BRITTANY STEFF | Science Writer

Uncovering a star’s demise: Supermassive black hole tears apart a giant star in a display brighter, more energetic and longer lasting than any observed before

A distant star, dying a fiery and dramatic death, torn apart by a supermassive black hole in a forgotten corner of the sky. One of the most luminous, energetic, long-lasting transient objects didn’t blaze through the night sky inspiring legends and launching civilizations. Instead, astronomers, acting as celestial supersleuths, uncovered evidence of the star’s death throes where it had hidden undetected for years in a mass of computer-gathered telescope data.

New JWST image reveals wonders, beauty, secrets of star structure and building blocks of life

To gaze at the stars is human. To be able to see them in three-dimensional detail is very nearly divine. Divine vision is what the James Webb Space Telescope has granted earthbound scientists in a new near-infrared, detailed image of Cassiopeia A (Cas A), a stellar remnant – the clouds of gas, dust and other material left behind when a star dies. Danny Milisavljevic, assistant professor of physics and astronomy in Purdue University, studies supernova remnants and leads a year one research team on the JWST examining Cas A.

You’ve got to have heart: Computer scientist works to help AI comprehend human emotions

Bring up robot-human relations, and you’re bound to conjure images of famous futuristic robots, from the Terminator to C-3PO. But, in fact, the robot invasion has already begun. Devices and programs, including digital voice assistants, predictive text and household appliances, are smart, and getting smarter. It doesn’t do, though, for computers to be all brain and no heart. Computer scientist Aniket Bera is working to make sure the future is a little more “Big Hero 6” and a little less Skynet.

Into the unknown: Geochemist leads an all-woman team onto the ice in Antarctica to study the Earth’s ancient history

The standard image of Antarctica is vast, featureless sheets of ice and blowing blizzards. But soaring rocky mountains with deep valleys cut like a knife into the continent of Antarctica, evoking the lavish landscapes of the American Southwest’s Monument Valley. Here, ancient rocks reach for the cold blue sky, and here is where Marissa Tremblay, assistant professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences at Purdue University, led her team of science experts – all of whom happen to be women.

Man’s best friend leads the way to early cancer detection

Cancer strikes without warning. Genetics can explain some of it, as well as environmental and lifestyle conditions. But there is no surefire way to predict who will develop cancer. That tragedy holds true for both humans and their closest domestic companions: dogs. A canine cancer scientist at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is working to take the first steps to make a serious form of cancer in dogs — one with analogues to human health — easier to detec

Something’s in the air: It’s nanoplastic pollution

The tiny bits of plastic that wear off bottles, plastic bags, automotive parts and even cosmetics get into the soil and the water supply. They disrupt chemical cycles, throw off ecosystem health and pollute environments both marine and terrestrial. They eventually also get into the air, where they can damage lungs much more effectively. But for that to happen, they have to be worn away by water or earth and then be launched into the sky by winds. A new study published in Nature Nanotechnology has discovered that a process that happens all over the developed world every day accelerates the airborne dispersal of these micro- and nanoplastic particles, posing a risk to human and environmental health.

The sands of Mars are green as well as red, rover Perseverance discovers

The accepted view of Mars is red rocks and craters as far as the eye can see. That’s much what scientists expected when they landed the rover Perseverance in the Jezero Crater, a spot chosen partly for the crater’s history as a lake and as part of a rich river system, back when Mars had liquid water, air and a magnetic field. What the rover found once on the ground was startling: Rather than the expected sedimentary rocks – washed in by rivers and accumulated on the lake bottom – many of the rocks are volcanic in nature. Specifically, they are composed of large grains of olivine, the muddier less-gemlike version of peridot that tints so many of Hawai'i’s beaches dark green.

Breaking in a new planet

The harder you hit something – a ball, a walnut, a geode – the more likely it is to break open. Or, if not break open, at least lose a little bit of its structural integrity, the way baseball players pummel new gloves to make them softer and more flexible. Cracks, massive or tiny, form and bear a silent, permanent witness to the impact. Studying how those impacts affect planetary bodies, asteroids, moons and other rocks in space helps planetary scientists understand extraplanetary geology, especially where to look for precious matter including water, ice and even, potentially, microbial life.

Lasers, landscape and lost magnetic fields

Some of the newest and most exciting discoveries from Mars will be brought to you by the letter L. Roger Wiens, professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences in the College of Science at Purdue University and an expert in Mars robotics technology, led the team that built SuperCam, one of Mars rover Perseverance’s most innovative and effective tools. Recently, SuperCam used its laser to etch the first letter – L – on the Martian surface to learn more about Mars’ lost magnetic field.
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Spe·cies rich·ness  (noun)

  1. A technical term from the field of ecology. The number of different species present in an ecological community, landscape, or region.
  2. More philosophically, a lovely and poetic phrase that conveys the value and wonder inherent in the range of species on the planet and in all the amazing detail of the living world.
  3. A freelance science writer's call sign (see above).

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