Astronomers find x-rays lingering years after landmark neutron star collision

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UMD astronomers find x-rays lingering years after landmark neutron star collision
Researchers have continuously monitored the radiation emanating from the first (and so far only) cosmic event detected in both gravitational waves and the entire spectrum of light. The neutron star collision detected on August 17, 2017, is seen in this image emanating from galaxy NGC 4993. New analysis provides possible explanations for X-rays that continued to radiate from the collision long after other radiation had faded and way past model predictions. Credit: E. Troja

It’s been three years since the landmark detection of a neutron star merger from gravitational waves. And since that day, an international team of researchers led by University of Maryland astronomer Eleonora Troja has been continuously monitoring the subsequent radiation emissions to provide the most complete picture of such an event.

Their analysis provides possible explanations for X-rays that continued to radiate from the collision long after models predicted they would stop. The study also reveals that current models of neutron stars and compact body collisions are missing important information. The research was published on October 12, 2020, in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“We are entering a new phase in our understanding of neutron stars,” said Troja, an associate research scientist in UMD’s Department of Astronomy and lead author of the paper. “We really don’t know what to expect from this point forward, because all our models were predicting no X-rays and we were surprised to see them 1,000 days after the collision event was detected. It may take years to find out the answer to what is going on, but our research opens the door to many possibilities.

The neutron star merger that Troja’s team studied—GW170817—was first identified from gravitational waves detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory and its counterpart Virgo on August 17, 2017. Within hours, telescopes


Augmented reality goggles could help military dogs find bombs, chemicals

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Oct. 6 (UPI) — Researchers have developed augmented reality goggles that would allow handlers to give commands to military working dogs while staying out of harm’s way.

The military often uses dogs to scout areas for explosive devices and hazardous materials and to assist in rescue operations.

But working dogs need handlers who can give them commands while they work — typically by using hand signals or laser pointers, which can pose a safety risk by providing a light source.

Being present to give those commands can put soldiers in harm’s way, and generating a light source can also be dangerous in some situations.

Handlers have tried audio communication — using a camera and walkie talkie placed on the dog — but the verbal commands can be confusing for the dog.

So researchers funded by the Army’s Small Business Innovation Research program and managed by the Army Research Office have developed goggles dogs can wear while working — and get directional commands from soldiers working elsewhere.

The first prototype was built by Command Sight, a Seattle-based company started in 2017 by A.J. Peper to bridge human-animal communication.

The goggles are tailored to fit each dog and have a visual indicator that lets the dog be directed to a specific spot by responding to a visual cue in the goggles, using input from a soldier, who can see everything the dog sees while using a separate device.

“Augmented reality works differently for dogs than for humans,” said Dr. Stephen Lee, a senior scientist with the Army Research Office. “AR will be used to provide dogs with commands and cues; it’s not for the dog to interact with it like a human does. This new technology offers us a critical tool to better communicate with military working dogs.”

The prototype is wired


Scientists find promising ‘superhabitable’ planets that may be ‘better’ than Earth

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This illustration shows an Earth-size planet orbiting a distant star.

NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

When you title a research paper “In Search for a Planet Better than Earth,” you’re not messing around. Earth, the only place we know for sure hosts life, sets a high bar for all other planets. 

Washington State University (WSU) geobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch led a study published in the journal Astrobiology last month. The paper identifies two dozen exoplanets (planets located outside our solar system) that could be “superhabitable” worlds more suitable for life than our own.

The researchers created a set of criteria for planets to qualify as potentially superhabitable. This list includes an age of between 5 billion and 8 billions years old (Earth is about 4.5 billion years old) and a location within a star’s habitable zone where liquid water could exist. They also looked for long-lived stars that are cooler than our sun.

Rather than focus on Earth clones, the team searched for planets that are more massive than our own. “One that is about 1.5 times Earth’s mass would be expected to retain its interior heating through radioactive decay longer and would also have a stronger gravity to retain an atmosphere over a longer time period,” said WSU in a statement on Monday

The team applied the criteria to 4,500 known exoplanets and identified 24 that came the closest to fitting the bill. None ticked all of the boxes, but they hint at the possibilities for life-friendly worlds beyond our own. 

There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to these potential paradises. “Habitability does not mean these planets definitely have life, merely the conditions that would be conducive to life,” WSU said. An even bigger


As devastation revisits Santa Rosa, student journalists find purpose

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Anne Belden was feeling down in the fall of 2017, coming back from a sabbatical to advise the Santa Rosa Junior College newspaper, with a class full of students she had never met.

When the Tubbs Fire ambushed the city in early October, torching more than 36,000 acres, killing 22 people and forcing thousands to flee, she would get to know the young journalists very quickly, and they would change her life.

“I texted my Oak Leaf students (after the fires reached Santa Rosa) and eight of them showed up,” Belden remembers. “Half those students had been evacuated. They worked around the clock for two weeks. They’d have to go to jobs, and some were sleeping in different places every night. It was just an incredible crew and an inspiring moment.”

With three devastating fire seasons in the past four years, Santa Rosa has been forced to adapt to a new reality of wildfire. The changes are reflected in property maintenance, disaster planning and close attention to Nixle alerts. And they can be seen in the Santa Rosa Junior College’s news organization, the Oak Leaf, which has expanded from an emphasis on hyper-local campus news to include the who, what, when, where, why and how of covering a blaze as it tears through their community yet again.

“It’s almost like fire college,” says James Wyatt, a former Oak Leaf editor now studying journalism at San Francisco State University. “You’re going to learn how to report on a fire at that college.”

San Rosa Junior College student Nick Vides, editor of the Oak Leaf newspaper, interviews Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick in 2020.

San Rosa Junior College student Nick Vides, editor of the Oak Leaf newspaper, interviews Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick in 2020.

Courtesy Nick Vides

The news team’s latest challenge came Sunday night and early Monday morning, Sept. 27-28, when the Glass Fire destroyed homes in Santa Rosa’s Skyhawk neighborhood


Michigan education leaders find relief in 2021 budget

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Michigan education leaders were bracing for tough financial decisions next year as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.

a close up of a sign: MLive file photo of Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Tuesday, October 29, 2019.

© Emil Lippe | MLive.com/Emil Lippe | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS
MLive file photo of Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Tuesday, October 29, 2019.

But school boards and educators are now breathing a sigh of relief, with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer preparing to sign the 2021 budget approved by the legislature last week.

Michigan’s education spending for K-12 schools, community colleges and universities clocks in at about $17.65 billion, with the School Aid Fund budget coming in at roughly $15.5 billion. The School Aid Fund budget increased by about $300 million compared to the 2019-20 budget.

Read more: 7 things you should know about Michigan’s new budget

“Based on what we were hearing months ago, how can we not be anything but pleased?” said Don Wotruba, executive director for the Michigan Association of School Boards. “In a normal year, as health care costs and things go up, would like to see more money? Absolutely, but how can you not be happy that we have a budget that didn’t result in cuts?”

The sentiment was shared by Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, who called the situation “dire” prior to the budget clarification.

The budget contains a modest uptick for K-12 spending, including a one-time $65 per-pupil increase for K-12 schools. Additional money is available for school districts with increasing enrollment based on a blend of pre- and post-pandemic enrollment levels.

These allocations alleviate the financial burden on school districts forced to spend more of their own budget on personal protective equipment to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission, Wotruba said.

“School districts are experiencing extra cost in certain places, but we hope that the additional funding put in

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