четверг, 27 сентября 2018 г.

Hidden Passages Carefully managing immune responses to injury…

Hidden Passages

Carefully managing immune responses to injury and infection is critical to survival: during inflammation, immune cells flock to damaged areas to defend the body, but an excessive response can also be dangerous, threatening organ function. To explore inflammatory responses in more detail, researchers working with mice labelled immune cells known as neutrophils, from the marrow of different bones, with coloured dyes. After a stroke, they found that immune cells recruited to the brain came primarily from the skull’s bone marrow, reaching the brain through microscopic channels. Shown here in a mouse skull, joining the marrow (above) to the inner surface of the skull (below), these channels enable quick communication between the brain and bone marrow. Although we do not yet know whether immune cells travel along these channels in humans as they do in mice, studying these connections could be important for understanding the regulation of inflammation in the brain.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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Seismic analysis identifies 2017 North Korean nuclear explosion,…

Seismic analysis identifies 2017 North Korean nuclear explosion, collapse, earthquakes http://www.geologypage.com/2018/09/seismic-analysis-identifies-2017-north-korean-nuclear-explosion-collapse-earthquakes.html

Researchers add surprising finds to the fossil record…

Researchers add surprising finds to the fossil record http://www.geologypage.com/2018/09/researchers-add-surprising-finds-to-the-fossil-record.html

Researchers map susceptibility to human-made earthquakes…

Researchers map susceptibility to human-made earthquakes http://www.geologypage.com/2018/09/researchers-map-susceptibility-to-human-made-earthquakes.html

The origins of the High Plains landscape…

The origins of the High Plains landscape http://www.geologypage.com/2018/09/the-origins-of-the-high-plains-landscape.html

Plate Tectonics May Have Been Active on Earth Since the Very…

Plate Tectonics May Have Been Active on Earth Since the Very Beginning http://www.geologypage.com/2018/09/plate-tectonics-may-have-been-active-on-earth-since-the-very-beginning.html

Otman Bozdagh Mud Volcano Eruption “Sep23, 2018”

Otman Bozdagh Mud Volcano Eruption “Sep23, 2018”

Hayabusa2 Touches Down Ryugu

JAXA – Hayabusa2 Mission patch.

September 27, 2018

JAXA operated Hayabusa2 to separate and send its onboard rovers MINERVA-II1 to the surface of the target asteroid Ryugu.

MINERVA-II1, the collective name of Rovers-1A and –B, have landed on Ryugu. Both rovers are in good health, commencing the survey of the asteroid’s surface.

Following MINERVA-II1 deployment, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft returned to its home position altitude, approximately 20 kilometers above the center of the asteroid at 3 p.m. in Japan time, September 22, 2018. The status of Hayabusa2 is nominal as well.

Images photographed by MINERVA-II1 (Images credit: JAXA)

Image above: Image captured by Rover-1B on September 21 at around 13:07 JST. This color image was taken immediately after separation from the spacecraft. The surface of Ryugu is in the lower right. The coloured blur in the top left is due to the reflection of sunlight when the image was taken.

Image above: mage captured by Rover-1A on September 22 at around 11:44 JST. Color image captured while moving (during a hop) on the surface of Ryugu. The left-half of the image is the asteroid surface. The bright white region is due to sunlight.

On 21 September 2018, 180 million miles from Earth, a roughly 1.5 square-metre cube descended towards a primitive space rock. After years of planning and 4 years in flight, this tiny spacecraft captured this ‘shadow selfie’ as it closed in on asteroid Ryugu, just 80 metres from the remnant of our Solar System’s formation, 4.6 billion years ago.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft is operated by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), supported in part by ESA’s Estrack Malargüe deep-space tracking station. The spacecraft carries four small landers that will investigate the asteroid’s surface, all four designed to gently fall onto the surface of the rocky boulder, taking advantage of its low gravity environment.

Around the time this remarkable picture was taken, the spacecraft released its two MINERVA-II1 rovers which have since successfully landed and demonstrated an ability to hop around this rock-strewn body.

A shadowy selfie taken 180 million miles away

“I cannot find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realize mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid” enthused Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 Project Project Manager, “I am proud that Hayabusa2 was able to contribute to the creation of this technology for a new method of space exploration by surface movement on small bodies.”

The next stage will see the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) lander released onto the asteroid’s surface. Developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in cooperation with the French Space Agency (CNES) MASCOT has enough power for a 12-hour mission, in which it will analyse the asteroid’s surface at two different sites.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft itself will collect three samples from Ryugu, bringing them back to Earth in December 2020. These strange specimens will provide insights into the composition of this carbonaceous asteroid — a type of space rock expected to preserve some of the most pristine materials in the Solar System.

Image above: This artist’s rendering depicts Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe reaching the asteroid Ryugu, thought to contain organic matter from the dawn of the solar system. (Image courtesy of JAXA).

As well as hopefully shining light on the origin and evolution of the inner planets, and the sources of water and organic compounds on Earth, this knowledge should help in efforts to protect our planet from marauding masses that come too close for comfort to our home planet.

Understanding the composition and characteristics of near-Earth objects is vital to defending ourselves from them, if one were to head in our direction. ESA’s proposed Hera mission to test asteroid deflection is an ambitious example of how we can get to know these ancient bodies better, all in the name of planetary defence.

Related link:

JAXA website on Hayabusa2 Project: http://www.hayabusa2.jaxa.jp/en/

Asteroid Explorer “Hayabusa2”: http://global.jaxa.jp/projects/sat/hayabusa2/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)/National Research and Development Agency/European Space Agency (ESA).

Greetings, Orbiter.chArchive link

Astronomers use Earth’s natural history as guide to spot vegetation on new worlds

By looking at Earth’s full natural history and evolution, astronomers may have found a template for vegetation fingerprints – borrowing from epochs of changing flora – to determine the age of habitable exoplanets.

Astronomers use Earth's natural history as guide to spot vegetation on new worlds
Earth’s natural history may now serve as a guide for astronomers to spot exoplanets. About 500 million years ago,
this planet had a different light signature due to the dominance of moss. About 300 million years ago, ferns
were dominate and mature plant forms rules today – changing the planet’s light signature
[Credit: Jack O’Malley-James/Wendy Kenigsberg/Brand Communications]

“Our models show that Earth’s vegetation reflectance signature increases with coverage of our planet’s surface, but also with the age of our planet,” said co-author Jack O’Malley-James, research associate in astronomy at Cornell University’s Carl Sagan Institute. The research, “The Vegetation Red Edge Biosignature Through Time on Earth and Exoplanets,” published online in Astrobiology Journal.
The geological record of the last 500 million years shows that Earth’s surface has changed dramatically, from being ice-covered to having huge forests spread out over land. For most of our home planet’s early history, land plants did not exist, but plants eventually became widespread on Earth’s surface. The first plants, mosses, show only a weak vegetation signature that is difficult for astronomers to find remotely, compared to modern trees.

“We use Earth’s history as a key for finding life in the universe,” said co-author Lisa Kaltenegger, associate professor of astronomy at Cornell University and director of the Carl Sagan Institute. “Our work shows that as plants evolved on Earth, the vegetation signal that reveals their presence became stronger, making older exoplanets really interesting places to look for vegetation.”

Exoplanets may be parched, arid with clear skies and endless cacti forests, or hot jungle worlds covered in tropical forests. “Over interstellar distances, these places might be the best targets to spot vegetation,” Kaltenegger said.

When NASA’s Galileo mission left Earth for Jupiter in 1989, the late Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan requested the spacecraft’s instruments look at Earth to see how light reflected from an inhabited, life-rich planet. Observations in December 1990 revealed a distinctive boost in reflectance between the red and infrared spectrum, just beyond the limits of human vision, due to vegetation.

“The signal Galileo detected for Earth was similar to what observations of an exoplanet in another star system might look like, but, of course, Galileo was much closer to us,” said O’Malley-James.

“Observing an exoplanet is more challenging, but telescope technology is getting better at spotting tiny signals,” said O’Malley-James. “And factoring Earth’s changing landscapes into our models will make it easier to detect vegetation in the future on other worlds.”

Said Kaltenegger: “Looking at how life altered Earth’s biosignatures over time helps us to figure out which planets are most likely to show the strongest signs of life, ultimately giving us the best chances of successfully pinpointing life, if it is there.”

Author: Blaine Friedlander | Source: Cornell University [September 24, 2018]



Ancient Mars had right conditions for underground life, new research suggests

A new study shows evidence that ancient Mars probably had an ample supply of chemical energy for microbes to thrive underground.

Ancient Mars had right conditions for underground life, new research suggests
New research shows that ancient Mars likely had ample chemical energy to support the kinds
of underground microbial colonies that exist on Earth [Credit: NASA/JPL]

“We showed, based on basic physics and chemistry calculations, that the ancient Martian subsurface likely had enough dissolved hydrogen to power a global subsurface biosphere,” said Jesse Tarnas, a graduate student at Brown University and lead author of a study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters. “Conditions in this habitable zone would have been similar to places on Earth where underground life exists.”

Earth is home to what are known as subsurface lithotrophic microbial ecosystems — SliMEs for short. Lacking energy from sunlight, these subterranean microbes often get their energy by peeling electrons off of molecules in their surrounding environments. Dissolved molecular hydrogen is a great electron donor and is known to fuel SLiMEs on Earth.

This new study shows that radiolysis, a process through which radiation breaks water molecules into their constituent hydrogen and oxygen parts, would have created plenty of hydrogen in the ancient Martian subsurface. The researchers estimate that hydrogen concentrations in the crust around 4 billion years ago would have been in the range of concentrations that sustain plentiful microbes on Earth today.

The findings don’t mean that life definitely existed on ancient Mars, but they do suggest that if life did indeed get started, the Martian subsurface had the key ingredients to support it for hundreds of millions of years. The work also has implications for future Mars exploration, suggesting that areas where the ancient subsurface is exposed might be good places to look for evidence of past life.

Going underground

Since the discovery decades ago of ancient river channels and lake beds on Mars, scientists have been tantalized by the possibility that the Red Planet may once have hosted life. But while evidence of past water activity is unmistakable, it’s not clear for how much of Martian history water actually flowed. State-of-the-art climate models for early Mars produce temperatures that rarely peak above freezing, which suggests that the planet’s early wet periods may have been fleeting events. That’s not the best scenario for sustaining life at the surface over the long term, and it has some scientists thinking that the subsurface might be a better bet for past Martian life.

“The question then becomes: What was the nature of that subsurface life, if it existed, and where did it get its energy?” said Jack Mustard, a professor in Brown’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences and a study coauthor. “We know that radiolysis helps to provide energy for underground microbes on Earth, so what Jesse did here was to pursue the radiolysis story on Mars.”

The researchers looked at data from the gamma ray spectrometer that flies aboard NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft. They mapped out abundances of the radioactive elements thorium and potassium in the Martian crust. Based on those abundances, they could infer the abundance of a third radioactive element, uranium. The decay of those three elements provides the radiation that drives the radiolytic breakdown of water. And because the elements decay at constant rates, the researchers could use the modern abundances to calculate the abundances 4 billion years ago. That gave the team an idea of the radiation flux that would have been active to drive radiolysis.

The next step was to estimate how much water would have been available for that radiation to zap. Geological evidence suggests there would have been plenty of groundwater bubbling about in the porous rocks of the ancient Martian crust. The researchers used measurements of the density of the Martian crust to estimate roughly how much pore space would have been available for water to fill.

Finally, the team used geothermal and climate models to determine where the sweet spot for potential life would have been. It can’t be so cold that all water is frozen, but it also can’t be overcooked by heat from the planet’s molten core.

Combining those analyses, the researchers conclude that Mars likely had a global subsurface habitable zone several kilometers in thickness. In that zone, hydrogen production via radiolysis would have generated more than enough chemical energy to support microbial life, based on what’s known about such communities on Earth. And that zone would have persisted for hundreds of millions of years, the researchers conclude.

The findings held up even when the researchers modeled a variety of different climate scenarios — some on the warmer side, others on the colder side. Interestingly, Tarnas says, the amount of subsurface hydrogen available for energy actually goes up under the extremely cold climate scenarios. That’s because a thicker layer of ice above the habitable zone serves as a lid that helps to keep hydrogen from escaping the subsurface.

“People have a conception that a cold early Mars climate is bad for life, but what we show is that there’s actually more chemical energy for life underground in a cold climate,” Tarnas said. “That’s something we think could change people’s perception of the relationship between climate and past life on Mars.”

Exploration implications

Tarnas and Mustard say the findings could be useful in thinking about where to send spacecraft looking for signs of past Martian life.

“One of the most interesting options for exploration is looking at megabreccia blocks — chunks of rock that were excavated from underground via meteorite impacts,” Tarnas said. “Many of them would have come from the depth of this habitable zone, and now they’re just sitting, often relatively unaltered, on the surface.”

Mustard, who has been active in the process of selecting a landing site for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, says that these kinds of breccia blocks are present in at least two of the sites NASA is considering: Northeast Syrtis Major and Midway.

“The mission of the 2020 rover is to look for the signs of past life,” Mustard said. “Areas where you may have remnants of this underground habitable zone — which may have been the largest habitable zone on the planet — seem like a good place to target.”

Source: Brown University [September 24, 2018]



Dust storms on Titan spotted for the first time

Data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has revealed what appear to be giant dust storms in equatorial regions of Saturn’s moon Titan. The discovery, described in a paper published in Nature Geoscience, makes Titan the third Solar System body, in addition to Earth and Mars, where dust storms have been observed.

Dust storms on Titan spotted for the first time
Artist’s concept of a dust storm on Titan [Credit: IPGP/Labex UnivEarthS/
University Paris Diderot – C. Epitalon & S. Rodriguez]

The observation is helping scientists to better understand the fascinating and dynamic environment of Saturn’s largest moon.
“Titan is a very active moon,” said Sebastien Rodriguez, an astronomer at the Université Paris Diderot, France, and the paper’s lead author. “We already know that about its geology and exotic hydrocarbon cycle. Now we can add another analogy with Earth and Mars: the active dust cycle, in which organic dust can be raised from large dune fields around Titan’s equator.”

Titan is an intriguing world—in ways quite similar to Earth. In fact, it is the only moon in the Solar System with a substantial atmosphere and the only celestial body other than our planet where stable bodies of surface liquid are known to still exist.

There is one big difference, though: On Earth such rivers, lakes and seas are filled with water, while on Titan it is primarily methane and ethane that flows through these liquid reservoirs. In this unique cycle, the hydrocarbon molecules evaporate, condense into clouds and rain back onto the ground.

The weather on Titan varies from season to season as well, just as it does on Earth. In particular, around the equinox—the time when the Sun crosses Titan’s equator—massive clouds can form in tropical regions and cause powerful methane storms. Cassini observed such storms during several of its Titan flybys.

Dust storms on Titan spotted for the first time
This compilation of images from nine Cassini flybys of Titan in 2009 and 2010 captures three instances when clear
bright spots suddenly appeared in images taken by the spacecraft’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer
[Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University Paris Diderot/IPGP/S. Rodriguez et al. 2018]

When Rodriguez and his team first spotted three unusual equatorial brightenings in infrared images taken by Cassini around the moon’s 2009 northern equinox, they thought they might be the same kind of methane clouds; however, an investigation revealed they were something completely different.

“From what we know about cloud formation on Titan, we can say that such methane clouds in this area and in this time of the year are not physically possible,” said Rodriguez. “The convective methane clouds that can develop in this area and during this period of time would contain huge droplets and must be at a very high altitude—much higher than the 6 miles (10 kilometers) that modeling tells us the new features are located.”

The researchers were also able to rule out that the features were actually on the surface of Titan in the form of frozen methane rain or icy lavas. Such surface spots would have a different chemical signature and would remain visible for much longer than the bright features in this study, which were visible for only 11 hours to five weeks.

In addition, modeling showed that the features must be atmospheric but still close to the surface—most likely forming a very thin layer of tiny solid organic particles. Since they were located right over the dune fields around Titan’s equator, the only remaining explanation was that the spots were actually clouds of dust raised from the dunes.

Dust storms on Titan spotted for the first time
This animation, based on images captured by the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) on NASA’s
Cassini mission during several Titan flybys in 2009 and 2010, shows clear bright spots that have been
interpreted as evidence of dust storms [Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/
University Paris Diderot/IPGP/S. Rodriguez et al. 2018]

Organic dust is formed when organic molecules, formed from the interaction of sunlight with methane, grow large enough to fall to the surface. Rodriguez said that while this is the first-ever observation of a dust storm on Titan, the finding is not surprising.
“We believe that the Huygens Probe, which landed on the surface of Titan in January 2005, raised a small amount of organic dust upon arrival due to its powerful aerodynamic wake,” said Rodriguez. “But what we spotted here with Cassini is at a much larger scale. The near-surface wind speeds required to raise such an amount of dust as we see in these dust storms would have to be very strong—about five times as strong as the average wind speeds estimated by the Huygens measurements near the surface and with climate models.”

The existence of such strong winds generating massive dust storms implies that the underlying sand can be set in motion, too, and that the giant dunes covering Titan’s equatorial regions are still active and continually changing.

The winds could be transporting the dust raised from the dunes across large distances, contributing to the global cycle of organic dust on Titan and causing similar effects to those that can be observed on Earth and Mars.

Source: NASA [September 24, 2018]



2018 September 27 M33: Triangulum Galaxy Image Credit &…

2018 September 27

M33: Triangulum Galaxy
Image Credit & Copyright: Christoph Kaltseis, CEDIC

Explanation: The small, northern constellation Triangulum harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is over 50,000 light-years in diameter, third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 is itself thought to be a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy and astronomers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other’s grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this sharp image shows off M33’s blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions along the galaxy’s loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region, seen here at about the 7 o’clock position from the galaxy center. Like M31, M33’s population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap180927.html

The Hallstatt effect (?)

Just to see what would happen, I ran a subset of the highest coverage Bronze Age samples from what is now Britain and Ireland in my new Celtic vs Germanic Principal Component Analysis (PCA). Look for the Britain_&_Ireland_BA cluster. The relevant datasheet is available here.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the likely Celtic-speaking Iron Age individuals from what is now England (labeled England_IA) are positioned between these older British and Irish samples and the two ancients from Iron Age burials in Bylany, Czechia, associated with the Hallstatt culture (marked with black stars). That’s because the Hallstatt people are generally considered to have been the earliest speakers of Celtic languages.
Hence, what the PCA might be showing is a genetic shift in the British and Irish Isles caused by the arrival of Hallstatt Celts in Northwestern Europe.
Interestingly, the present-day English samples appear to be a mixture of Britain_&_Ireland_BA, England_IA and England_Anglo-Saxon. However, a subset of these samples is also heavily shifted “east” towards one of the Hallstatt individuals and present-day Dutch, suggesting that they harbor extra admixture from continental Europe.
This isn’t easy to make out on my plot, because of the clutter, but I can assure you that it’s true. Keep in mind that you can plug the datasheet into the PAST program (freely available here) to have a much closer look at the PCA and even change the color coding.
To check whether England_IA can be modeled as a mixture of Britain_&_Ireland_BA and Hallstatt with formal methods, I ran an analysis with the qpAdm software using all of the publicly available Bronze Age samples from what are now Britain and Ireland. The standard errors are high, probably because Britain_&_Ireland_BA and Hallstatt are closely related, but, overall, we can probably say that the model does limp across the line.

Britain_&_Ireland_BA 0.555±0.172
Hallstatt 0.445±0.172
chisq 18.513
tail prob 0.100973
Full output

However, the really important thing about this output is that England_IA cannot be modeled as simply Britain_&_Ireland_BA (the chisq and tail prob are way off). Thus, even though the Hallstatt samples from Bylany don’t appear to be ideal proxies for the admixture in England_IA that is lacking in Britain_&_Ireland_BA, the signal they produce does suggest that a closely related population arrived in the British Isles after the Bronze Age to give rise to England_IA.
See also…
Celtic vs Germanic Europe


History of Airborne Astronomy at NASA

NASA – Armstrong Flight Research Center patch / NASA & DLR – SOFIA patch.

Sept. 26, 2018

Sixty years ago, in 1958, NASA was founded as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The agency has a long history of using airplanes to study space. Flying at high altitudes puts telescopes above the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere that blocks certain types of light, like infrared, from reaching ground-based telescopes. Airborne observatories can also go anywhere to conduct observations, enabling researchers to study transient events, such as the eclipse-like events called occultations to learn about distant planets and objects. When airborne observatories land after each flight, the telescope instruments, such as specialized cameras, can be upgraded or serviced, and new ones can be built to harness new technologies — which is not possible on most space-based telescopes.

Image above: NASA’s Galileo I aircraft during a flight to study a solar eclipse in 1965. The modified Convair-990 aircraft had multiple observations windows in the top left side of the aircraft. Image Credit: NASA.  

NASA paved the way for airborne astronomy in 1965 by flying a modified Convair 990 aircraft to study a solar eclipse from inside the path of totality. In 1968, astronomers used 12-inch telescopes in the cabins of Learjet aircraft to study objects like Venus using infrared light.

Images above: Left: The Learjet Observatory (Learjet 24B aircraft) flying above California in the early 1970’s. The telescope was just in front of the wing. Right: Scientist Carl Gillespie using a 12-inch infrared telescope while flying aboard the Learjet 23 aircraft at 50,000 feet in 1968. Image Credit: NASA.

The work on the Learjet Observatory led to the development of NASA’s Kuiper Airborne Observatory, or KAO, a converted C-141 cargo aircraft that carried a 36-inch reflecting telescope. Named after the planetary scientist Gerard Kuiper, it operated from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California from 1975 to 1995. Scientists used the KAO for solar system research, galactic and extra-galactic observations, and even studied the space shuttle’s heat shield in infrared light as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. Discoveries made from the Kuiper Airborne Observatory included:

– Pluto’s atmosphere
– Rings around Uranus
– ​A ring of star formation around the center of the Milky Way
– Complex organic molecules in space
– Water in comets and in Jupiter’s atmosphere

Images above: Left: The Kuiper Airborne Observatory flies with its telescope door open in 1980. The converted C-141 aircraft had a 36-inch telescope just in front of the wing. Right: Inside the KAO, where the mission crew sat during flight. These consoles were positioned along the side of the aircraft’s cabin. The portion of the telescope system that was inside the cabin can be seen at the back of the image. The open telescope cavity was separate from the pressurized cabin. Image Credit: NASA.
The Kuiper Airborne Observatory was decommissioned in 1995 to enable the development of a flying observatory with a larger, more powerful infrared telescope — the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) jointly operate SOFIA. They chose a Boeing 747SP aircraft to carry the largest airborne telescope to date, at 106 inches (2.7 meters) in diameter. NASA modified and maintains the aircraft — which once flew for both Pan American World Airways and United Airlines — that now carries the telescope, its support systems, and the mission crew. The DLR designed, built and maintains the telescope which operates while flying at altitudes up to 45,000 feet at more than 650 mph.

Images above: Left: SOFIA soars over the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountains with its telescope door open during a test flight. Right: Inside SOFIA during an observing flight at 40,000 feet. The mission crew, including telescope operators and scientists, sit facing the telescope at the back of the aircraft. The portion of the telescope that is inside the cabin is the blue round structure. The beige wall around the blue telescope structure is a pressure bulkhead that separates the open telescope cavity from the pressurized cabin, so the cabin environment feels similar to a commercial aircraft. Images Credits: Left: NASA/Jim Ross Right: NASA/DLR/Fabian Walker.

Aircraft modifications included cutting the hole for the telescope cavity, adding a new pressure bulkhead to separate the pressurized cabin from the cavity, and adding airflow ramps around the cavity that allow the plane to fly normally while the telescope door is open. Inside the cabin, mission control systems required for the observatory replaced the seats from the aircraft’s days as a passenger plane. The modifications and test flights took place in Waco, Texas and at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Hangar 703. About 20 people are aboard each flight to operate the aircraft, control the telescope and collect astronomical data.

Image above: SOFIA’s telescope, as seen during construction before its reflective aluminium coating was applied, reveals the honeycomb design that reduces its weight by 80%. Image Credits: NASA/Ron Strong.

The German-built telescope is made of a unique glass material that has almost zero thermal expansion, so the mirror is unaffected by the temperature changes between the warm ground-level air and the cold stratosphere. The back of the telescope has a honeycomb design to make it approximately 80 percent lighter than most telescopes of this size. An intricate stabilization system isolates the telescope from the aircraft’s movement, keeping it fixed on its observing target during overnight flights. SOFIA reached full operational capacity in 2014 and flies three or more times per week for 10 hours at a time. 

Astronomers are using SOFIA to study many different kinds of astronomical objects and phenomena, including:

– Star birth and death
– The formation of new solar systems
– Identification of complex molecules in space
– Planets, comets and asteroids in our solar system
– Nebulae and the ecosystems of galaxies
– Celestial magnetic fields
– Black holes at the center of galaxies

Image above: NASA’s airborne infrared observatories — the Learjet Observatory, the Kuiper Airborne Observatory and SOFIA — are pictured next to illustrations showing how the size of each telescope approximately compares to an adult. Image Credits: NASA/SOFIA/L. Proudfit.

NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is operated and maintained from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Hangar 703, in Palmdale, California.

Add-on for Flight Simulator X:

Image Credit: Orbiter.ch Aerospace

NASA & DLR Boeing 747/SP SOFIA Observatory repaint for FSX

Related links:

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/SOFIA/index.html

NASA’s Kuiper Airborne Observatory: https://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/watchtheskies/kuiper.html

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/armstrong/home/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/SOFIA Science Center/Kassandra Bell.

Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link

Tiger population nearly doubles in Nepal

Nepal’s wild tiger population has nearly doubled over the last nine years, officials said Monday, in a victory for the impoverished country’s drive to save the endangered big cats.

Tiger population nearly doubles in Nepal
The wild tiger population in Nepal was counted as 235 in a survey carried out this year,
double that in 2009 [Credit: AFP]

Wildlife groups have welcomed the news as a sign that political involvement and innovative conservation strategies can reverse the decline of the majestic Royal Bengal tiger.

A survey carried out earlier this year counted 235 tigers in Nepal, up from around 121 tigers in 2009.

Conservationists and wildlife experts used more than 4,000 cameras and around 600 elephants, trawling a 2,700-kilometre (1,700-mile) route across Nepal’s southern planes where the big cats roam.

“This is a result of concentrated unified efforts by the government along with the local community and other stakeholders to protect the tiger’s habitat and fight against poaching,” Man Bahadur Khadka, director general of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, told AFP.

Deforestation, encroachment of habitat and poaching have devastated big cat numbers across Asia, but in 2010 Nepal and 13 other countries signed a pledge to double their tiger numbers by 2022.

The 2010 Tiger Conservation Plan—which is backed by high profile figures including actor Leonardo DiCaprio—quickly began bearing fruit, and in 2016 the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum announced that the wild tiger population had increased for the first time in more than a century.

In 1900, more than 100,000 tigers roamed the world but that fell to an all-time low of 3,200 in 2010.

DiCaprio tweeted his support for Nepal’s success: “I am proud of @dicapriofdn’s partnership with @World_Wildlife to support Nepal and local communities in doubling the population of wild tigers.”

Ghana Gurung, country representative of WWF in Nepal, said that the country’s progress was an example for tiger conservation globally.

“The challenge now is to continue these efforts to protect their habitats and numbers for the long-term survival of the tigers,” he said.

Source: AFP [September 24, 2018]



Common weed killer linked to bee deaths

The world’s most widely used weed killer may also be indirectly killing bees. New research from The University of Texas at Austin shows that honey bees exposed to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, lose some of the beneficial bacteria in their guts and are more susceptible to infection and death from harmful bacteria.

Common weed killer linked to bee deaths
Credit: Alex Wild/University of Texas at Austin

Scientists believe this is evidence that glyphosate might be contributing to the decline of honey bees and native bees around the world.

“We need better guidelines for glyphosate use, especially regarding bee exposure, because right now the guidelines assume bees are not harmed by the herbicide,” said Erick Motta, the graduate student who led the research, along with professor Nancy Moran. “Our study shows that’s not true.”

Because glyphosate interferes with an important enzyme found in plants and microorganisms, but not in animals, it has long been assumed to be nontoxic to animals, including humans and bees. But this latest study shows that by altering a bee’s gut microbiome — the ecosystem of bacteria living in the bee’s digestive tract, including those that protect it from harmful bacteria — glyphosate compromises its ability to fight infection.

The researchers exposed honey bees to glyphosate at levels known to occur in crop fields, yards and roadsides. The researchers painted the bees’ backs with colored dots so they could be tracked and later recaptured. Three days later, they observed that the herbicide significantly reduced healthy gut microbiota. Of eight dominant species of healthy bacteria in the exposed bees, four were found to be less abundant. The hardest hit bacterial species, Snodgrassella alvi, is a critical microbe that helps bees process food and defend against pathogens.

Common weed killer linked to bee deaths
Credit: Alex Wild/University of Texas at Austin

The bees with impaired gut microbiomes also were far more likely to die when later exposed to an opportunistic pathogen, Serratia marcescens, compared with bees with healthy guts. Serratia is a widespread opportunistic pathogen that infects bees around the world. About half of bees with a healthy microbiome were still alive eight days after exposure to the pathogen, while only about a tenth of bees whose microbiomes had been altered by exposure to the herbicide were still alive.

“Studies in humans, bees and other animals have shown that the gut microbiome is a stable community that resists infection by opportunistic invaders,” Moran said. “So if you disrupt the normal, stable community, you are more susceptible to this invasion of pathogens.”

Based on their results, Motta and Moran recommend that farmers, landscapers and homeowners avoid spraying glyphosate-based herbicides on flowering plants that bees are likely to visit.

More than a decade ago, U.S. beekeepers began finding their hives decimated by what became known as colony collapse disorder. Millions of bees mysteriously disappeared, leaving farms with fewer pollinators for crops. Explanations for the phenomenon have included exposure to pesticides or antibiotics, habitat loss and bacterial infections. This latest study adds herbicides as a possible contributing factor.

Common weed killer linked to bee deaths
Credit: Alex Wild/University of Texas at Austin

“It’s not the only thing causing all these bee deaths, but it is definitely something people should worry about because glyphosate is used everywhere,” said Motta.

Native bumble bees have microbiomes similar to honey bees, so Moran said it’s likely that they would be affected by glyphosate in a similar way.

The findings are published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: University of Texas at Austin [September 24, 2018]



Silver fox study reveals genetic clues to social behaviour

In 1959, Russian scientists began an experiment to breed a population of silver foxes, selecting and breeding foxes that exhibited friendliness toward people. They wanted to know if they could repeat the adaptations for tameness that must have occurred in domestic dogs. Subsequently they also bred another population of foxes for more aggressive behavior.

Silver fox study reveals genetic clues to social behaviour
A silver fox bred for tameness at the the Institute for Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia
[Credit: Darya Shepeleva]

After 10 generations, a small fraction of the tame-bred foxes displayed dog-like domesticated behavior when people approached. Over time, an increasing fraction of the foxes showed this friendly behavior.

Now, after more than 50 generations of selective breeding, a new Cornell-led study compares gene expression of tame and aggressive silver foxes in two areas of the brain, shedding light on genes responsible for social behavior.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, identified genes that were altered in tame animals in two areas of the brain involved with learning and memory.

“That such a radical change in temperament could be accomplished so quickly is truly remarkable,” said Andrew Clark, professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Cornell and a senior co-author of the paper.

The research team obtained prefrontal cortex and basal forebrain brain tissue samples of 12 tame and 12 aggressive foxes from the Institute for Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia, where the foxes were bred.

Clark and first author Xu Wang, Ph.D. ’11, a former research associate in Clark’s lab, conducted two types of genetic analysis. In one investigation, they sequenced the RNA produced by all genes, which allowed them to measure how much every gene was turned on. The other test identified different versions of genes, called alleles, and measured how they changed in frequency in the population over generations.

These analyses revealed which brain pathways were altered by breeding tame and aggressive foxes. The prefrontal cortex and basal forebrains are known for handling higher processing of information, including higher-level social interaction. The team was especially interested in neurons classified by the neurotransmitters (brain signaling chemicals) they release: dopamine, serotonin and glutamine.

The pleasure centers in the brain are triggered by dopamine, and Clark said he expected those dopaminergic pathways to be altered in the tame animals.

“Tame animals seem like they are blissed out all the time,” he said. “They’re just so happy and adorable, so I thought certainly the dopaminergic [pathway would be affected]. But there was no signal.”

However, the genes that impact the function of both serotonergic neurons and glutaminergic neurons were clearly affected by selection toward tameness. These neurons are important for learning and memory.

Also, the analyses implicated genes important in the function of the neural crest, a transient group of cells that arises very early in the embryo. These cells migrate to form many types of adult cells, including those that determine skin and hair pigment (melanocytes), peripheral nerves, and the tissues of the face. The signals suggest a link to “domestication syndrome,” a cluster of ancillary traits – white fur spots, shorter nose, curly tail and floppy ears – that pops up in domesticated canines, and in similar forms of other species.

“Darwin, and many others since, observed that when people select for domestication, there is a tendency to see a reversion in these traits to a more juvenile form,” Clark said, adding that more study of the neural crest’s role in domestication syndrome is needed.

The paper was written in tandem with another related study recently published in Nature Ecology and Evolution that includes many of the same co-authors

Author: Krishna Ramanujan | Source: Cornell University [September 24, 2018]



Birds reinvent voice box in novel evolutionary twist

Birds tote around two vocal organs inside their bodies, but only one works. New interdisciplinary research suggests that this distinctly avian anatomy arose because birds, somewhere in their evolutionary history, opted for building a brand new vocal organ–the syrinx– instead of modifying an existing one that is present in an array of animals but silent in birds–the larynx.

Birds reinvent voice box in novel evolutionary twist
A singing bird (Dickcissel, Spiza americana). Birds are able to sing thanks to a unique organ
called the syrinx [Credit: John Bates, Field Museum]

The researchers, a team of scientists including developmental biologists, paleontologists and evolutionary biologists, said that the evolution of the syrinx– which is unique to birds–raises questions about changes in bird vocalization over time and can help shed light on the mechanisms driving the development of new structures in animals. The syrinx is an especially interesting case because it is one of the rare instances where a new structure evolves without serving a new function.

“The syrinx is a kind of novelty that you don’t see commonly in the tree of life,” said lead author and principal investigator Julia Clarke, a professor at The University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences. “What’s kind of peculiar about it is that in a lot of biological novelties the structures change in response to a new function, but in this case you have apparently the same function.”

The diverse team, including Evan Kingsley and Cliff Tabin from Harvard Medical School as well as UT affiliates Chad Eliason and Zhiheng Li, published their study in Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Science. The study presents a look at how and why birds developed a completely new way of producing sound.

Most land-dwelling animals with a backbone produce sounds using the larynx. Some animals modify the sounds with the help of other structures. For example, male koalas have vocal folds above their larynx that create deep bellows, and toothed-whales can modify vocal sounds using folds in their nasal cavity. However, the syrinx–located deep inside the chest near the heart–stands out because it is a distinct vocal organ in its own right. Part of the research involved investigating how the syrinx and larynx may have once worked together.

Birds reinvent voice box in novel evolutionary twist
These are 3D models of the larynx of an alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the syrinx of a muscovy duck
(Cairina moschata). Specimens were dissected out, stained and scanned at The University of Texas
High-Resolution CT Facility [Credit: Julia Clarke et al. PNAS, 2018]

The researchers argue that the presence of a functional larynx in closely related bird relatives presents a possible evolutionary scenario where the ancestors of living birds may have had two functional vocal organs–a larynx and a syrinx–that sounded together, until eventually the larynx went silent and only the syrinx remained functional.

“We also present an alternate scenario where the syrinx, instead of arising as an accompaniment, evolved as a replacement noisemaker after the larynx lost its primary sound producing function, ending a potential ‘quiet zone’ in evolutionary history where bird ancestors didn’t make a peep,” said Eliason, a postdoctoral associate at the Field Museum of Natural History and a former Jackson School postdoctoral researcher.

The researchers note that the presence of a perfectly functional larynx in the closest living relatives of birds and improvements in hearing in multiple lineages of dinosaurs make this scenario not as likely as the first.

In addition to looking into the evolutionary environment, the team also investigated the developmental history of the syrinx in comparison to the larynx.

Birds reinvent voice box in novel evolutionary twist
Two primary hypotheses for the evolutionary transition from a laryngeal sound source to a syringeal sound source
(blue shaded box). Auditory innovations are shown as black dashes and suggest a sustained role for acoustic
communication in archosaurs. Understanding whether the shift to a syringeal sound source occurred early
or late in bird-lineage archosaurs will require further comparative genomic and paleontological work
[Credit: Julia Clarke et al. PNAS, 2018]

“Despite their related function, the syrinx and larynx have distinct developmental histories–forming from different tissues,” said Kingsley.

The origin of a unique developmental path and novel bird organ could be linked to other amazing avian innovations–from the dawn of flight to the evolution of complex bird song and the development of long necks in extinct dinosaur ancestors of modern birds.

“What we show about syrinx development suggests fundamental differences from the larynx and has important implications for how the enormous variation we see within birds in song and structure arose,” Kingsley said.

Even though the syrinx may be just for the birds, Clarke said that understanding more about what led to its origin and development could help scientists learn more about how biological innovation works in the big picture.

“When we put this all into the context of biological novelty, we gain insight into how new structures and functions arise in the history of life,” Clarke said.

Source: The University of Texas at Austin [September 24, 2018]



Ancient mice discovered by climate cavers in Australia

The fossils of two extinct mice species have been discovered in caves in tropical Queensland by University of Queensland scientists tracking environment changes.

Ancient mice discovered by climate cavers in Australia
A fossil Leggadina webbi jaw from the cavers’ explorations
[Credit: University of Queensland]

Fossils of Webb’s short-tailed mouse (Leggadina webbi) were found at Mount Etna near Rockhampton, while Irvin’s short-tailed mouse (Leggadina irvini), was discovered near Chillagoe at the base of Cape York Peninsula.

Dr Jonathan Cramb from UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences said the finds show that analysing fossils found in caves could help determine how the local environment had changed over time.

“Caves are great places for the preservation of fossils, partially because they’re natural traps that animals fall into, but also because they’re roosting sites for owls and other flying predators,” he said.

“Owls are exceptionally good at catching small mammals in particular, so the cave floor beneath their roosts is littered with the bones of rodents and small marsupials. The accumulation of bones build up over time, providing us with a record of what species were living in the local area, which can stretch back hundreds of thousands of years. Many species are only found in certain habitats — for example, hopping mice (Notomys spp.) generally live in deserts, while tree mice (Pogonomys spp.) only live in rainforests — so changes in the fauna tell us about changes in the environment.”

Dr Cramb said the team, including UQ’s Dr Gilbert Price and alumnus Scott Hocknull from the Queensland Museum, was able to confirm a number of environmental changes thanks to the fossils.

“Our findings show that the caves around Mount Etna had gone through a period of local extinction of rainforests, which were replaced by dry to arid habitats less than 280,000 years ago,” Dr Cramb said.

“My colleagues and I wondered if the same environmental change happened elsewhere in Queensland, which is why we were searching the caves near Chillagoe. Our analysis of fossils from the caves in north-east Queensland has shown that rainforest extinction was widespread. This research shows that, at least in these instances, rainforest extinction is correlated with a sudden shift in climate — a warning that rainforests are particularly vulnerable to climate change.”

The new species of mice were named after UQ palaeontologist Professor Gregory Webb and citizen scientist and caving guide Douglas Irvin.

The discovery was documented in PeerJ.

Source: University of Queensland [September 24, 2018]



Jerash a ‘significant urban community of the Early Islamic period’ — archaeologist

Jerash, considered an important Roman and Byzantine city, is slowly revealing its role during the Early Islamic period.

Jerash a ‘significant urban community of the Early Islamic period’ — archaeologist
The Umayyad mosque of Jerash during excavation in 2012. The mosque was built in ca. 725 AD. The qibla wall
is in the lower right side of the photo [Credit: Islamic Jerash Project & the University of Copenhagen]

The Danish scholar Rune Rattenborg studied different historical periods across the Middle East in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

He has been working in Jerash since 2007, first with the Islamic Jerash Project of the University of Copenhagen directed by Professor Alan Walmsley, and recently with the Late Antique Jerash Project, directed by Louise Blanke.

“I am primarily interested in understanding the economic and social histories of ordinary people in the Middle East through texts, excavations and the study of the landscape and environment of,” Rattenborg said.

According to the scholar, the most important contribution of the Islamic Jerash Project has been to completely revise the understanding of the town in the Early Islamic period.

Despite the important work carried out by both Jordanian and international researchers, Jerash has traditionally been viewed primarily as a Roman or as a Christian city, on account of impressive theatres, bathhouses, temples and churches that can still be seen throughout the ancient city, he said.

Jerash a ‘significant urban community of the Early Islamic period’ — archaeologist
The site of the early Islamic mosque of Jarash, north of the iconic Oval Piazza at the central
 crossroads of the town [Credit: The Danish-Jordanian Islamic Jarash Project]

“In discovering, excavating and restoring a large Umayyad congregational mosque located at the very centre of the ancient city, the Islamic Jerash Project has highlighted the importance of Jerash as a significant urban community of the Early Islamic period,” Rattenborg underlined.

The Danish scholar has been an area supervisor at the Islamic Jerash Project from 2008-2011, teaching Danish and Jordanian students the basics of field archaeology in the Middle East.

“Since 2012, I have been assistant director of the Islamic Jerash Project and my primary focus area has been the excavation of a group of Abbasid houses dating from 8th to 10th centuries AD,” he said, noting that next to the so-called “Umayyad House” on the northern side of the South Decumanus, these buildings constitute some of the earliest Islamic houses found in Jerash.

Excavations of the Islamic Jerash Project have been discontinued since the last season in 2013, when the restoration of the mosque was finished and the building was opened to visitors, Rattenborg said.

Rattemborg said it is now time to prepare material for scholarly articles and books on early Islamic rule in the ancient Jordanian city.

“Together with my colleagues and project directors I will be working towards publishing the findings of the Islamic Jerash Project in the coming years,” he underscored.

Author: Saeb Rawashdeh | Source: The Jordan Times [September 24, 2018]



NASA’s 60th Anniversary: The Leading Edge of FlightAeronautics…

NASA’s 60th Anniversary: The Leading Edge of Flight

Aeronautics is our tradition. For 60 years, we have advanced aeronautics, developed new technologies and researched aerodynamics. Our advancements have transformed the way you fly. We will continue to revolutionize flight.

Since we opened for business on Oct. 1, 1958, our history tells a story of exploration, innovation and discoveries. The next 60 years, that story continues. Learn more: https://www.nasa.gov/60

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Christian amulets discovered at Viking site in Ribe

Amulets with Christian symbolism have been found in the oldest extant town in Denmark; they may shed new light on the Christian roots of Scandinavian society.

Christian amulets discovered at Viking site in Ribe
Credit: Northern Emporium Project

Three leaden pendants featuring Christian crosses dating from the early 800s have been unearthed from an excavation site in Ribe, a former Viking capital, suggesting that the first Christians had established themselves in Danish society several generations earlier than previously assumed, Danish Radio reported.

“This is new knowledge of early Christianity in Denmark. We are used to crediting Harald Bluetooth with christening the Danes in around the year 960. But this shows that people in Ribe wore Christian amulets more than 150 years before this actually happened,” Søren Sindbæk, a professor at Aarhus University, said, calling it “sensational.”

The three amulets all bear X-shaped crosses, which is also known as a saltire or “Saint Andrew’s cross” and is seen on the flag of Scotland and reflected in Russia’s Navy ensign, among other present-day national symbols.

“This type of cross was very common in that period. They are often encountered in France or Germany, which were already Christian at that point. However, it is believed that people in Denmark were still worshipping Old Norse gods at that time,” Sindbæk emphasized.

The amulets were all found in a smithy, where the molds were also discovered. This suggests the mass production of Christian amulets and thus a larger group of Christian followers.

“This is a sign that Christians have been around and perhaps even led a Christian mission here in Ribe at least one generation before what we know today. This finding predates the missionary Ansgar [also known as “the Apostle of the North”], whose mission, we know, began in the 820s,” Søren Sindbæk pointed out.

Another outlier was the material used in the production of the pendants. Viking jewelry was usually made of precious metals, such as bronze, silver or gold.

“Lead as such is related to Christian symbolism. On judgment day, you should not wear flashy jewelry, which could testify to wealth or vanity. Therefore, it is quite typical that such jewelry was made of more humble material like lead,” Søren Sindbæk said.

Sindbæk is the leader of a research project dedicated to a comprehensive review of the Viking age. For the past 14 months, researchers from the Northern Emporium Project have been digging into the heart of the Viking-age capital of Ribe, its former marketplace, which Sindbæk referred to as an “explosion of finds.” The project is a collaboration between Aarhus University and Southwest Jutland Museums, with support from the Carlsberg Foundation.

The discoveries will be exhibited in Southwest Jutland Museums and ultimately sent on a “world tour.”

With a population of slightly over 8,000, Ribe is Denmark’s oldest extant town, established in the early eighth century in the Germanic Iron Age. It is the seat of the eponymous diocese.

Source: Sputnik News [September 24, 2018]



Resumption of excavations on megalithic site in Wéris, Belgium

Archaeological digs will resume on the megalithic site of Wéris (in the municipality of Durbuy), listed in 1974 and placed on the List of Exceptional Heritage Sites in Wallonia since 2014.

Resumption of excavations on megalithic site in Wéris, Belgium
Wéris I dolmen [Credit: Jean-Pol Grandmont/WikiCommons]

The announcement came on Friday from the Walloon Minister for Heritage, René Collin, (from the Christian democratic French-speaking Humanist Democratic Centre).

With its 17 standing stones and two covered alleyways, the megalithic field in Wéris makes up the entire construction, the oldest of its kind in Belgium. Spread over a length of eight kilometres, these two parallel menhirs have been subject to several excavations since the end of the 19th century.

The fresh dig is to comprise “a global search, on a large scale, which will enable a better understanding of both the general layout of the monuments and their interaction within the countryside.”

The minister states that the project will also be the opportunity to reposition the two menhirs, discovered in 1984, within their trench, and to look for the foundation trench of the menhir ‘Dantinne’, moved in 1947 along the Erezée road. Lastly he says that it will also enable the production of an archaeological assessment of the site.

The Walloon Heritage Agency will undertake coordination of the project.

Source: The Brussels Times [September 24, 2018]




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