Monthly Archives: November 2019

New, large and young stars discovered in clusters 33,000 light-years away

A group of astronomers from the University of Montpellier, France, made new observations of a group of young stars called VVV CL074 using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) spectrograph.

It is a massive cluster of stars formed mostly by stars and big youngsters whose astronomers have examined the main spectral properties, especially those of the brightest stars, and have identified new stars including some of the Wolf-Rayet type.

As many as 19 of the objects analyzed had never been identified before and 15 of these objects are most likely part of the massive cluster. The other four stars should then be classified as foreground stars, therefore not belonging to the cluster but interposed between us and it.

The distance of this cluster has been evaluated in about 33,000 light-years and the distance makes this cluster one of the most interesting ever studied, in addition to one of the youngest and largest among those identified to date in the Milky Way. These are young stars: most of them have an estimated age of 3 to 6 million years.

Astronomers were also able to estimate the mass of the two of the stars taken into consideration, classified as WN8 and WC9, evaluated at 40 and in 60 solar masses.

The discovery could be helpful in understanding the evolution of stars, a process not yet fully understood.

“Natural” or “organic” cigarettes show no benefits

The so-called “natural” and “organic” cigarettes show no particular differences, in terms of damage to the human body, compared to classic cigarettes according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota.

Cigarettes described as “natural” or “made from organic tobacco” can, in fact, be found on the market which should imply a reduced risk of exposure to toxic substances. Previous studies have already shown that these advertising labels and slogans, which today in different states are no longer allowed, have succeeded, at least in the past, in their intent: smokers perceive these cigarettes as less harmful than the more classic ones.

The researchers carried out a chemical analysis of 13 varieties of cigarettes advertised as natural or as containing minor amounts of toxic substances. The results of the study, conducted by Irina Stepanov, were then published in Tobacco Regulatory Science. The researchers used a special smoking machine, a device that faithfully simulates cigarette smoke from a human being while measuring the chemical compounds that are emitted.

The results showed that the levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in these “natural” cigarettes are generally similar to those of other commercial cigarettes. Furthermore, these cigarettes would show higher levels of nicotine than the average of the other levels.

The research also shows that the harmful chemicals that enter the body through cigarette smoke come from the tobacco plant itself or from the combustion process of the same and not from the fact that tobacco can be “organic” or “natural,” as specified Aleksandra Alcheva, one of the authors of the study.

Panspermia is very likely according to new calculations

A new study takes into consideration the hypothesis of the so-called “panspermia,” ie the hypothesis that life can spread from a star system to a star system through ejected bodies, primarily asteroids. According to new calculations, this phenomenon would be very likely.

The new study, carried out by a researcher from the Institute of Theory and Computation at Harvard University, Idan Ginsburg, is based on the most complete calculation that has ever been made regarding the probability of this event taking place, at least in the Milky Way. The results that the researcher, together with his colleagues, achieved, through naturally computerized simulations, surprised the researchers themselves.

The results would show that up to 10 trillion objects of the size of a normal asteroid can exist that can carry life in the form of microorganisms. These objects would be joined by another 100 million bodies the size of Enceladus (about 500 miles in diameter) and another 1000 objects of the size of the Earth that carry life or prebiotic material.

This means that panspermia within the Milky Way “is not only possible, it is probable,” as suggested by Ginsburg himself. The problem relating to ultraviolet radiation, potentially destructive of all life, would not be so serious according to the researcher: even a few centimeters of ice rock would be enough to provide sufficient protection.

This is without counting that there are extremophile life forms, such as the tardigrades, that can survive in space even without protection. Moreover, it has been discovered in recent years that many bacteria and microorganisms can survive in space and in theory also in the “re-entry” phase, ie the impact of the body that transports life onto the surface of another astronomical body, typically a planet.

In this regard, it could be precisely the galactic center that acts as a “dandelion” to sow these objects throughout the rest of the galaxy.

In this area there are in fact numerous astronomical bodies of all sizes, planetesimals, comets, asteroids, moons of all kinds, which, once expelled from their own galactic courtyard, could act as vehicles for the transport of life in every area of ​​the galaxy.

Gaps in space useful for understanding the expansion of the universe

An interesting study shows that the voids of space, those areas of the universe in which galaxies are not present, could help to measure the expansion of the universe with greater precision than the classical methods.

The “voids” of space do not contain galaxies, or contain very few, and can be very large. They can also have different shapes but despite these characteristics that differentiate them from each other they can be considered as “standard spheres,” comparable to perfectly symmetrical objects and this because they are not characterized by a particular alignment direction.

However, researchers at the University of Portsmouth have noted that the forms these voids take may be distorted by the doppler shifts caused by the expansion and removal of neighboring galaxies as well as by the nature of the dark energy’s dark matter.

These factors produce distortion and the latter can be measured following theoretical modeling. The study shows that the measurement can be carried out with an excellent degree of precision, so that the same analysis can help to understand more about the way in which the cosmos is expanded.

The first results that the researchers obtained show a flat universe with constant dark energy at the cosmological level, results that further remove alternative theories.

However, Seshadri Nadathur, a researcher of the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) of the University of Portsmouth and principal author of the study, declares that further future studies, especially those related to the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission, will be able to provide even more important data to understand cosmic expansion through this method.

Banana fungus parasite reaches Latin America

Researchers feared it for some time, and now, the Colombian Agricultural Institute has issued a press release in which it is confirmed that four banana plantations in the north of the country have been put in quarantine in advance. The suspicion is that the trees may have been from the parasitic fungus Fusarium oxysporum, specifically from the Tropical Race 4 (TR4) strain, which causes a deadly disease in plants by killing their lymphatic system.

This serious illness had already spread to Asia where it showed that it could literally wipe out entire banana fields, leading, among other things, to the ruin of farmers and all the supply chains of the case. All the central and South American countries have entered into alert even if the infection has yet to be confirmed. There is talk of regions that are among the largest exporters of bananas in the world with countries such as Colombia, Guatemala and Costa Rica that make the export of bananas one of the cornerstones of their economy.

The TR4 strain represents a variation of the so-called Panama disease, a banana disease that already caused considerable problems in the middle of the last century, a pandemic for which the banana industry has made no small effort to recover. However, this strain is much more resistant. It emerged for the first time in Indonesia during the 60s and then spread to many other countries in the world but had not yet reached the countries of Central-South America, the main banana production area in the world.

Farmers and local governments are holding their breath: “We are trying to do it as quickly as possible, but it takes time,” says Fernando Garcia Bastidas, one of the researchers involved in the analysis of samples taken from suspect trees.

As the researchers themselves admit, the tactics that have been implemented in other parts of the world to counteract this parasitic fungus, including replanting with clean soil or very expensive biosecurity measures, could probably not be implemented in Central and South America for the vastness of the fields of production and because many of the companies involved are small family companies or in any case subjects that cannot afford expensive control measures.