BRITTANY STEFF | Science Writer

Stellar forensics: Clearest ever look at Cassiopeia A sheds light into the heart of an exploding star

Images of stars released to the public, like the new image of Cassiopeia A revealed last month, fire the public’s imagination and kindle wonder in the breadth and beauty of the universe. But those images are more than just awe-inspiring art — they are treasure troves of priceless scientific information. By taking photos of the stellar remnant using a range of tools and filters on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), astronomers are getting their clearest look ever at Cassiopeia A. Astronomer and star expert Danny Milisavljevic (pronounced mili-sahv-la-vich), an associate professor of physics and astronomy in Purdue University’s College of Science, led an enormous international team of researchers on a JWST Year 1 project to study the supernova remnant.

Exposure to cigarette smoke increases cancer risk in dogs

Dogs are humans’ best friends. Need to quickly locate a bomb? There’s a dog for that. Can’t see very well? There’s a dog for that. Searching for a lost hiker in the mountains or survivors in an earthquake, diagnosing illness, comforting the bereft — there are dogs for every need. They are even helping humans track down the causes of cancer. A new study links cigarette smoke exposure to an exponentially higher rate of bladder cancer in Scottish terriers. By assessing individual dogs and studying their medical history, scientists are beginning to untangle the question of who gets cancer and why, and how best to detect, treat and prevent cancer.

Star of wonder: Dazzling new image of supernova Cassiopeia A released by First Lady Jill Biden and Purdue astronomer

Ten thousand years ago, a star exploded. Now scientists are getting their best look ever at the details of that explosion, Cassiopeia A. Space-age tools and methods are allowing them to glimpse never-seen-before details that may change forever the way scientists think about star death, star formation and the distribution of matter in the galaxy. And now, a new image of that dead star has a starring role in First Lady Jill Biden’s digital Advent calendar this year.

Signatures of the Space Age: Spacecraft metals left in the wake of humanity’s path to the stars

The Space Age is leaving fingerprints on one of the most remote parts of the planet — the stratosphere — which has potential implications for climate, the ozone layer and the continued habitability of Earth. Using tools hitched to the nose cone of their research planes and sampling more than 11 miles above the planet’s surface, researchers have discovered significant amounts of metals in aerosols in the atmosphere, likely from increasingly frequent launches and returns of spacecraft and satellites. That mass of metal is changing atmospheric chemistry in ways that may impact Earth’s atmosphere and ozone layer. Airplane

Bringing home asteroids: Purdue scientist will be among the first to examine asteroid pieces from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission

To study the planets, someone has to go there: Either a human or a bot launches into space to physically explore other worlds. Scientists who study extraterrestrial materials can’t usually bring their work home. That’s exactly what’s happening this month, though, as NASA’s OSIRIS-REx project brings home pieces of the asteroid Bennu.

Buzzing down the primrose path: Specialist bee species prefer abundant host plants

How do bees choose which flowers to visit? Some bees will visit almost any bloom, while others are more discerning. How, and whether, bees choose to specialize in one kind of flower or pollen is a question entomologists and ecologists have puzzled over for years. Now, a team of scientists is deciphering why some species of bees specialize in visiting one type of plant over others. They concluded that bees who specialize tend to focus on the most abundant species in an ecosystem – at least in the eastern United States.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire – and normal numbers of national park visitors

More Americans than ever are heeding the call of the outdoors – spending time recreating outside and enjoying national parks. Simultaneously, smoky skies are worsening as the size and severity of wildfires increase and adversely affect air quality across the country. Wildfire smoke threatens human health and welfare, especially if humans are exposed to smoke for long periods or while exercising – such as during a hiking trip to one of America’s beloved national parks.

Sociogenomics: The intricate science of how genetics influences sociology

Humans contain multitudes. Each person on the planet contains enough DNA to stretch to Pluto – several times. Studying how all this genetic material works, and especially how genes influence human behavior, is an enormously complicated undertaking – one that’s being made easier by the emergence of massive banks of genetic data and complex data science analysis techniques to parse that data.

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 detect.
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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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