the service is CA$129 per month.

In a CBC article, some Starlink subscribers have reported service speeds of up to 150Mbps.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) granted Starlink’s operator, SpaceX, a Basic International Telecommunications Service (BITS) license in October 2020. The license allows SpaceX to provide telecommunication services in Canada but does not allow it to operate as an internet service provider within the issuing nation.


SpaceX granted basic telecom license in Canada

Starlink says it aims to establish a global network by using a massive constellation of satellites. The satellites float at low earth orbit, which both cuts down on signal latency and can more easily return to earth once they’re decommissioned. But stargazers are worried that the massive amount of satellites could obscure the view of the night sky.

The company has expressed a keen interest in providing internet service to rural and underserved areas in Canada and the United States. It’s currently extending beta testing offers in Canada, U.S. and U.K.

Starlink says it has launched 955 satellites so far.

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Researcher expands plant genome editing with newly engineered variant of CRISPR-Cas9 –



Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Alongside Dennis van Engelsdorp, associate professor at the University of Maryland (UMD) in Entomology named for the fifth year in a row for his work in honey bee and pollinator health, Yiping Qi, associate professor in Plant Science, represented the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources on the Web of Science 2020 list of Highly Cited Researchers for the first time. This list includes influential scientists based on the impact of their academic publications over the course of the year. In addition to this honor, Qi is already making waves in 2021 with a new high-profile publication in Nature Plants introducing SpRY, a newly engineered variant of the famed gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9. SpRY essentially removes the barriers of what can and can’t be targeted for gene editing, making it possible for the first time to target nearly any genomic sequence in plants for potential mutation. As the preeminent innovator in the field, this discovery is the latest of Qi’s in a long string of influential tools for genome editing in plants.

“It is an honor, an encouragement, and a recognition of my contribution to the science community,” says Qi of his distinction as a 2020 Web of Science Highly Cited Researcher. “But we are not just making contributions to the academic literature. In my lab, we are constantly pushing for improved gene editing out to scientists to make an impact.”

With SpRY, Qi is especially excited for the limitless possibilities it opens up for genome editing in and crops. “We have largely overcome the major bottleneck in plant genome editing, which is the targeting scope restrictions associated with CRISPR-Cas9. With this new toolbox, we pretty much removed this restriction, and we can target almost anywhere in the plant genome.”

The original CRISPR-Cas9 that kicked off the gene editing craze was tied to targeting a specific short sequence of DNA known as a PAM sequence. The short sequence is what the CRISPR systems typically use to identify where to make their molecular cuts in DNA. However, the new SpRY variant introduced by Qi can move beyond these traditional PAM sequences in ways that was never possible before.

“This unleashes the full potential of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing for plant genetics and crop improvement,” says an excited Qi. “Researchers will now be able to edit anywhere within their favorable , without questioning whether the sites are editable or not. The new tools make genome editing more powerful, more accessible, and more versatile so that many of the editing outcomes which were previously hard to achieve can now be all realized.”

According to Qi, this will have a major impact on translational research in the gene editing field, as well as on crop breeding as a whole. “This new CRISPR-Cas9 technology will play an important role in food security, nutrition, and safety. CRISPR tools are already widely used for introducing tailored mutations into crops for enhanced yield, nutrition, biotic and abiotic stress resistance, and more. With this new tool in the toolbox, we can speed up evolution and the agricultural revolution. I expect many plant biologists and breeders will use the toolbox in different crops. The list of potential applications of this new toolbox is endless.”

Explore further

Genome editing to treat human retinal degeneration

More information:
Qiurong Ren et al, PAM-less plant genome editing using a CRISPR–SpRY toolbox, Nature Plants (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41477-020-00827-4

Researcher expands plant genome editing with newly engineered variant of CRISPR-Cas9 (2021, January 22)
retrieved 22 January 2021

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