At Last, Are Novae the Lithium Factories Longed for?

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When I had finally given up the hope, this year astronomers have reached twice a goal which I have dreamed to see for about 25 years. They caught in the act lithium formation in stars for the first time, observing it in the spectra of the matter ejected in two different novae, exploded in 2013.

V1369 Cen (Nova Centauri 2013) from the NTT ESO telescope, image taken in July 2015, one year and half after the explosion. It is the brightest star in the centre of the picture. Credit: ESO

Lithium is formed during the primordial Big Bang Nucleosynthesis (BBN). When the fireball begins expanding, its temperature progressively lowers, reaching thresholds which modify its main components. The timing for building up deuterium (D), tritium (3H), the isotopes 3 and 4 of helium (3He and 4He) and the main lithium isotope (7Li) is confined between about 2 minutes and 15 minutes of age of the newborn Universe, when the temperature passes through the range from a billion to about 300 million degrees.

Notice that all the other elements are synthesized much later, most of them by nuclear reactions in the interior of stars, while those heavier than iron are formed in some stars by two other processes, “rapid” and/or “slow” neutron capture onto iron seed nuclei.

The most abundant final outcome of BBN is the very stable nucleus of helium, one 4He every 10 protons (hydrogen nuclei). An appealing result of BBN is that this abundance of helium can be derived from a back of the envelope computation, and depends on the basic proton and neutron properties, not on the details of the model. On the contrary, the precise abundances of D, 3He and 7Li depend on the barion density with which our Universe was born (one of those interesting —> Read More

Biosecurity Protects Islands

Treasure Islands campaign sign from Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand

Without island biosecurity pests will rapidly recolonize islands from which they have been eradicated, or worse still colonise islands for the first time. Only with a rigorous audited biosecurity programme can pest-free status be maintained. The gold standard in New Zealand is Nature Reserve islands like Antipodes Island, where quarantine occurs before, during and after arrival, surveillance occurs pre and post border, and incursion response strategies are in place. The New Zealand Department of Conservation operates a robust island biosecurity programme to protect their conservation investments, but it was reported in the news today that last year numbers spiked, including mice, rats, cats and stoats all making it out to islands. Stranger critters such as ferrets and even otters have reached New Zealand’s offshore islands in the past. Unlike the original pest eradications which cleared these islands, and were years in the planning, a response to an incursion must, as DOC manager Andy Cox points out, be as rapid as if a forest fire had broken out. Pest incursions are the biological equivalent of chemical spills, only the agent can keep reproducing.

Treasure Islands campaign sign from Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand (Courtesy Treasure Islands)

Unfortunately mice reinvaded Maud Island when they evaded detection in 2013 and DOC had to respond with a $100,000 eradication in 2014. The BBC recently profiled work from the University of Auckland which experimentally demonstrated just how fast mouse invasion of islands can occur, in less than a year. Other research has investigated the optimal balance required between investing in quarantine to prevent incursions, and surveillance to respond to them, but ultimately both are important. Even catching a single incurring rat can be disproportionately difficult, as the case of Razza the rat demonstrated back in —> Read More

Warren Buffett Has Secretly Given Millions To Support Reproductive Health, Research For IUD Technology

Warren Buffett is in the house — advocating for women in a critical but little-talked-about way.

A recent report in Bloomberg Business titled “Warren Buffett’s Family Secretly Funded a Birth Control Revolution,” reveals that the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation donated huge sums to organizations dedicated to contraception and women’s health research, specifically the development and accessibility of intrauterine devices (IUDs).

According to Bloomberg, in 2013, the foundation gave away nearly half a billion dollars to organizations supporting reproductive health.

Judith DeSarno, the Foundation’s former director for domestic programs, explains part of Buffett’s reasoning for these donations, the majority of them being private, in a 2008 interview not made public until Thursday’s Bloomberg report.

“For Warren, it’s economic,” she says. “He thinks that unless women can control their fertility—and that it’s basically their right to control their fertility—that you are sort of wasting more than half of the brainpower in the United States.”

The findings were dug up by Bloomberg Business reporter Karen Weise, who explains the relative quiet surrounding the issue: “…Contraception is so politically and legally radioactive that legislators and pharmaceutical companies avoid funding it,” she writes. “Very few people will discuss The Anonymous Donor on the record, but tax filings, medical journal disclosures, and an archived interview with a foundation official show the funds come from Warren Buffett, the chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway, and his family.”

The charitable foundation, which was first established in the 1960s as the Buffett Foundation, was later named for Buffett’s first wife following her death in 2004. Susan formerly served as president of the organization, with Warren and his family taking over management after she died.

These major donations further establish reproductive rights as a priority of the Foundation. According to Inside Philanthropy, the Susan Thompson —> Read More

Vatican Scientist Thinks Aliens May Exist — But Not An Alien Jesus

NASA scientists are getting closer to determining whether there is life on other planets — and the enthusiasm about aliens has spread to the Vatican.

Nasa’s Kepler mission announced last month that it had discovered an Earth-like planet in a solar system light years away that may have all the conditions necessary for the existence of intelligent beings.

News about the planet, which NASA is calling Kepler-452b, has “thrilled” researchers at the Vatican Observatory, a branch of the papacy that has been studying the stars since 1582, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Rev. José Gabriel Funes, an astronomer who directs the observatory, said he’s open to the possibility of extraterrestrial life and has been for quite some time. Funes finds no contradiction between Catholic theology and the belief in aliens. He has said in the past that humans shouldn’t put limits on God’s creative freedom.

However, Funes draws the line at the idea of an alien Jesus.

“The discovery of intelligent life does not mean there’s another Jesus,” Funes told AFP. “The incarnation of the son of God is a unique event in the history of humanity, of the universe.”

Funes said he also doubts whether humans will “ever meet a Mr. Spock.”

Funes is likely right about that. Kepler-452b is 1,400 light years from Earth. According to NBC, it would take a space probe constructed with with current technology about 28 million years to reach the planet.

The Catholic Church hasn’t shied away from confronting theories about extraterrestrial life. According to The Independent, the Vatican uses the example of the early Christians baptizing gentiles as an example of how the church would treat aliens.

Pope Francis last year took up the —> Read More

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