Four Notable Things About the Most Distant Star Scientists Have Ever Glimpsed

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Between the glowing blue and yellow swirls of distant galaxies, this tiny pinprick of light doesn’t look like much: a white smudge on the infinite black of the universe.

But this tiny speck has enormous significance for astronomers. It’s the most distant star ever seen, affording astronomers a glimpse back in time.

Images showing how astronomers spotted the most distant star imaged, which was not visible in 2011 but popped up in 2016 thanks to gravitational lensing.
Icarus, the most distant star ever imaged, wasn’t visible in previous years (2011); it was only thanks to gravitational lensing that it twinkled into view (2016). Image credit: NASA, ESA, P KELLY/University of Minnesota

The star, MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star 1 (more simply known as “Icarus”) was about 9 billion light years away when it emitted the light now reaching Earth. Most other objects spotted at this distance are either galaxies or exploding stars (AKA supernovas), which produce much more light than this distant glimmer.

Thanks to the constant expansion of the universe, Icarus would now be much further away from our planet; by now, it’s probably gone supernova itself, and formed either a black hole or neutron star. (For why we can still view it, though, see #3.)

Here are four things you should know about this distant galactic neighbor, and why we’re just seeing it for the first time.

1. Spotting Icarus was a stroke of good luck

Icarus is so far away that we technically shouldn’t be able to see it: it’s about 100 times further away than the most distant star telescopes have been able to view before now. Fortunately, astronomers got a little bit of help from the universe in spotting it (and the Hubble telescope, props to that).

Icarus was visible because of an astronomical phenomenon called gravitational lensing. In short, the gravity of large, stacked-up celestial objects (in this case, a cluster of galaxies) bend light, creating a magnifying glass-effect for anything behind them. Overall, researchers told The Guardian, Icarus was magnified more than 2,000 times.

Icarus also got a special boost from an extra-magnifying star within the galaxy cluster, making it appear four times brighter over the course of the time the astronomers studied it. Thank you, physics.

2. The star is a blue supergiant

Icarus would be an oddity in the universe — if it were still around. Analysis of the star’s light showed it was a blue supergiant, one of the hottest and highest-mass stars we know of; the blue supergiant Rigel A, the bright left “foot” of the constellation Orion, is 23 times more massive than the sun, and estimated to be several hundred thousand times brighter.

Stars like Icarus and Rigel are rare in the universe today, but in the early universe, they were common; according to io9, most of the early stars were blue supergiants at some point in their lives.

That makes sense, since Icarus’ distant light is actually somewhat like a time machine.

3. Icarus gives a view back in time

The universe is way, way bigger than you can probably comprehend. And because of this astronomical (sorry) size, it can take a really long time for light to reach Earth from the cosmic wilderness. Even traveling at its immense speeds, by the time light from this distant star reached Earth, 9 billion years had passed.

When Icarus released the photons currently hitting the Hubble’s cameras, Earth hadn’t even formed yet — it would be another 4.4 billion years before our solar system even began to coalesce from the dust of the universe. Such distant views of the universe are helping astronomers learn about what the universe was like before our time, even giving us glimpses back to the moments after the Big Bang.

4. The view let scientists test dark matter theory

The Guardian reports that the team also used their view of Icarus to test a theory about dark matter, the mysterious substance that makes up 27 percent of the universe (its counterpart, dark energy, makes up another 68 percent). One theory proposed that dark matter was made of black holes, but what the researchers saw of Icarus didn’t support that theory — looking back at a decade of Hubble images, they didn’t see Icarus’ brightness vary over time. If the black-hole-dark-matter theory was correct, the star would have appeared brighter.

In the coming years, scientists hope to peer even further into our universe’s history with more powerful telescopes, like the James Webb Space Telescope and the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). Recent budget cuts from the White House threatened the future of WFIRST. If the government was unsure just how much these space telescopes could accomplish, this discovery from their predecessor might serve as an apt reminder.

The post Four Notable Things About the Most Distant Star Scientists Have Ever Glimpsed appeared first on Futurism.

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Four Patients Test Retinal Implant That Could Stop Age-Related Blindness

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Some parts of getting older are awesome. Retirement. Early bird specials. Free reign to whine about your various aches and pains.

Not so great? Your vision can start to go.

Luckily, a new retinal implant may soon help treat a common cause of age-related vision loss.

Non-neovascular age-related macular degeneration (NNAMD) (also known as “dry” AMD) causes a blurry area right in the middle of a person’s line of vision that can grow as the disease progresses. Sometimes, the previously blurry spot becomes simply blank.

In short, that can be debilitating, making it pretty impossible to live a normal life. After all, you need to be able to see what’s in front of you to do things like drive a car or cook a meal.

Currently, there’s no treatment for the advanced stages of NNAMD, but a research team led by Amir Kashani, an assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology at University of Southern California (USC), is hoping to change that.

NNAMD likely begins with the breakdown of cells in a membrane in the eye called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). Kashani and his team designed an implant to mimic the function of this membrane. The implant fits on the retina and is made of human embryonic stem cells placed on a base material.

The team had already tested a version of the implant on rodents, so the next step was to make the leap to humans. So the researchers placed their implant into the eyes of four people with advanced NNAMD. Then, they monitored those people for between four and 12 months.

According to the researchers’ study, published today in Science Translational Medicine, none of the four participants had any negative or severe side effects from the retinal implant, and experienced no vision loss over the course of the trial. Once participant even “demonstrated an observable improvement” in their vision.

When the team took post-operative images of the patients’ eyes, they saw that the stem cells had blended with the existing retinal tissue. That is, the retinas looked like they were regaining their RPEs. A good sign.

Of course, this was an exceptionally small sample size that delivered promising (but not overwhelmingly positive) results. So the researchers’ next step is to test their implant on a larger group.

If it works the way researchers hope, it may someday be a game-changer for thousands of visually-challenged seniors. After all, what good’s a senior discount on movie tickets if you can’t see the screen.

The post Four Patients Test Retinal Implant That Could Stop Age-Related Blindness appeared first on Futurism.

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Four people have been shot at YouTube HQ in Silicon Valley

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The San Bruno facility is separate from the Google campus further south.

Four people have suffered gunshot wounds following a shooting at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., according to authorities. One of those people is believed by police to be the suspect, who has been killed.

San Bruno police chief Ed Barberini said at a news conference that officers encountered three victims who are “being treated for injuries that are treatable.” Two of the victims had fled into a nearby business, the police later said.

The suspected shooter, a female, suffered a fatal wound that Barberini said “may have been self-inflicted.”

Barberini said police arrived to the scene after 911 calls shortly after 12:45 pm PT and then “immediately began a search for a possible shooter or suspect.” He described the scene on arrival as “chaotic” and said that the building was eventually evacuated.

Stanford University Medical Center spokesperson Lisa Kim told Recode that they are expecting four to five patients to arrive shortly but that she did not have any news on their conditions. Update: Kim now says her information was incorrect and that no patients were treated at her hospital.

President Donald Trump tweeted that he was briefed on the shooting.

In a note to staff obtained by Recode, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote: “Pls stay secure as police clear building and pls follow police instructions to safety. We have full team here to get you to safety.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai told his employees: “I know you are in shock right now” and called the incident an “unimaginable tragedy.”

Previously:We are responding to an active shooter. Please stay away from Cherry Ave & Bay Hill Drive,” San Bruno police tweeted.

Google, which owns YouTube, tweeted that it is “coordinating with authorities and will provide official information here from Google and YouTube as it becomes available.

But sources close to the situation said that several people had been shot and that the shooter has been shot, too. It is unclear how seriously anyone has been injured.

Employees at the scene are also reporting the shooting and are trying to protect themselves there. Photos posted to Twitter show YouTube employees being led out of the building with their hands up. There are helicopters on the scene, as well as police SWAT teams.

The YouTube building is in a busy area of San Bruno, which is near the San Francisco airport. It is run in a separate location from the campus of Google in Mountain View, which is further south. The huge video platform is a unit of the search giant, which, in turn, is part of Alphabet.

Unlike the more college campus-like setting of Google, YouTube is a building right on the street, and its main lobby is relatively accessible — there is security, of course, but it is not noticeably present — in comparison to other tech firms. The site often gets many fans, who want to visit the popular YouTube.

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Apple Highlights Apple Pay and Face ID on iPhone X in Four New Ads

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Apple today released a few videos on its YouTube channel highlighting Apple Pay on the iPhone X using Face ID. The four ads are titled “Groceries”, “Coffee”, “Kicks”, and “Grooming” and they are all around 12 seconds in length. Continue reading
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Google will predict Final Four winners based on in-game data

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Google has been working closely with the NCAA during this year's tournament, but now, during the Final Four, the company will be using predictive analytics to figure out who will win games. The wrinkle here is that the team will use data from the fir…
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Netflix renews ‘Queer Eye’ and four other unscripted shows

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Netflix won't leave you longing for more Queer Eye make-betters forever, because the Fab Five is returning for a second season. The streaming giant has renewed the critically acclaimed reboot, along with four other unscripted shows: Dope, Drug Lords,…
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What’s on TV: Final Four, ‘Far Cry 5,’ ‘Alex Inc.’

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Four times people cried ‘aliens’ — and four times they were wrong

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<em>The mummified remains of a fetus that was either stillborn or died shortly after birth. </em>Discovered in Chile’s Atacama Desert in 2003, this tiny, 6-inch-long mummy, with its pointed head and atypical number of ribs, stoked theories that aliens have visited Earth. Scientists have had genetic proof that the remains are human since 2013, and a new genetic analysis reveals that mutations in genes related to growth might explain the mummy’s atypical bones.

The results, which have been making headlines, are a reminder that the truth may well be out there — but it isn’t aliens. A series of discoveries this past year make it clear that, sadly, it never is.

Sad but true

Scientists have struggled to explain why this mummy, known as Ata, is the size of a fetus and yet has bones as developed as those of a six- to eight-year-old child,…

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Apple and education: Four decades of highs and lows

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A continuing theme throughout Apple’s history, from early years of Steve Jobs to today, has been education. AppleInsider examines the efforts — some successful, some not — to appeal directly to the education market.
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Facebook already hit with four lawsuits over Cambridge Analytica (updated)

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