Giant alien planet may lurk inside star's lopsided dust structure

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A huge, complicated dust structure 150 billion miles across surrounds the young star HR 4796A, as seen in this view from the Hubble Space Telescope.  (G. Schneider (Univ. of Arizona)/NASA/ESA)

The Hubble Space Telescope recently discovered a star surrounded by a huge dust structure that stretches about 150 billion miles across. 

But there are strange subtleties to the dust ring's structure. NASA describes it as looking like an inner tube that got hit by a truck. That's because the dust is much more extended on one side of the star than it is on the other side. Perhaps, scientists suggest, the host star is plowing through the gas that makes up the interstellar medium, creating a shock wave that is affecting the dust. Or, the star's red dwarf binary companion, HR 4796B — which is roughly 54 billion miles (87 billion km) away — is exerting a tidal influence.

"The dust distribution is a telltale sign of how dynamically interactive the inner system containing the ring is," stated lead researcher and astronomer Glenn Schneider of the University of Arizona, Tucson. He used Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph to examine the dust in more detail. 

"We cannot treat exoplanetary debris systems as simply being in isolation," he added. "Environmental effects, such as interactions with the interstellar medium and forces due to stellar companions, may have long-term implications for the evolution of such systems. The gross asymmetries of the outer dust field are telling us there are a lot of forces in play — beyond just host-star radiation pressure — that are moving the material around. We've seen effects like this in a few other systems, but here's a case where we see a bunch of things going on at once."

About 40 debris disks have been photographed around stars to date, mostly through Hubble observations. Evidence of the first debris disk around a star (Beta Pictoris) was discovered in 1983, using NASA's Infrared Astronomical Satellite. In 2015, NASA officials said Beta Pictoris was the only known system that has a gas giant planet embedded in the dust.

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March 13, 2018

Sources: Fox

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Dr. Mukamal was eager to allay their concerns, respond to their questions and suggestions, and secure the industry’s buy-in. </p><p>Dr. Mukamal has repeatedly denied communicating with the alcohol industry while planning the trial, telling The Times last year that he had “literally no contact with the alcohol industry.” </p><p>But the report documented conference calls he held with alcoholic beverage companies and lengthy memos written in response to their concerns, long before the N.I.H. even announced it would sponsor the trial. </p><p>Beer and liquor companies offered their own suggestions for carrying out the trial. Carlsberg, the Danish beer company, at one point suggested that clinical trial centers be established in Russia, China and Denmark. (A trial site was located in Copenhagen, but not in Russia or China.)</p><p>The strategy of engagement with industry was effective. Five large beer and liquor companies eventually agreed to pick up most of the $100 million tab for the 10-year-long randomized trial. </p><p>The study was intended to test the hypothesis that one drink a day is better for one’s heart than none, among other benefits of moderate drinking. But its design was such that it would not pick up harms, such as an increase in cancers or heart failure associated with alcohol, the investigation found.</p><p>Scientists who designed the trial were aware it was not large enough to detect a rise in breast cancer, and acknowledged to grant reviewers in 2016 that the study was focused on benefits and “not powered to identify negative health effects.”</p><p>“Clearly, there was a sense that this trial was being set up in a way that would maximize the chances of showing a positive effect of alcohol,” Dr. Collins said last week as he accepted his advisers’ recommendation to terminate the trial. </p><p>“Understandably, the alcoholic beverage industry would like to see that.”</p><p>But even as Dr. Mukamal and staff from the N.I.H.’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shared details of the trial with liquor and beer manufacturers, institute staff were engaged in subterfuge within the federal agency. </p><p>They denied that discussions with industry were taking place, the report found, and withheld pertinent information from “Building 1,” the location of Dr. Collins’s office.</p><p>When setting up a meeting about the study, a staff member sent an email on June 30, 2013, warning that one senior official who would be present “knows NOTHING about the possible funding source, and we should probably keep it that way for now.” </p><p>All along, senior staff at the alcohol institute were well aware the industry was likely to use the study’s findings for marketing and promotion purposes.</p><p>In June 2013, institute staff drew up a business plan making the case for the industry’s financial support of the study. “Once the data are released into the public domain via publication,” it said, “the industry can use that information to make or bolster whatever arguments and claims they choose.” </p><p>It continued, “At that point, the N.I.A.A.A. and the N.I.H. are out of the process.” </p><p>If the study failed to find health benefits in moderate drinking but provided no evidence of harm, the results still would be a boon for the beverage makers. The findings would counter a 2014 World Health Organization edict that no level of alcohol consumption is safe because it raises the risk of cancer.</p><p>“As we discussed, this will be the first R.C.T., i.e. ‘gold standard’ evidence of this,” they added, “and it is important to answer statements made by W.H.O. and others that ‘no level of alcohol is safe’ with certainty.” (R.C.T. refers to a randomized clinical trial.)</p><p>Alcohol, which is classified as a carcinogen, is linked to a slight increase in breast cancer risk at even one drink a day. One of the main criticisms of the alcohol trial from the start was that it was not large enough, and would not last long enough, to detect a rise in cancers, which are slow-growing, among drinkers.</p><p>Barry S. Kramer, director of cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute, who reviewed the trial design as part of the advisory committee’s report, agreed with this assessment. “The trial is set to show the benefit while missing the harm” of alcohol consumption, he wrote.</p><p>Indeed, notes from Dr. Mukamal’s communications with alcohol companies suggests he wanted to allay their concerns that the trial might pick up a rise in breast cancer. </p><p>The trial protocol called for enrolling adults aged 50 and older who are at high risk for heart disease. But breast cancer rates also rise at this age. </p><p>“Will breast cancer be one of the safety outcomes measured?” was one question from an alcohol industry-supported group.</p><p>“Is the intention to publish results even if they are less desirable, e.g. negative or mixed?” asked a representative of Suntory, a company that sells wine, beer and whisky, during a Dec. 8, 2014, conference call with Dr. Mukamal.</p><p>“Yes,” Dr. Mukamal responded, according to notes from the call published in the advisory committee report. But, he added, “We are not enrolling people of high risk for breast cancer.”</p><p>Earlier in the same call, an alcohol industry representative asked whether it was possible that another health agency, like the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, might “pick up the idea” of an alcohol trial “and go a different way with it?”</p><p>“Yes, we have been approached by different groups, and some of these groups have very different motives, e.g. investigating the relationships between alcohol and breast cancer,” Dr. Mukamal responded.</p><p>Perhaps the earliest signs of bias could be seen in emails between N.I.A.A.A. staff as they debated what they should call the trial. Scientists often come up with acronyms that serve as nicknames for studies and are shorthand for long, complicated scientific titles.</p><p>One staffer informed another on June 13, 2013, that the name of this clinical trial would be “Cheers” — short for “Cardiovascular Health Effects of Ethanol Research Study.”</p><p>“And it will be a new drinking game,” the official added. “Every time you hear it, you must assume its [sic] a toast, and so have a drink.” </p><p>That idea was later abandoned in favor of the more sober acronym, M.A.C.H., which stood for “Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health.”</p>

    1 June 20, 2018
  • TV weathercasters spread global warming news

    TV weathercasters spread global warming news

    y three decades, and for most of his career, he didn’t focus much on global warming. He was skeptical about the science behind it, particularly the notion that human behavior was heating the planet.</p><p>LaPointe increasingly came to realize he was wrong — that the evidence that greenhouse gases are warming the Earth is “irrefutable.” Now, LaPointe routinely reports on the effects of climate change — from the escalated growth of poison ivy to a jump in the number of high-pollen days — alongside his usual seven-day nightly forecasts on CBS affiliate WRGB in Albany, New York.</p><p>“It’s just scientific fact. And the more it gets talked about, the more it’s normalized,” LaPointe said. “It gets into people’s heads and it’s not this political albatross that it could be.”</p><p>LaPointe’s journey has been repeated by many of his peers across America. The friendly neighborhood meteorologist — found in a 2010 poll to be more skeptical than the general public about global warming — has rapidly evolved to not only accept climate change but to share the news with audiences in hundreds of U.S. television markets.</p><p>The inroads with meteorologists are particularly significant because local TV news remains the top source of news for most Americans. And George Mason surveys have shown that when it comes to climate issues, the public trusts their familiar local TV personalities more than anyone, other than scientists and family members.</p><p>Most Americans don’t know a scientist, and their loved ones probably don’t know much about long-term climate dynamics, said Ed Maibach, the climate change center’s director. “So we immediately saw the potential with weather people,” he said, “and helping them to do the job of putting extreme weather in context.”</p><p>“To most people this is distant in time, distant in space, distant in species,” said Susan Hassol, who has been working in climate communications for three decades. “We say, ‘No, it’s about us, and it’s local, and it's happening right now.’”</p><p>The researchers at George Mason and communications experts at Climate Central believe the big changes needed to slow global warming will happen only when citizens sense the urgency of the threat and the opportunity to make things better. Under a National Science Foundation grant, with research support from NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, George Mason and Climate Central have collaborated on the Climate Matters project to get weathercasters to report on global warming.</p><p>“There are still not enough people telling that story, of what climate change means to me and what it means to the community,” said Bernadette Woods Placky, Climate Central’s director and a former TV weathercaster. “It’s time to move beyond the question of ‘Is climate change happening?’ to the question ‘What does climate change mean to me?’“</p><p>The divide between TV meteorologists and climate scientists may have been exacerbated by differences in education, some experts believed. Meteorologists generally hold bachelor’s degrees and work with short-term data to project weather over a week or two. Research scientists, usually Ph.D.s, chart trends over decades and even centuries.</p><p>Many TV weather people leave discussion of climate issues for news anchors and reporters.</p><p>“It’s been strictly seven-day forecasts. We talk about the weather — that’s what people want,” said Greg Pollak, who has worked at five stations in North Dakota, Massachusetts and New York in his eight years in the business. He said he has never been asked to tackle climate issues in any of those jobs.</p><p>“I think management probably felt it was too much of a sensitive subject to touch on,” Pollak said of why his bosses didn’t push for climate coverage, “and maybe we would get thrown under the bus, somehow.”</p><p>The Climate Matters campaign to integrate climate information with weather reporting started with a 2010 pilot program, featuring South Carolina meteorologist Jim Gandy. “I told them: ‘I don’t live in a red state. I live in a dark red state,’“ Gandy recalled. “And I said, ‘If you can talk climate change here, you can talk it anywhere.’”</p><p>“But in my mind it smashed the idea you can’t talk about climate change because you will turn people off,” said Gandy, 65, who has been on the air for more than 40 years.</p><p>Climate Central now routinely provides local climate information for 244 cities in the U.S., said Placky, the group’s director. Meteorologists can plug their city into a Climate Matters search page and find analysis of local climate impacts — often backed by NOAA and NASA experts, along with ready-for-air charts and graphics.</p><p>The results of the pre-packaged material can be seen across the country. LaPointe recently stood in front of a Climate Central chart showing how average temperatures in upstate New York had jumped 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit, on average, over the last three decades. An NBC affiliate in Connecticut displayed a Climate Central chart depicting a 20-day increase in frost-free weather annually and, thus, in the length of allergy season. And multiple stations used the organization’s data on how higher temperatures and humidity had lengthened the mosquito season.</p><p>&quot;It’s time to move beyond the question of ‘Is climate change happening?’&quot;</p><p>Climate Central has gotten creative in providing fodder for climate talk. On St. Patrick’s Day, 18 stations used the group’s research for reports on how warming temperatures might affect the beer industry. The reports suggested barley costs could go up because of more frequent droughts, while hops could taste different if farmers shift away from scarcer surface water to supplies pumped from underground. (The report acknowledged these changes have not yet occurred.)</p><p>Anthony Yanez, a meteorologist at KNBC in Los Angeles, said he saw the wave of stations across the country offering reports on the potential climate-beer connection, and he credited Climate Central. “They have information that’s easy to get, easy to use and that gets right into the local market,” said Yanez, who recently produced a segment on the increased wildfire threat, tying it to global warming.</p><p>The logistical help is particularly welcome in an era when local TV news operations have sustained staff reductions, said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, a think tank on sustainable journalism practices.</p><p>Rosenstiel said there’s no problem with news organizations using data and graphics from groups like Climate Central, as long as outlets know the source of the information and report it clearly to viewers. “The stations still need to be gatekeepers, assuring that the information is good and that their audience knows where it’s coming from,” Rosenstiel said.</p><p>The Climate Matters program has been successful enough with forecasters that organizers are expanding it this week to workshops for other journalists. The first training is being held for print and radio reporters at the University of South Carolina, with four more sessions planned around the country through November.</p><p>LaPointe said he has run into no opposition as he has increasingly folded climate reporting into his weather forecasts, including from the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the conservative-leaning company that owns his upstate New York station. “There is zero pushback. Nobody has said ‘You can’t do this.’ Nobody has said ‘You cannot say this,’” LaPointe said.</p><p>“This is all based on science and on fact,” LaPointe added, “and on the idea that it can help us to make better decisions and elect better people and implement the policy changes we need to turn this thing around.”</p>

    1 June 20, 2018


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