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An Ancient Supernova Is Still Impacting Our Planet

An Ancient Supernova Is Still Impacting Our Planet

This ‘bubble’ in the Large Magellanic Cloud was formed by the explosive death of one or more stars. Image: Gemini South Telescope/Travis Rector
A few million years ago, humans’ ancestors might have gazed in wonder at a strange, brilliant blue spot in the night sky. It was the aftermath of an epic stellar explosion, maybe two. Had these supernovae occurred a little closer to home, life on Earth would have been toast.
Obviously, things didn’t go down that way, but the explosions did shower our planet with radioactive fallout . Now, astronomers have learned that the shockwaves from back-to-back-supernovae-maybe the same events-are still sprinkling us with cosmic debris today.

That’s according to a study appearing in today’s Science, which used a space weather probe to catch cosmic rays emanating from stars that died not too long ago and not too far away. The research comes on the heels of two other scientific papers documenting supernovae debris at the bottom of the ocean and on the surface of the Moon.

Together, these studies make a compelling case for a series of events that might have helped shape our modern biosphere.

For nearly nineteen years, the Advanced Composition Explorer, or ACE satellite, has sat at a position of stable orbit between the gravitational tug of the Earth and the Sun. There, it studies a stream of high-energy particles known as the solar wind. In the event of a large eruption on surface of the Sun, ACE acts as our early warning system, giving us a thirty-minute heads up that geomagnetic storms are headed our way.

ACE has done a bang-up job monitoring space weather, but one of its instruments is also very good at getting the precise masses of rare, heavy elements from beyond the solar system. These include iron-60, a radioactive isotope produced when massive O and B-type stars explode. A few years back, astrophysicists Martin Israel and Robert Binns of Washington University in St. Louis decided to see if they could find evidence for supernovae in cosmic rays traveling through space.

“People had already discovered iron-60 in seafloor measurements,” Israel told Gizmodo. “I thought, ACE has lots of years of data in the bag, maybe we should have a look.”

Scouring 17 years of ACE’s cosmic ray isotope spectrometer data, Israel and his colleagues identified 15 cosmic ray events with an iron-60 fingerprint. “The fact that we’re seeing iron-60, with a half life a little more than 2.5 million years, is telling us the supernova explosion that accelerated these cosmic rays must not have been too far away, and must not have been too long ago,” Israel said.

By examining the abundance of nickel and cobalt isotopes as well, the team learned that the cosmic rays were accelerated by multiple explosions. This suggests they hail from a cluster hundreds of light years away.
Coincidentally, another recent study revealed iron-60 in seafloor samples from the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. The authors, whose work appeared in Nature, concluded they’d found evidence for two supernovae explosions: one 6.5-8.7 million years ago, and another 3.2-1.7 million years ago. Last week, a study examining iron-60 debris on the Moon arrived at a similar conclusion.

“Our iron-60 data is, in a sense, hanging together with seafloor and lunar sample data,” Israel said, although he added that cosmic rays come from all directions, and it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint their exact source. His team now plans to use other instruments to search for rarer, heavier cosmic ray isotopes, which might shed more light on the matter.

Studying the end times of stars that died millions of years ago might sound esoteric, but nearby stellar explosions have implications for life on Earth. Too close, and the radiation from a supernova could eat through our ozone layer, frying any squishy life forms beneath it. An explosion a few hundred light years away won’t cause an apocalypse, but some scientists believe the additional radiation flux may be enough to kickstart a climactic shift-such as the onset of the Pleistocene two million years ago.

The jury’s still out on whether Earth’s most recent ice age is at all linked to supernovae. But the thought that faraway stars could have had a tangible impact on our present-day world is certainly intriguing.

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How to Jump Straight to Important WhatsApp Chats on Android

How to Jump Straight to Important WhatsApp Chats on Android

Now that you’ve gotten over the excitement of WhatsApp scrapping its $1 annual fee , you’re probably wondering how you can start making the most of the Facebook-owned messaging app. One trick for Android users you might not have come across is using widgets to jump straight to your favorite conversations. Here’s how.

There are three ways, actually. Tap and hold on a blank area of the home screen, choose Widgets and then tap and hold on the WhatsApp Chat option, dragging it to a spare spot on screen-the app then prompts you to pick a conversation. Alternatively, press and hold on a conversation in WhatsApp and choose Add chat shortcut from the list (a widget icon is added on the first available home screen spot), or choose Add shortcut from the context menu inside a conversation.

It’s useful for quickly jumping to conversations with your favorite people or groups you’ve set up for work, family, and so on, without having to navigate through the WhatsApp front screen first (particularly if the conversations are old ones). The other WhatsApp widgets for Android let you jump quickly to the camera component or show recent messages on the home screen.

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Google Warns Users About a Dangerous Website Called Google.com

You’ve got to admire Google’s honesty. Right now, the company’s own safe browsing tool is flagging “google.com” as partially dangerous. Does that mean you’re computer is doomed if you need to Google search for “that funny video you saw that one time about a cat or something?” Likely no, Google-like lots of websites-is just unsafe when in the wrong hands.

Here are the specific reasons why Google.com is partially dangerous:

Google’s diagnosis essentially explains that Google.com can be a platform for people trying to scam you, whether forcing you to download malicious software or redirecting to unsafe sites. As one Redditor pointed out, Bing.com is fine. (But then you’d have to use Bing.com which is bad in its own way.)

Really this Google update is just another reminder that web browsing is never 100 percent safe, even if a site is owned by one of the largest technology companies to ever exist. Practice safe surfing, and to echo Google’s own Douglas Adams-inspired advice: Don’t Panic.

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Real Estate Roundup!

May new home sales gain 2.2% from April

Sales of new single-family houses in May 2015 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 546,000, which is up 2.2% from April, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. — From Housing Wire

3 ways to tame student loan debt and afford a mortgage

It’s no secret that student loans can make buying a home a challenge. But what exactly is the problem, and how can buyers overcome it? The problem is that student loans can be included in the buyer’s debt-to-income ratio, or DTI. — From Bankrate

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The Way Cancer Cells Spread Is Even Scarier Than We Thought

Cancer cells have a terrifying-yet-ingenious way of passing through even the smallest blood vessels to spread throughout the human body, according to a new study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital. Figuring out how to prevent them from doing so may help slow down the spread of this killer disease.

Cancer spreads throughout the body-a process known as metastasis-when certain cells break off from the primary tumor and enter the bloodstream. Metastasis is the leading cause (90 percent) of all cancer-related deaths. Scientists had assumed that larger clusters of these cells were just too big to pass through ultra-thin capillaries. The MGH researchers found this is not the case. Rather, clusters can rearrange themselves into a single strand, much like beads on a chain, when they encounter a bottleneck-and once they’re through, they just reassemble back into a cluster on the other side. The team published its findings today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This information changes the standard narrative of how metastasis [begins] and allows us to devise better ways to combat it,” lead author Sam Au said in a statement.

Scientists have long suspected that clusters of so-called “circulating tumor cells” (CTCs) play a key role in helping cancer spread. Past studies reported the presence of fairly large clusters in the veins of deceased patients’ arms, for example-far from the site of the original tumor. That means the clusters must be passing through even the smallest blood vessels (capillaries).

But scientists had no idea how the clusters managed that feat, since they are so much larger than those vessels. That’s because the cells are very rare, and hence extremely difficult to separate out from the billions of other kinds of cells floating around in the bloodstream: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, primarily. It’s like looking for the proverbial handful of needles in a very large haystack. And that makes it tough to study them closely.

To separate out the clusters for their experiments, the MGH team relied on recent advances in microfluidics-a.k.a. “labs on a chip,” a common tool for diagnostics because they can rapidly process large volumes of blood. With these microfluidic chips, you can get rid of the haystack via a process called “negative depletion.” You successively remove 999 billion cells, then 999 million cells, then 999 thousand cells, and so forth, until you’re left with a handful of precious CTCs.

Last year, co-author Mehmet Toner used such a chip to determine that clusters were more common in the bloodstream than previously believed. For this latest paper, the team designed the channels etched onto the chip to taper off in key spots, forming bottlenecks roughly the same width as capillaries. Then they filmed the movement of CTC clusters through those channels.

Next, the MGH team injected human CTC clusters into the blood vessels of embryonic zebra fish-selected because their transparent vessels make imaging much easier, and also because those vessels are about the same size as human capillaries. In both cases, the clusters simply unfold into a long chain to pass through the bottleneck, then reorganize back into a cluster on the other side. This was true even for larger clusters of more than 20 individual CTCs.

According to Au, this strange behavior seems to be linked to how strongly the individual CTCs stick to each other in the cluster. Cells interact with each other all the time, and in this case, the preexisting connections are so strong that the cluster can easily reconfigure itself, without damaging the individual cells in any way, or preventing them from proliferating in the future.

The good news: this provides a clue for possibly limiting their spread. “If we can change that strength-either by breaking clusters up into individual cells, or preventing them from unfolding-we might be able to control their ability to pass through narrow vessels,” said Au.

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Some of Saturn’s Dust Comes From Beyond Our Solar System

Some of Saturn’s Dust Comes From Beyond Our Solar System

Much of the particles that surround Saturn come from active jets on the surface of its moon Enceladus. But NASA’s Cassini spacecraft was able to nab a few microscopic grains with much stranger origins.

Scientists believe these unusual grains (and they were only about to get 36 of them) come from interstellar space-the huge swaths of relative emptiness between star systems. Unlike the majority of particles around Saturn, which are icy, Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer determined that these were composed of minerals like silicon, calcium, and iron. Stranger still, they also did not resemble stardust grains found in some meteorites. The grains were moving at over 45,000 mph and on a path somewhat different from the other particles orbiting Saturn.

While no less impressive, interstellar dust has been encountered by previous missions. NASA’s Galileo spacecraft was the first to observe alien particles, which were later determined to come from a gas and dust bubble which our solar system is traveling through called an interstellar cloud.

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Apple Might Turn OS X Into MacOS

Apple Might Turn OS X Into MacOS

Before there was OS X, there was Mac OS. It’s a name with a ton of history and meaning, and if this slip-up in an Apple document is anything to go by, the company is heading back to its roots.

9to5Mac spotted a reference to “MacOS” in an Apple document about environmental policies. It’s since been changed to OS X, but an archived version of the page is still viewable. The change would also match up with a reference to MacOS in developer documentation seen last month.

A couple typos is far from conclusive, but rebranding OS X to MacOS would make a ton of sense going forwards. Apple’s other operating systems are all named the same way: iOS, tvOS, and watchOS. MacOS brings consistency to branding, if nothing else.

It’s also somewhat symbolic of the slow but sure integration of Apple’s different software operating systems. The long-rumored merger of iOS and OS X is still nowhere near, but features like universal search, app springboards and cross-device syncing have brought the two operating systems slowly but surely closer. The rumored announcement of Siri for Macbooks in June would only strengthen that relationship.

Obviously, there’s no timeline for the naming change, but WWDC, where Apple traditionally announces big software updates, takes place in early June. But the real question remains: is this a simple name change, or an omen of a wholesale revamp of Apple’s desktop OS? Let the speculation begin.

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We’re ready for the TRID rules!

At 5 p.m. EST June 17, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a statement that the effective date for the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rules would be pushed back to Oct. 1, 2015.

CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a prepared statement: “The CFPB will be issuing a proposed amendment to delay the effective date of the Know Before You Owe rule until Oct. 1, 2015. We made this decision to correct an administrative error that we just discovered in meeting the requirements under federal law, which would have delayed the effective date of the rule by two weeks. We further believe that the additional time included in the proposed effective date would better accommodate the interests of the many consumers and providers whose families will be busy with the transition to the new school year at that time.”

Rainier Title has been working towards the TRID implementation for over a year and felt prepared for August 1st. However, with the proposed delay we will be taking this opportunity to continue our education and training of TRID. While we believe that we have been proactive and ready for this change, there are still so many unknowns that will have to be addressed at the time of implementation. The industry should still prepare for 45-60 days for transaction to close due to the new timing parameters of the forms.

We’re working hard to be ready for all changes!

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Real Estate Roundup

Active Home-Building Industry Will Lead to More Demand for Warehouse Space

Strong consumer spending and the rise in housing construction activity are currently the prime factors for the incredible rebound of the U.S. industrial real estate sector, and experts say as home buying continues to increase, so will demand for warehouse space. — From NRE Online

To Buy or Not to Buy: That Is the Developer’s Question

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