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‘Gravitational slingshot’ in star clusters may explain stellar streams

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After finding three times more black holes than expected in the Palomar 5 cluster, scientists believe they may have unlocked an understanding of how stellar streams are formed.

In the darkness of space, there are voyages of stars travelling in bright streams.

The origins of these stellar ‘tidal streams’ aren’t fully known, but they are thought to be ejected from disrupted dwarf galaxies or from star clusters.

A new paper published in Nature Astronomy addresses star clusters, black holes and their relation with star streams by examining Palomar 5, a globular cluster.

“We do not know how these streams form, but one idea is that they are disrupted star clusters,” explained Prof Mark Gieles from the Institute of Cosmos Sciences of the University of Barcelona, who is lead author of the paper.

“However, none of the recently discovered streams have a star cluster associated with them, hence we can not be sure. So, to understand how these streams formed, we need to study one with a stellar system associated with it. Palomar 5 is the only case, making it a Rosetta Stone for understanding stream formation.”

The 10bn-year-old cluster Palomar 5 is located about 80,000 light-years away in the Serpens constellation, and is one of roughly 150 globular clusters that orbit around the Milky Way.

Born during the earliest stages of galaxy formation, it is now in its final stages of dissolution. In Palomar 5, the researchers believe that they might have unlocked an understanding of these stellar streams.

‘Gravitational slingshot’

Researchers simulated the orbits and the evolution of each star from the formation of the cluster until its final dissolution. They varied the initial properties of the cluster until a good match with observations of the stream and the cluster was found.

While Palomar 5 formed with a lower black hole fraction, they found that stars escaped more efficiently than black holes.

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“The number of black holes is roughly three times larger than expected from the number of stars in the cluster, and it means that more than 20pc of the total cluster mass is made up of black holes,” said Gieles.

“They each have a mass of about 20 times the mass of the sun and they formed in supernova explosions at the end of the lives of massive stars, when the cluster was still very young.”

Over time, the black hole fraction began to increase, puffing up the cluster in what researchers called a “gravitational slingshot” interaction. This launched even more stars into the void, creating the star stream.

As more and more stars fly out of the cluster, in approximately a billion years’ time, Palomar 5 will disappear and only black holes will be there at its demise.

“This work has helped us understand that even though the fluffy Palomar 5 cluster has the brightest and longest tails of any cluster in the Milky Way, it is not unique,” added Dr Denis Erkal, a co-author of the paper from the University of Surrey.

“Instead, we believe that many similarly puffed up, black hole-dominated clusters have already disintegrated in the Milky Way tides to form the recently discovered thin stellar streams.”

The researchers highlighted the importance of the work for understanding globular cluster formation, the initial masses of stars and for the evolution of massive stars. What’s more, it has important implications for the study of gravitational waves.

“It is believed that a large fraction of binary black hole mergers form in star clusters,” said Dr Fabio Antonini from Cardiff University, another co-author on the paper.

“A big unknown in this scenario is how many black holes there are in clusters, which is hard to constrain observationally because we cannot see black holes. Our method gives us a way to learn how many [black holes] there are in a star cluster by looking at the stars they eject.”

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2021 iPhone photography awards – in pictures | Technology

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The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.

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With Alphabet’s legendary commitment to products, we can’t wait to see what its robotics biz Intrinsic achieves • The Register

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Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.

Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.

This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.

“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.

“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.

She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.

“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.

The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®

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Charles River to create 90 new jobs at Ballina biologics site

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Charles River is expanding its testing capabilities in Ballina as part of its partnership with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.

Contract research organisation Charles River Laboratories is planning an €8m site expansion in Ballina to facilitate batch release testing for Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca.

The expansion at the Mayo site will create an additional 1,500 sq m of lab space and 90 highly skilled jobs in the area over the next three years.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

The company provides longstanding partners AstraZeneca with outsourced regulated safety and development support on a range of treatments and vaccines, including testing and facilitating the deployment of Vaxzevria for Covid-19 and Fluenz for seasonal infleunza.

The latest investment follows earlier expansions at the Ballina site and Charles River recently announced plans to establish a dedicated laboratory space to handle testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other similar pathogens that cause human disease.

“We are incredibly proud of the transformational changes we have implemented on site and the role that Charles River has played in supporting the safe and timely roll-out of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine,” said Liam McHale, site director for Charles River Ballina.

“Throughout the pandemic, our site remained fully operational while keeping our employees safe and having a positive impact on human health. Our expanded facility will provide us with the increased capacity needed to continue the essential services we provide to our clients.”

Charles River acquired the Ballina facility, which focuses on biologics testing, in 2002. The company employs 230 people at its two facilities in Ireland, including the Mayo site and a site in Dublin, established in 2017, which serves as the EMEA and APAC headquarters for the company’s microbial solutions division.

IDA Ireland is supporting the expansion. Mary Buckley, executive director of the agency, said Charles River is an “employer of long standing” in Co Mayo.

“The enhancement of its product lines and the development of additional capability at the Ballina facility is most welcome,” she added. “Today’s announcement is strongly aligned to IDA Ireland’s regional pillar and its continued commitment to winning jobs and investment in regional locations.”

Dan Wygal, country president for AstraZeneca Ireland, added: “Our Covid-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, undergoes extremely robust safety and quality testing prior to becoming available for patients. We are committed to bringing safe, effective vaccines to Ireland and other markets as quickly as possible, and Charles River will continue to be an important partner in this regard.”

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