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Meteor

US Military Records Confirm An Interstellar Meteor Collided With Earth In 2014

According to a recently released document from the United States Space Command, researchers discovered an interstellar meteor hit Earth in 2014. An interstellar meteor is a space rock that originated from outside of our solar system, making it extremely rare for any of them to make contact with our planet. 

CNEOS 2014-01-08 is the name of the meteor that crashed along the northeast coast of Papua New Guinea on January 8th, 2014 (hence the numbers in the name).

Amir Siraj identified the object as an interstellar meteor in 2019 when he co authored a study as an undergraduate at Harvard University. Initially, Siraj was investigating “Oumuamua,” the first known interstellar object in our solar system that was found in 2017. 

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Siraj was performing the study with Harvard professor of science Abraham Loeb. Siraj was going through NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies database to potentially find other interstellar objects and was able to find the 2014 meteor within days. 

Siraj was able to conclude that the object was indeed an interstellar meteor based on the high velocity of it when it hit Earth. The meteor was moving at a high speed of 28 miles per second, for reference the Earth is currently moving around the sun at a speed of 18.6 miles per second. 

After mapping out the meteor’s trajectory, Siraj found that at its highest speed, the meteor was moving at about 37.3 miles per second in relation to the sun. He used this to determine that the meteor was in an unbound orbit before crashing into Earth, meaning it came from outside our solar system. 

“Presumably, it was produced by another star, got kicked out of that star’s planetary system and just so happened to make its way to our solar system and collide with Earth.”

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John Shaw, deputy commander of the US Space Command, which is part of the US Department of Defense, was able to confirm that the object was in fact an interstellar meteor after reviewing the findings in the study.

“Dr. Joel Mozer, the Chief Scientist of Space Operations Command, the United States Space Force service component of U.S. Space Command, reviewed analysis of additional data available to the Department of Defense related to this finding. Dr. Mozer confirmed that the velocity estimate reported to NASA is sufficiently accurate to indicate an interstellar trajectory,” wrote Shaw.

Initially, Siraj and Loeb weren’t able to get their findings published or confirmed from NASA due to the database it came from. So much time had passed since they contacted NASA for confirmation, that Siraj even moved on to other studies so he wouldn’t get his hopes up to high. 

“I thought that we would never learn the true nature of this meteor, that it was just blocked somewhere in the government after our many tries, and so actually seeing that letter from the Department of Defense with my eyes was a really incredible moment,” Siraj said.

Now that Loeb and Siraj have their confirmation, their team is working to resubmit all their findings for publication to explain in greater detail the significance of this discovery.

Individuals With Psychiatric Conditions More Likely To Catch Covid-19

According to a new psychiatric study, individuals diagnosed with a psychiatric condition are more likely to catch Covid-19 after being fully vaccinated. The study reviewed health records of more than 260,000 individuals from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, so the correlation was much stronger in people 65 and older. 

While the results could also be the result of decades of unknowing when it came to psychiatric conditions, individuals who have suffered from these conditions in general have weaker immune systems. 

“There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that chronic stress, traumatic stress, and psychiatric conditions can actually accelerate cellular aging,” Aoife O’Donovan, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco and one of the study authors.

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“It’s putting you at risk for appearing older biologically, and for your immune system, in particular, to function like the immune system of someone who’s older than you, and that’s certainly seen in patients with psychiatric disorders.”

People with any psychiatric condition were found to be 3.7% more likely to develop a breakthrough infection of Covid-19. Among all the diagnoses, non-alcohol substance abuse had the greatest correlation to breakthrough cases; risk is increased by 16%. 

“Addiction causes people to increase risk-taking behaviors, and the pandemic created an environment where everything from hugging to eating at a restaurant was a risk-taking behavior,” said O’Donovan.

Adjustment disorders, or feelings of unusual stress or sadness in response to a life event, was linked to a 13% increase in risk for infection, followed by anxiety conditions (8%), bipolar disorder (7%), alcoholism (5%), depression (5%), and PTSD (3%). 

Overall, the study found that people aged 65 or older with a psychiatric diagnosis are 5% more likely to have a breakthrough Covid-19 infection. Additionally, O’Donovan explained how using data exclusively from the VA wasn’t the most ideal situation when looking at this specific correlation. 

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“Using data exclusively from the V.A. was not ideal. This group is not representative of the entire U.S. population. People who go to the V.A. are more likely to be of lower socioeconomic status, have several medical conditions, and live in a rural area. They are also generally older and almost all men,” O’Donovan says. 

“However, the V.A. did a very good job of gathering all of this information and releasing it quickly. Without that kind of real-time record-keeping, she says, it would be incredibly difficult to get this much information on a recent phenomenon.”

The findings “are unlikely to be specific to Covid-19,” says O’Donovan, “but are much more likely to generalize to other infections. An obvious issue is risk for the flu and prevention of the flu.”

These findings give reason to consider mental health when crafting responses to Covid-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks.

“This study adds to a body of literature that’s telling us that patients with psychiatric disorders may well be — and do appear to be — a vulnerable population in this pandemic that might need targeted prevention efforts,” says O’Donovan. “We may need to be focused on integrating Covid prevention into mental health care and also integrating mental health care into our Covid prevention strategies because the two are so interlinked.”

China Gearing Up To Conduct Asteroid Deflection Tests In 2025

China is currently drafting a planetary defense plan that will aim to alter the orbit of a potentially threatening asteroid. The plan involves a kinetic impactor test that will help researchers develop new systems that could counter potential threats posed by asteroids close to Earth. 

Wu Yanhua is the deputy director of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), and spoke with China Central Television about the current research and future testing the administration is planning. 

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“CNSA will establish an early warning system and develop software to simulate operations against the near Earth objects and test and verify basic procedures. Finally, a mission will make close up observations of a selected potentially dangerous asteroid and then impact the target to alter its orbit.”

The mission is currently scheduled to occur around the end of 2025 or 2026 as a part of the administration’s five-year plan period (2021-2025/26), according to Yanhua.

Yanhua explained that the system would help scientists deal with the threat of near Earth objects to humanity, as well as provide a multitude of new research and technology for China to use in the future. 

According to Yanhua, China “will study plans for building a near-earth object defense system, and increase the capacity of near-earth object monitoring, cataloging, early warning, and response over the 2021-2025 period.”

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China is not alone in their efforts to create new technologies and systems that could help protect the Earth from potential asteroids and other space objects that could hurdle into our atmosphere. 

NASA recently launched their Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) in November. The spacecraft is meant to collide with a minor-planet moon known as Dimorphous which is currently orbiting near an Earth asteroid named Didymos. The test is set to be in September of this year. 

The European Space Agency is also gearing up to send its Hera mission to Didymos and Dimorphous later in the decade after they examine the effects of the DART mission. 

Overall, international space stations everywhere are aware that asteroids and other space objects near Earth pose a potential threat to humanity, so these new systems are integral to our planets safety in the coming decade. 

Thousands Of New Viruses Discovered In The Ocean, According To New Study

More than 5,000 new virus species have been discovered throughout our world’s oceans according to a new study. Researchers at The Ohio State University analyzed tens of thousands of water samples from around the world looking for new RNA viruses, or viruses that use RNA for genetic material. 

These types of viruses are typically understudied when compared to DNA viruses, however, Covid-19 is a type of RNA virus, so scientists and researchers all around the globe have been trying to gain a greater understanding of them. 

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The diversity of the newfound viruses was so great that the researchers have “proposed doubling the number of taxonomic groups needed to classify RNA viruses, from the existing five phyla to 10 phyla. Phylum is a broad classification in biology just below kingdom,” study lead author Matthew Sullivan, a professor of microbiology at The Ohio State University, said in a statement

“There’s so much new diversity here – and an entire new phylum, the Taraviricota, were found all over the oceans, which suggests they’re ecologically important,” he explained. 

“Studies of RNA viruses have usually focused on those that cause diseases. Some well-known RNA viruses include influenza, Ebola and the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But these are just a tiny slice of RNA viruses on Earth.”

“We wanted to systematically study them on a very big scale and explore an environment no one had looked at deeply,” Sullivan said in the statement.

For the study, published in the journal Science, the researchers “analyzed 35,000 water samples taken from 121 locations in all five of the world’s oceans.”

The researchers team are all members of the Tara Oceans Consortium, a worldwide project created to study the impact of climate change specifically on the ocean. 

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The researchers examined genetic sequences that were extracted from plankton; small aquatic organisms. Plankton is known to be a common host for RNA viruses. By focusing on sequences that belonged to RNA viruses, they were able to find the ancient gene known as RdRp, which is found in all RNA viruses, but absent from other types of viruses. 

The researchers were able to identify over 44,000 sequences with the ancient gene. Since the RdRp gene is billions of years old, it has been able to evolve, which makes it harder for the scientists to determine the actual evolutionary relationship between the sequences and how they changed. 

“Overall, we identified about 5,500 new RNA virus species that fell into the five existing phyla, as well as the five newly proposed phyla, which are named Taraviricota, Pomiviricota, Paraxenoviricota, Wamoviricota and Arctiviricota.”

“Virus species in the Taraviricota phylum were particularly abundant in temperate and tropical waters, while viruses in the Arctiviricota phylum are abundant in the Arctic Ocean,” the researchers wrote.

“Understanding how the RdRp gene diverged over time could lead to a better understanding of how early life evolved on Earth,” the authors said.

“RdRp is supposed to be one of the most ancient genes — it existed before there was a need for DNA. So we’re not just tracing the origins of viruses, but also tracing the origins of life,”study co-first author Ahmed Zayed, a research scientist in microbiology at Ohio State, said in the statement. 

Hubble Space Telescope Captures Most Distant Star Ever Recorded; 28 Billion Light-Years Away

The Hubble Space Telescope captured a single star that is 28 billion light-years away, the furthest it’s ever captured a glimpse of. The star could be between 50 to 500 times bigger than our sun, and is likely millions of times brighter, according to a study published in the journal Nature.

COVID-19

US Covid-19 Infections Likely To Rise Again, According To Fauci 

 Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of Joe Biden’s top advisers, said this week that a likely rise in Covid-19 cases will probably not result in a full-scale surge, or prompt a renewal of widespread health and safety procedures. 

“The bottom line is we will likely see an uptick in cases, as we’ve seen in European countries, particularly the U.K.. Hopefully we won’t see a surge. I don’t think we will.”

The BA.2 subvariant of the omicron variant is driving up cases in both Europe and Asia, specifically in Hong Kong which has been dealing with a sudden major surge of new cases within the past couple of weeks. 

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made the argument that the US needs to be prepared to resume health and safety measures in public spaces, while Fauci claims that he doesn’t think that’s going to happen: “right now, at this point, I don’t see that happening.”

Covid-19 hospitalizations, deaths, and cases in general have been continuing to decline in the US. BA.2 is reportedly 50% more transmissible than the original strain of omicron, however, like omicron it doesn’t cause more severe illness or evade immunity from vaccinations or an earlier infection, according to Fauci. 

Fauci and US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy have been urging Congress to pass a Covid-19 relief package that has been stalled for quite some time now. The White House has sought out $22.5 billion in funding for relief efforts and supplies. 

The Biden Administration, however, has also warned that it will have to wind down certain programs and therapeutic treatments soon due to a lack of funding. 

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“As much work as we’ve done in the last two years to get the right tools, we’ve got to continue funding them and supporting them so they’re available to people across the country.”

“That’s why Congress moving to provide that funding is so critical,” Murthy said on Sunday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has also argued that too much of the money meant to be allocated for Covid-19 programs and protocols has yet to be spent. 

“They ought to reprogram some of this massive amount that was spent last year that’s not out the door yet,” McConnell said on Sunday.

Fauci, 81, also discussed speculation over his retirement: “I can’t stay at this job forever. I want to make sure we’re really out of this before I really seriously consider doing anything different. We’re still in this. We have a way to go. I think we are clearly going in the right direction. I hope we stay that way.”

Planet Earth

Solar Orbiter Spacecraft Is Now Halfway Between The Earth And Sun 

In a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, a spacecraft known as the Solar Orbiter has been traveling from the Earth to the Sun. The spacecraft is now officially halfway between the two, according to a report from ESA, meaning it is now 46.6 million miles from the Sun itself. 

Solar Orbiter initially began its mission in November 2021. The craft has been, and will continue to, take in scientific observations as it makes its way closer to the Sun. The spacecraft is taking measurements of the solar winds and volatile corona. 

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The mission itself is also giving researchers a unique opportunity to deeply study space weather. Space weather is a feature of the solar wind; a stream of charged particles from the Sun that generate aurorae. These particles occasionally tend to disrupt electronics on Earth as well. 

The Solar Orbiter is also taking a longer route to get to the Sun as a means of saving energy. The orbiter is also utilizing the gravitational pulls of Earth and Venus to slingshot itself inward. This maneuver also reduces the amount of fuel necessary to propel a spacecraft.

The orbiter’s current position between the Earth and Sun allows it to gather useful data on solar winds and how they move throughout our solar system. Researchers will be combining the data from the Solar Orbiter with data from other spacecraft that are within Earth’s orbit to get a more complex picture of the winds movements. 

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Daniel Müller, a Solar Orbiter project scientist with the ESA, said in a release that “from this point onwards, we are ‘entering the unknown’ as far as Solar Orbiter’s observations of the Sun are concerned.”

“The orbiter will make its closest approach—26 million miles from the Sun—on March 26. From March 14 to April 6, it will be within the orbit of Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.” 

“What I’m most looking forward to is finding out whether all these dynamical features we see in the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (coined campfires) can make their way into the solar wind or not. There are so many of them!” said Louise Harra, a physicist at the Physical Meteorological Observatory in Davos.

Once the Solar Orbiter arrives at its closest approach later on this month, humans will be able to see some of the closest and clearest images ever taken of the Sun. 

Close up of Vaccine

Germany Announces Protein-Based Covid Vaccine To Convince Skeptics To Get Their Dose

Germany announced this week that it will begin offering its citizens a new protein-based Covid-19 vaccine which is said to be comparable to conventional flu vaccines. 

The announcement and development of this vaccine was made in hopes of convincing skeptical populations to get their jabs, but don’t want the novel mRNA technology used in the most commonly distributed vaccines. 

1.4 million doses of the Nuvaxovid vaccine, which were developed by the US biotech company Novavax, will arrive in Germany this week. Karl Lauterbach, Germany’s health minister, confirmed last week that additional doses of the vaccine will be arriving one week after the initial shipment. 

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When compared to all the other types of vaccines being distributed throughout Germany, this recent order brings the nation’s total to 34 million doses throughout 2022.

Novavax’s products have so far only been used in Indonesia and the Philippines, but were permitted for use throughout the EU last December. The company is still waiting on authorization in the US. 

Nuvaxovid is a protein subunit vaccine, unlike the novel mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, or viral vector vaccines like the ones made by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. 

Nuvaxovid contains a non-infectious component on the surface of the Covid virus, which induces a protective immune response when the body’s immune system comes into contact with it. 

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Novavax announced in June last year that its vaccine had “proven more than 90% effective against symptomatic infections with the Alpha variant, in trials that involved about 30,000 volunteers.”

The company also announced that the vaccine is similarly effective against the Delta and Omicron variants, especially if the individual receives a booster dose six months after their second dose. 

Germany’s Paul Ehrlich Institute notes that the “data proving the vaccine’s efficacy against more infectious variants remains limited. There’s a considerable interest in the Novavax jab among the 19.8 million people in the country who have so far declined to take a jab against Covid-19.”

6,000 individuals are currently on a waiting list to receive the Nuvaxovid vaccine in early February.

Lars Korn, a co-author of a current survey of anti-vaccine attitudes conducted by the University of Erfurt, told the public broadcaster ZDF that “two-thirds of respondents would continue to completely reject any form of vaccination.” Only time will tell if the distribution of this new vaccine will lead to a more vaccinated population.

Astronomers Discover New Type Of ‘Freak Star’ Formed By Rare Stellar Event 

Astronomers have discovered a new type of “freak star” covered in helium-burning ashes, which is believed to have formed by a rare stellar merger event. 

A German team of experts were looking for “hot stars” in Arizona using a Large Binocular Telescope when they came across two stars with unusual properties. The stars are known as PG1654+322 and PG1528+025, and are about 10,000 and 25,000 light years away from Earth within our galaxy. 

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The experts reported “while normal star surfaces are composed of hydrogen and helium, these newly-found stars are covered in great quantities of carbon and oxygen – the by-product of helium nuclear fusion. Astonishingly high abundances of both carbon and oxygen – each accounting for around 20 percent of surface composition for both stars.”

“Stars that are covered in this much carbon and oxygen usually have finished nuclear fusion reactions that take place at their core. However, temperatures and diameters of the two newly-discovered stars indicate that helium nuclei continue to fuse inside them – an unprecedented finding,” the experts reported. 

The research was conducted by a team of astronomers, led by Professor Klaus Werner of the University of Tübingen, and published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

“We normally expect stars with the chemical surface composition of the stars discovered to have completed the helium fusion in their centers and to be in the final stages of becoming white dwarfs,” said Professor Werner. 

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“These new stars are a severe challenge to our understanding of stellar evolution. Carbon and oxygen are normal in old stars that are fusing helium, but only in their cores. So it is extremely unusual to see them in large quantities at their surface.” 

“We believe that the stars discovered by our German colleagues were formed by a very rare type of merging between two white dwarfs,”said Miller Bertolami, author of a second companion paper by astronomers, also published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

“White dwarfs are the remnants of larger stars that have exhausted their nuclear fuel, and are typically very small and dense,” he explained. 

There are currently no stellar evolutionary models that can fully explain how exactly these new stars were formed and why, which could create a whole new binary for scientists to work off of when it comes to new star discoveries. 

The two stars will continue to be monitored as a part of the larger-scale research the team is doing to track down short-lived, hot stars. This research should also help the team better understand what exactly these stars endured in order to evolve into what they are currently.

Object Discovered In The Milky Way Is ‘Unlike Anything Astronomers Have Ever Seen’ 

Australian scientists and researchers have discovered a strange object spinning in the Milky Way, which they claim to be unlike anything astronomers have ever seen before. 

The object was first discovered by a university student who was working on his undergraduate thesis. The initial discovery showed that the object releases a huge burst of radio energy three times every hour. 

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“The pulse comes every 18.18 minutes, like clockwork,” said astrophysicist Natasha Hurley-Walker, who led the investigation after the student’s discovery, using a telescope in the Western Australian outback known as the Murchison Widefield Array.

Pulsars are an example of other objects in the universe that are known for switching on and off when they release energy, however, Hurley-Walker states that 18.18 minutes is a frequency that has never been recorded before. 

“Finding this object was kind of spooky for an astronomer because there’s nothing known in the sky that does that.” 

The research team is currently working on understanding what exactly it is that they discovered. As they continued to compile and observe data, they came to the conclusion that the object is about 4,000 light-years away from Earth, is incredibly bright, and has an incredibly strong magnetic field. 

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“If you do all of the mathematics, you find that they shouldn’t have enough power to produce these kinds of radio waves every 20 minutes. It just shouldn’t be possible,” Hurley-Walker said.

The object could potentially be something known as an “ultra-long period magnetar,” which researchers have only theorized about existing in the past. It could also be a white dwarf, which would make it a remnant of a collapsed star. 

“But that’s quite unusual as well. We only know of one white dwarf pulsar, and nothing as great as this,” Hurley-Walker said.

“Of course, it could be something that we’ve never even thought of—it could be some entirely new type of object.”

“I was concerned that it was aliens. But the research team was able to observe the signal across a wide range of frequencies. That means it must be a natural process, this is not an artificial signal. More detections will tell astronomers whether this was a rare one-off event or a vast new population we’d never noticed before,” Hurley-Walker said.

The team’s paper on the object has been published in the latest edition of the journal Nature.