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NASA and Italian Space Agency Join Forces on Air Pollution Mission



NASA and the Italian space agency Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) are partnering to build and launch the Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) mission, an effort to investigate the health impacts of tiny airborne particles polluting some of the world’s most populous cities. MAIA marks the first NASA mission whose primary goal is to benefit societal health, as well as the first time epidemiologists and public health researchers have been directly involved in development of a satellite mission.

Set to launch before the end of 2024, the MAIA observatory will consist of a satellite known as PLATiNO-2 provided by ASI and a science instrument built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The mission will collect and analyze data from the observatory, sensors on the ground, and atmospheric models.

Those results will then be related to human birth, death, and hospitalization records to answer pressing questions about the health impacts of solid and liquid particles that contaminate the air we breathe. These particles, called aerosols, have been linked to respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke, and adverse reproductive and birth outcomes, including premature birth and low infant birth weight.

“Breathing airborne pollution particles has been associated with many health problems, but the toxicity of different particle mixtures has been less well understood,” said David Diner, NASA’s principal investigator for MAIA. “Working together with colleagues in Italy and around the world, we expect that MAIA will help us understand how airborne particle pollution puts our health at risk and potentially provide insights that will inform the decisions of public health officials and other policymakers.”


The observatory’s science instrument contains a pointable spectropolarimetric camera, which captures digital images at multiple angles in the ultraviolet, visible, near-infrared, and shortwave infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. This data will help the MAIA science team explore the size, geographic distribution, composition, and abundance of airborne particles and investigate how they relate to the patterns and prevalence of health problems stemming from poor air quality.

“MAIA marks an important moment in the long history of cooperation between NASA and ASI, and it symbolizes the best our two agencies can marshal in terms of expertise, knowledge, and Earth-observation technology,” said Francesco Longo, head of the Earth Observation and Operation Division at ASI. “The science produced by this joint mission will provide benefits to humanity for years to come.”

The agreement between NASA and ASI was finalized in January 2023 and continues decades of collaboration, including on the Cassini mission to Saturn, which launched in 1997. In 2022, ASI’s ArgoMoon tiny cube satellite, or CubeSat, was a secondary payload aboard the Artemis I mission’s Orion spacecraft. The agency’s Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging Asteroids, or LICIACube, played a crucial role in NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.

Why Particles Matter

MAIA’s measurements of sunlight reflecting off airborne particles will help researchers determine the abundance, size, and optical properties of certain pollutants in the atmosphere. Using such data in conjunction with surface-based measurements will help researchers decipher the particles’ chemical composition.

Particles that are 10 micrometers or less in diameter (PM10) are small enough to be inhaled, potentially causing tissue damage and inflammation in the nose, throat, and lungs. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) can penetrate deeper into the lungs and be absorbed into the bloodstream, where they can cause more serious health problems.

The composition of such particles depends on how they were formed. For example, black carbon results from the burning of fossil fuels and trees, while mineral dust comes from soil and sand. Other particles – organic carbon, sulfates, and nitrates – can form through chemical reactions between gases in the atmosphere. MAIA’s main objective is to study whether exposures to these different types of particle pollution have differing health impacts.

Over the course of its three-year mission, MAIA will focus on 11 primary target areas that cover major urban centers around the globe: Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Boston in the United States; Rome; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Barcelona, Spain; Beijing; Johannesburg; New Delhi; Taipei, Taiwan; and Tel Aviv, Israel. While orbiting 460 miles (740 kilometers) above Earth’s surface, the mission will also collect some data over 30 secondary target areas throughout the world.

Epidemiologists on the science team intend to study the effects of short-term exposure to particulate pollution over the course of days, as well as chronic exposure, which can last many years. Also of interest is “sub-chronic” exposure, such as the monthslong inhaling of pollutants that might occur during pregnancy, which can lead to adverse health effects for a mother and infant.

More About the Mission

MAIA is a joint Earth-observing mission between NASA and ASI. JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, leads the U.S. component of the project and is providing the observatory’s science instrument and hosting the instrument operations center. NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program (SCaN) will provide uplink and downlink services for commands and data, and NASA’s Atmospheric Science Data Center will provide computational resources to generate and archive science products. ASI will provide the PLATiNO-2 spacecraft, contribute launch services, and host the mission operations center.

To learn more about MAIA, visit:


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After sunset, see the 5 planets in the sky



This chart shows a westward view after sunset on March 30, 2023. Jupiter is getting harder to see, and the Sun is falling into the setting light. But Mercury will rise in the west — every evening — and rise throughout early April. Note that Uranus is close to Venus, but not shown. We show Uranus in the chart below. By way of illustration Used with permission.

How to see 5 planets

This week (late March 2023), you can see five planets lined up in our evening sky: Venus and Uranus, Jupiter and Mercury and Mars. Gianluca Massi of the Virtual Telescope Project in Rome, Italy, showed them through a telescope earlier today (March 29). To enjoy his presentation, watch the video below. In addition, you can see them in the sky, perhaps, if your sky conditions are very good, and you have a sharp eye.

As soon as the sun sets, the planets are positioned in a gentle arc across the evening sky, following the sun’s path across our sky. Likewise, the Moon and the planets also follow the eclipse.

How can we see the planets? Go out around sunset and look west. Among them you can easily spot the bright planet Venus.

Then use binoculars to scan the planet Uranus next to Venus.


Then aim your binoculars low in the sky, near the point where the sun is setting. That is where you will find Jupiter and Mercury.

Then look high in the sky — still see the eclipse or the path of the Sun — to Mars.


Guide to Planetary Viewing

Venus and Uranus. Of these five planets, Venus is the brightest and Uranus is the dim. These two are close together in the sky. Venus is easily visible to the eye. It is the first “star” (actually, planet) to come into view. Uranus shines at +5.8 magnitudes. This is theoretically obvious. But, in practice, you need a dark sky and a telescope to find it. It was roughly 1.5 degrees or three moon widths from Venus earlier this week. Uranus will be closest to Venus on Thursday, March 30.

Thursday and Wednesday. Jupiter is the 2nd brightest planet. But it is now near sunset and visible only in bright twilight. Bright twilight skies make Jupiter more difficult to find. But Jupiter is still visible to the naked eye very close to sunset. And Wednesday? It is fainter than Jupiter (though still brighter than most stars). But it is near sunset. Shortly after sunset, start looking for the pair on the western horizon. You need clear skies and an unobstructed western view to catch them. A telescope should help. They disappear only 30 minutes after sunset. So, when the sun sets, the clock chimes.

tuesday, now the 5th planet in the evening sky, was easy to spot earlier this week because it’s not far from the Moon in our sky’s dome. A bright red light near the moon on Tuesday evening, March 28, 2023. Mars is bright. It is brighter than most stars. And it is clearly red. Even after the sun goes away, you can still spot Mars by its color and by the fact that it doesn’t shine like stars.

Some inventor charts

March 30, Venus and Uranus through binoculars. Venus at upper right, large and bright.March 30, Venus and Uranus through binoculars. Venus at upper right, large and bright.
On the evening of March 30, 2023, bright Venus transits dim Uranus. In other words, these 2 worlds are very close on March 30. Assuming you have a dark sky, standard telescopes can easily show Uranus next to Venus. Illustration by John Jardine Gauss/EarthSky.
5 Planets: Astrology Chart for March 31 showing Nakshatras. Planets and Moon align at sunset.5 Planets: Astrology Chart for March 31 showing Nakshatras. Planets and Moon align at sunset.
This chart shows the view looking west after sunset on March 31, 2023. Can you catch Jupiter in the sunset light? Every evening, Mercury becomes superlative in early April. Note that Uranus is close to Venus, but not shown. By way of illustration Used with permission.
5 Planets: Astrology chart for March 29 showing stars. The planets and the moon align at night.5 Planets: Astrology chart for March 29 showing stars. The planets and the moon align at night.
Want to see 5 planets tonight? Be ready for a challenge. This chart shows the view looking west after sunset on March 29, 2023. As the days pass, it becomes harder and harder for Jupiter to fall into the setting sun. But Mercury will rise in the west — every evening — and rise throughout early April. Note that Uranus is close to Venus, but not shown. By way of illustration Used with permission.
Two nearly half-light moons, 1 to the right near the Red Spot (Mars) and the other to the left near the stars named Castor and Pollux.Two nearly half-light moons, 1 to the right near the Red Spot (Mars) and the other to the left near the stars named Castor and Pollux.
Here is a chart showing both March 28 and March 29. See how the Moon moves with Mars? Check out the twin stars Castor and Pollux in Gemini the Twins. Illustration by John Jardine Gauss/EarthSky.

Visit for accurate views from your location.

Bottom line: You have a chance to see five planets tonight and throughout this week. Here are illustrations and information, including where to look in the video.


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Artemis 2’s Canadian astronaut got their moon mission seat with ‘potato salad’



It took four years of negotations for Canada to get a seat on NASA’s upcoming moon mission.

That mission, Artemis 2, will send a Canadian and three Americans around the moon no sooner than November 2024. The Canadian seat comes courtesy of a big contribution to NASA’s Artemis program: Canadarm3, a robotic arm that will service the planned Gateway moon-orbiting space station. (The identities of the Artemis 2 crewmembers are currently unknown but will be revealed on Monday, April 3, in a live NASA event that you can watch here at

Canadarm3 was announced in 2019 as part of a big push in Canadian federal government circles to reprioritize space exploration. The government pledged US $1.56 billion USD in space spending over 24 years ($2.05 billion CAD under 2019 exchange rates). That’s $65 million USD a year, a fairly significant amount for a space agency that specializes in niche projects.

Much of that Canadian Space Agency (CSA) money was for Canadarm3, but some was also earmarked for a business incubator known as the Lunar Exploration Acceleration Program (LEAP). Other support went to food and health tech development contests designed to assist future deep space astronauts.


Getting all that funding and securing a seat on Artemis 2, however, took four years of behind-the-scenes negotiations. To introduce what happened, let’s talk about something that may not sound all that space-y at first: potato salad.

Canada is a powerful tech specialist that has been supplying highly capable space robotics since 1981 — Canadarm for the space shuttle program; Canadarm2 for the International Space Station (ISS), along with a “handy robot” named Dextre; and Canadarm3, which will be built by the company MDA. These are all crucial tools used for applications such as spacewalking, satellite repairs and space station servicing.

Ken Podwalski, a senior CSA official involved with the Artemis 2 and Gateway negotiations, likens the reputation of Canada’s space robotics to the dinner guest who comes armed with a divine side dish: “People look at Canada and say, ‘Canada, you guys make the best potato salad, bar none. It’s the best potato salad you can get. Nobody does it like you.'”

His confidence comes from decades of space experience. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, for example, would not be running today without Canadarm, which was used on five space shuttle servicing missions to the iconic observatory from 1993 to 2009. Nor would the ISS exist in its current form without Canadarm2, which berths cargo ships, assists in construction and even starred in a spectacular 2007 emergency spacewalk to fix a torn ISS solar panel.


NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski during a tricky International Space Station solar array repair in 2007. He rode a combination of Canadian robotics to get to the distant site: the Canadarm2 grasped a modified Canadarm to extend the robotic reach as far as possible. (Image credit: NASA )

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But in 2015, when the future of the ISS collaboration was being discussed within Canada, the U.S. and other nations, there were lots of questions about what would happen next. Canada was just changing over from a Conservative to a Liberal government for the first time in nearly a decade, following the 2015 election.

The U.S. was on the eve of the 2016 election, which brought in a new presidential administration as well. Numerous ideas were batted about concerning the direction of NASA’s human spaceflight program over the coming years. Would the agency work toward a crewed visit to an asteroid? A moon mission? How quickly and with whom? And within Canada, no space plan for government spending direction had been formulated for many years, making roadmaps similarly uncertain — until a high-level strategy document came out in 2019.

The multinational space groups Canada is a part of all agreed on one thing, Podwalski said: Mars was the ultimate destination. The question simply came down to which pathway to take. The CSA created its own planning group that used the ISS agreements as a starting point. Gateway, though changing design and scope periodically, was a solid enough target to plan discussions with NASA during the 2015 to 2018 negotiations, he said.

“We were going through this quite intensive time. We were doing presentations with the partners and trying to understand what the right fit was,” Podwalski recalled. “We were [also] doing presentations with our government, trying to make sure that we’re taking the right approach.”


NASA and other international partners have agreed that eventually they want to send humans to Mars, but the pathway has been under negotiation for many years. (Image credit: NASA)

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Building the new Canadarm3 was established as the primary aim. Podwalski, citing what he calls the “potato salad speech” he brings out in such planning meetings, said he always told people that focus was essential.

“Everybody expects Canada to bring the potato salad,” he said. “The potato salad gets you in the door, no problem … and it doesn’t stop you from bringing anything else. You’re now a part of the party. Now’s a good time to bring up other things.”

He thus urged his collaborators to deprioritize expensive and newer work that Canada could undertake, such as space modules or large rovers. But they also sought other avenues where modest investments could have a powerful impact and involve many smaller companies in related industries to space. Through these conversations, a mini moon rover (announced in 2021), a lunar utility vehicle (announced in the Canadian federal budget on March 28) and the CSA LEAP incubator program (renewed in the 2023 federal budget) all eventually came to be as well.

Canadarm3 was also designed to align with the priorities of the Canadian government. Serving remote communities in the north, especially Indigenous groups, through spinoff medical technology? Check. Continuing to grow Canada’s artificial intelligence community, a key tech direction for the country? Another big check, as Canadarm3 will be autonomously operating without astronaut crews nearby for at least 11 months a year. Preparing for Mars? Absolutely, as the artificial intelligence and robotics will also be beneficial on a more faraway planet, Podwalski said.


A visualization of the crew segment of the NASA-led lunar Gateway station. Gateway’s design will likely continue to evolve as new hardware becomes available. (Image credit: ESA/NASA/ATG Medialab)

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Podwalski emphasized how important it was to stay flexible through the negotiations, which extended through several U.S. election and Canadian cycles across 2015 to 2018, not to mention policy changes in the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and other partners.

“It is difficult to pull together these multibillion-dollar programs and get all these partners with all their own agendas about what they want to do in space, what technologies they want to develop and what they want to do with their industry,” he said.

Formulations also will continue to change on the key hardware, he emphasized, and negotiations are always undertaken with that flexibility in mind. For example, he said, it’s possible that Gateway may alter again after SpaceX‘s Starship achieves its first spaceflight as soon as this month, given that Starship could carry a considerable amount of cargo to lunar realms.

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But for Canada, the benefits from Canadarm3’s “potato salad” approach have been considerable so far. The Artemis 2 seat, when offered by NASA, met the CSA’s goal of having an early moon mission with an astronaut on board to build industry and scientific momentum for other moon ventures, Podwalski said.

So far, NASA has also promised a long-duration Gateway mission to Canada sometime in the future. Other astronaut lunar journeys may come, including a landing mission, in negotiations down the road.

The ISS journey will continue alongside Artemis, too. Canada last month committed to extending its ISS participation to 2030 alongside other partners who agreed to that last year, most crucially NASA. (Russia has said it aims to exit the ISS partnership sometime after 2024.) Canada will also fly an astronaut to the ISS again in 2024 or 2025, the Canadian federal budget confirmed a few days ago.

Podwalski urged the community to keep watching for new announcements. “We’re a partner in good standing,” he said of the ISS and Artemis consortiums. “We’re part of the initial [moon] foray; we’re part of the trailblazers. It really does position Canada in a good way.”



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Jurassic Makeover: Revealing the True Faces of Predatory Dinosaurs Like T. rex



A juvenile Edmontosaurus disappears into the enormous, lipped mouth of Tyrannosaurus. Credit: Mark Witton


A recent study challenges the depiction of predatory dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex with exposed teeth, suggesting they had scaly, lizard-like lips instead. By examining tooth structure, wear patterns, and jaw morphology of reptile groups, researchers concluded that theropod mouth anatomy resembles lizards more than crocodiles. The findings imply that many popular dinosaur depictions, including the iconic <span class=”glossaryLink” aria-describedby=”tt” data-cmtooltip=”

The Jurassic period is a geologic time period and system that spanned 56 million years from the end of the Triassic Period about 201.3 million years ago to the beginning of the Cretaceous Period 145 million years ago. It constitutes the middle period of the Mesozoic Era and is divided into three epochs: Early, Middle, and Late. The name &quot;Jurassic&quot; was given to the period by geologists in the early 19th century based on the rock formations found in the Jura Mountains, which were formed during the Jurassic period.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”]”>Jurassic Park T. rex, are incorrect. This research provides valuable insights into the appearance, feeding habits, dental health, and evolutionary patterns of dinosaurs and other extinct <span class=”glossaryLink” aria-describedby=”tt” data-cmtooltip=”

A species is a group of living organisms that share a set of common characteristics and are able to breed and produce fertile offspring. The concept of a species is important in biology as it is used to classify and organize the diversity of life. There are different ways to define a species, but the most widely accepted one is the biological species concept, which defines a species as a group of organisms that can interbreed and produce viable offspring in nature. This definition is widely used in evolutionary biology and ecology to identify and classify living organisms.

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A new study suggests that predatory dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurus rex, did not have permanently exposed teeth as depicted in films such as Jurassic Park, but instead had scaly, lizard-like lips covering and sealing their mouths.


Researchers and artists have debated whether theropod dinosaurs, the group of two-legged dinosaurs that includes carnivores and top predators like T. rex and Velociraptor, as well as birds, had lipless mouths where perpetually visible upper teeth hung over their lower jaws, similar to the mouth of a crocodile.

T. rex Skull and Head Reconstructions

T. rex skull and head reconstructions. Credit: Mark Witton

However, an international team of researchers challenge some of the best-known depictions, and say these dinosaurs had lips similar to those of lizards and their relative, the tuatara – a rare reptile found only in New Zealand, which are the last survivors of an order of reptiles that thrived in the age of the dinosaurs.


In the most detailed study of this issue yet, the researchers examined the tooth structure, wear patterns and jaw morphology of lipped and lipless reptile groups and found that theropod mouth anatomy and functionality resembles that of lizards more than crocodiles. This implies lizard-like oral tissues, including scaly lips covering their teeth.

These lips were probably not muscular, like they are in mammals. Most reptile lips cover their teeth but cannot be moved independently – they cannot be curled back into a snarl, or make other sorts of movements we associate with lips in humans or other mammals.

Study co-author Derek Larson, Collections Manager and Researcher in Palaeontology at the Royal BC Museum in Canada, said: “Palaeontologists often like to compare extinct animals to their closest living relatives, but in the case of dinosaurs, their closest relatives have been evolutionarily distinct for hundreds of millions of years and today are incredibly specialised.

“It’s quite remarkable how similar theropod teeth are to monitor lizards. From the smallest dwarf monitor to the Komodo dragon, the teeth function in much the same way. So, monitors can be compared quite favourably with extinct animals like theropod dinosaurs based on this similarity of function, even though they are not closely related.”


Tyrannosaurus rex Bellowing

Tyrannosaurus rex bellowing with its mouth shut, like a vocalising alligator. With its mouth closed, all of the enormous teeth of T. rex would be invisible behind its lips. Credit: Mark Witton


Co-author Dr Mark Witton from the <span class=”glossaryLink” aria-describedby=”tt” data-cmtooltip=”

University of Portsmouth
Established in 1992, the University of Portsmouth is a public university in the city of Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. Prior to reaching university status, the school was known as Portsmouth Polytechnic from 1969 until 1992 and can trace its history back to 1870 as the Portsmouth and Gosport School of Science and Art.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”]”>University of Portsmouth said: “Dinosaur artists have gone back and forth on lips since we started restoring dinosaurs during the 19th century, but lipless dinosaurs became more prominent in the 1980s and 1990s. They were then deeply rooted in popular culture through films and documentaries — Jurassic Park and its sequels, Walking with Dinosaurs and so on.

“Curiously, there was never a dedicated study or discovery instigating this change and, to a large extent, it probably reflected preference for a new, ferocious-looking aesthetic rather than a shift in scientific thinking. We’re upending this popular depiction by covering their teeth with lizard-like lips. This means a lot of our favourite dinosaur depictions are incorrect, including the iconic Jurassic Park T. rex.”

The results, published in the journal Science, found that tooth wear in lipless animals was markedly different from that seen in carnivorous dinosaurs and that dinosaur teeth were no larger, relative to skull size, than those of modern lizards, implying they were not too big to cover with lips.


T. rex Juvenile Running

A half-grown Tyrannosaurus, sporting a full set of lips, runs down Struthiomimus, a beaked ostrich dinosaur. Credit: Mark Witton


Also, the distribution of small holes around the jaws, which supply nerves and blood to the gums and tissues around the mouth, were more lizard-like in dinosaurs than crocodile-like. Furthermore, modelling mouth closure of lipless theropod jaws showed that the lower jaw either had to crush jaw-supporting bones or disarticulate the jaw joint to seal the mouth.

“As any dentist will tell you, saliva is important for maintaining the health of your teeth. Teeth that are not covered by lips risk drying out and can be subject to more damage during feeding or fighting, as we see in crocodiles, but not in dinosaurs,” said co-author Kirstin Brink, Assistant Professor of Palaeontology at the University of Manitoba.

She added: “Dinosaur teeth have very thin enamel and mammal teeth have thick enamel (with some exceptions). Crocodile enamel is a bit thicker than dinosaur enamel, but not as thick as mammalian enamel. There are some mammal groups that do have exposed enamel, but their enamel is modified to withstand exposure.”


Theropods Lips Infographic

A one-sheet summary of the main investigations and conclusions of the study. Credit: Mark Witton


Thomas Cullen, Assistant Professor of Paleobiology at Auburn University and study lead author, said: “Although it’s been argued in the past that the teeth of predatory dinosaurs might be too big to be covered by lips, our study shows that, in actuality, their teeth were not atypically large. Even the giant teeth of tyrannosaurs are proportionally similar in size to those of living predatory lizards when compared for skull size, rejecting the idea that their teeth were too big to cover with lips.”

The results provide new insights into how we reconstruct the soft tissues and appearance of dinosaurs and other extinct species. This can give crucial information on how they fed, how they maintained their dental health, and the broader patterns of their evolution and ecology.

Dr Witton said: “Some take the view that we’re clueless about the appearance of dinosaurs beyond basic features like the number of fingers and toes. But our study, and others like it, show that we have an increasingly good handle on many aspects of dinosaur appearance. Far from being clueless, we’re now at a point where we can say ‘oh, that doesn’t have lips? Or a certain type of scale or feather?’ Then that’s as realistic a depiction of that species as a tiger without stripes.”


The researchers point out that their study doesn’t say that no extinct animals had exposed teeth — some, like sabre-toothed carnivorous mammals, or marine reptiles and flying reptiles with extremely long, interlocking teeth, almost certainly did.

For more on this research, see Deadly Teeth of T. rex Were Hidden Behind Scaly Lips.

Reference: “Theropod dinosaur facial reconstruction and the importance of soft tissues in paleobiology” by Thomas M. Cullen, Derek W. Larson, Mark P. Witton, Diane Scott, Tea Maho, Kirstin S. Brink, David C. Evans and Robert Reisz, 30 March 2023, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.abo7877



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