Astronomers have detected in the stellar halo that represents the Milky Way’s outer limits a group of stars more distant from Earth than any known within our own galaxy — almost halfway to a neighboring galaxy.
The researchers said these 208 stars inhabit the most remote reaches of the Milky Way‘s halo, a spherical stellar cloud dominated by the mysterious invisible substance called dark matter that makes itself known only through its gravitational influence. The furthest of them is 1.08 million light years from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km).
These stars, spotted using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea mountain, are part of a category of stars called RR Lyrae that are relatively low mass and typically have low abundances of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. The most distant one appears to have a mass about 70 percent that of our sun. No other Milky Way stars have been confidently measured farther away than these.
The stars that populate the outskirts of the galactic halo can be viewed as stellar orphans, probably originating in smaller galaxies that later collided with the larger Milky Way.
“Our interpretation about the origin of these distant stars is that they are most likely born in the halos of dwarf galaxies and star clusters which were later merged – or more straightforwardly, cannibalised — by the Milky Way,” said Yuting Feng, an astronomy doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the study, presented this week at an American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.
“Their host galaxies have been gravitationally shredded and digested, but these stars are left at that large distance as debris of the merger event,” Feng added.
The Milky Way has grown over time through such calamities.
“The larger galaxy grows by eating smaller galaxies — by eating its own kind,” said study co-author Raja GuhaThakurta, UC Santa Cruz’s chair of astronomy and astrophysics.
Containing an inner and outer layer, the Milky Way’s halo is vastly larger than the galaxy’s main disk and central bulge that are teeming with stars. The galaxy, with a supermassive black hole at its center about 26,000 light years from Earth, contains perhaps 100 billion–400 billion stars including our sun, which resides in one of the four primary spiral arms that make up the Milky Way’s disk. The halo contains about 5 percent of the galaxy’s stars.
Dark matter, which dominates the halo, makes up most of the universe’s mass and is thought to be responsible for its basic structure, with its gravity influencing visible matter to come together and form stars and galaxies.
The halo’s remote outer edge is a poorly understood region of the galaxy. These newly identified stars are almost half the distance to the Milky Way’s neighboring Andromeda galaxy.
“We can see that the suburbs of the Andromeda halo and the Milky Way halo are really extended – and are almost ‘back-to-back,'” Feng said.
The search for life beyond the Earth focuses on rocky planets akin to Earth orbiting in what is called the “habitable zone” around stars. More than 5,000 planets beyond our solar system, called exoplanets, already have been discovered.
“We don’t know for sure, but each of these outer halo stars should be about as likely to have planets orbiting them as the sun and other sun-like stars in the Milky Way,” GuhaThakurta said.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
Asteroid 2023 BU Made Fourth Closest Approach to Earth
There are hundreds of millions of asteroids in our solar system, which means new asteroids are discovered quite frequently. It also means close encounters between asteroids and Earth are fairly common. Some of these close encounters end up with the asteroid impacting Earth, occasionally with severe consequences.
A recently discovered asteroid, named 2023 BU, has made the news because today it passed very close to Earth.
Discovered on January 21 by amateur astronomer Gennadiy Borisov in Crimea, 2023 BU passed only about 3,600 km from the surface of Earth (near the southern tip of South America) six days later on January 27.
That distance is just slightly farther than the distance between Perth and Sydney and is only about 1 percent of the distance between Earth and our Moon.
The asteroid also passed through the region of space that contains a significant proportion of the human-made satellites orbiting Earth.
All this makes 2023 BU the fourth-closest known asteroid encounter with Earth, ignoring those that have impacted the planet or our atmosphere.
How does 2023 BU rate as an asteroid and a threat? 2023 BU is unremarkable, other than that it passed so close to Earth. The diameter of the asteroid is estimated to be just 4–8m, which is on the small end of the range of asteroid sizes.
There are likely hundreds of millions of such objects in our solar system, and it is possible 2023 BU has come close to Earth many times before over the millennia. Until now, we have been oblivious to the fact.
In context, on average a 4-metre-diameter asteroid will impact Earth every year and an 8-metre-diameter asteroid every five years or so Asteroids of this size pose little risk to life on Earth when they hit because they largely break up in the atmosphere. They produce spectacular fireballs, and some of the asteroids may make it to the ground as meteorites.
Now that 2023 BU has been discovered, its orbit around the Sun can be estimated and future visits to Earth predicted. It is estimated there is a 1 in 10,000 chance 2023 BU will impact Earth sometime between 2077 and 2123.
So, we have little to fear from 2023 BU or any of the many millions of similar objects in the Solar System.
Asteroids need to be greater than 25m in diameter to pose any significant risk to life in a collision with Earth; to challenge the existence of civilisation, they’d need to be at least a kilometre in diameter.
It is estimated there are fewer than 1,000 such asteroids in the Solar System and could impact Earth every 5,00,000 years. We know about more than 95 per cent of these objects.
Will there be more close asteroid passes? 2023 BU was the fourth closest pass by an asteroid ever recorded. The three closer passes were by very small asteroids discovered in 2020 and 2021 (2021 UA, 2020 QG and 2020 VT).
Asteroid 2023 BU and countless other asteroids have passed very close to Earth during the nearly five billion years of the Solar System’s existence, and this situation will continue into the future.
What has changed in recent years is our ability to detect asteroids of this size, such that any threats can be characterised. That an object roughly 5m in size can be detected many thousands of kilometres away by a very dedicated amateur astronomer shows that the technology for making significant astronomical discoveries is within reach of the general public. This is very exciting.
Amateurs and professionals can together continue to discover and categorise objects, so threat analyses can be done. Another very exciting recent development came last year, by the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, which successfully collided a spacecraft into an asteroid and changed its direction.
DART makes plausible the concept of redirecting an asteroid away from a collision course with Earth if a threat analysis identifies a serious risk with enough warning.
Google Working on Fast Pair Setup, May Debut on Galaxy S23 Series: Report
Google is reportedly working on the ability to set up an Android phone via the company’s Fast Pair feature. The capability could reportedly debut on a smartphone with the Samsung Galaxy S23 series that is expected to be unveiled by the South Korean conglomerate at its Galaxy Unpacked 2023 event on February 1. The upcoming flagship smartphone series from Samsung is expected to include the vanilla Samsung Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23+, and Galaxy S23 Ultra models.
Fast Pair is a feature that is part of Google Play Services that allows users to set up, connect, and pair new devices like headphones, Wear OS smartwatches, styluses, tracking tags, and other accessories automatically, with a single tap when nearby and turned on. According to a report by 9to5Gooogle, the Fast Pair feature has reportedly been updated by Google to also include support for setting up nearby smartphones.
The updated Fast Pair feature could reportedly debut on Samsung‘s upcoming flagship smartphone series, the Samsung Galaxy S23. With the Fast Pair feature enabled on an Android device, it could detect nearby devices that are compatible with Fast Pair including another Android smartphone and other accessories, as per the report. On detection of the specific device that is nearby, the feature will automatically redirect users to the process to install the relevant steps that need to be followed to move data between the two devices.
With nearby Android smartphones also being supported on Fast Pair, and reportedly featuring on the Samsung Galaxy S23 series, the smartphones in the series could detect nearby Android devices and prompt users to install the Samsung Smart Switch app that allows users to transfer data between two devices, according to the report.
The feature could end up making the setup process for a new Samsung Galaxy S23 series smartphone easier than ever, but there is currently no information on whether the older and newer device will both need support for the updated Fast Pair feature.
9to5Google accessed details from a recent version of the Google Play Services application that seems to suggest that Google is preparing to debut Android’s new Fast Pair feature on the Samsung Galaxy S23 series. The South Korean conglomerate recently opened pre-reservations for the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S23 series in India, along with several other countries.
However, it is important to note that neither Google nor Samsung has confirmed plans to update the Fast Pair feature or the inclusion of such a feature on the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S23 series, respectively.
Watch Boston Dynamics’ Atlas Robot Grab, Throw Objects Just Like a Human
Boston Dynamics has unveiled the latest version of its Atlas Robot that is capable of improved human-like movement and actions. The Waltham, Massachusetts-based robot firm, showed off the humanoid robot with grippers while displaying its capabilities via a video posted to YouTube. The robot is seen performing complex actions such as grabbing and throwing an object, navigating complex terrain while holding another object.
In the video posted on Boston Dynamics’ YouTube channel, the company’s Atlas Robot is seen navigating a challenging environment while walking on two legs mimicking human motion. The Atlas Robot is also seen grabbing hold of a plank and jumping to spin around, carrying it and placing it to create a bridge to walk between two platforms, all while holding onto a toolkit.
The Atlas Robot is then seen walking across the platform bridge it created, tossing up the toolkit to the person on top of the scaffolding. The executed manoeuvre is being referred to by Boston Dynamics as an inverted 540-degree, multi-axis flip.
After successfully passing the toolkit along to the human on the ledge above, the Atlas Robot then theatrically proceeds to do a perfectly executed backflip while still on the thin platform.
The demonstration shows how humanoid robots such as the Atlas could potentially replace humans in performing tasks that involve risk of life and injury when performed by humans.
Recently, Boston Dynamics and IBM were seen collaborating to deploy robot dogs at the US National Grid sites for the purpose of autonomous inspection. The robotic dogs named Spot, are integrated by artificial intelligence (AI) developed by IBM Research and being deployed at the electric and gas utility sites in Massachusetts and New York for regular inspections.
However, Boston Dynamics’ creative foray into deploying robots in real-life situations and applications hasn’t always been smooth. The company faced backlash for selling Spot to local police departments, including the NYPD, leading to the NYPD cancelling the arrangement.
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