A collaboration of telescopes, including a contribution by the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) in Sutherland, has unveiled a cosmic explosion about 200 times more powerful than a typical supernova.
To prove the record breaking nature of this supernova explosion, crucially, its distance had to be established. This was achieved with spectroscopic observations taken by SALT.
“Upon seeing the spectral signatures from SALT and realising that we had discovered the most powerful supernova yet, I was too excited to sleep the rest of the night,” said Subo Dong, an astronomer and a Youth Qianren Research Professor at the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics (KIAA) at Peking University.
“This impressive result highlights strengths of SALT and the benefits of Chinese-South African collaboration in astronomy, and we are looking forward to strengthening such collaboration in future”, said Petri Vaisanen, head of science operations at SALT.
At its peak intensity the explosion, called ASASSN-15lh, shone with 570 billion times the brightness of the Sun. If that statistic does not impress, consider that this luminosity level is approximately 20 times the entire output of the 100 billion stars comprising our Milky Way galaxy.
As described in a new study published today in Science, ASASSN-15lh is amongst the closest superluminous supernovae ever found, at around 3.8 billion light years away. Given its exceptional brightness and closeness, ASASSN-15lh might offer key clues in unlocking the secrets of this baffling class of celestial detonations.
“ASASSN-15lh is the most powerful supernova discovered in human history,” said Dong, the study lead author. “The explosion’s mechanism and power source remain shrouded in mystery because all known theories meet serious challenges in explaining the immense amount of energy ASASSN-15lh has radiated.”
ASASSN-15lh was first glimpsed in June 2015 by twin telescopes with 14-centimeter diameter lenses in Cerro Tololo, Chile conducting the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASAS-SN), an international collaboration headquartered at The Ohio State University. (Hence ASASSN-15lh’s somewhat menacing moniker.) These two tiny telescopes sweep the skies to detect suddenly appearing objects like ASASSN-15lh that are intrinsically very bright, but are too far away for human observers to notice.
A spectrum taken at the 2.5 meter du Pont telescope in Chile suggested that ASASSN-15lh might indeed be a superluminous supernova.
To know for sure how luminous ASASSN-15lh was, a measurement of its distance was required. This was determined with spectroscopic observations by Dong’s colleague Saurabh Jha of Rutgers University using the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT). “SALT and its queue schedule observing are ideal for rapidly following up transient events like ASASSN-15lh,” explained Jha.
To clear up where exactly ASASSN-15lh is located, as well as numerous other mysteries regarding it and its hyper-kinetic ilk, the research team has been granted valuable time this year on the Hubble Space Telescope. With Hubble, Dong and colleagues will obtain the most detailed views yet of the aftermath of ASASSN-15lh’s stunning explosion. In concert, Jha has continued to use SALT to obtain spectroscopic follow-up observations to analyze the composition and structure of the explosion as it progresses, including making use of special “Director’s discretionary time” awarded to study this unique event. Important insights into the true wellspring of its power should come to light.
One of the best hypotheses is that superluminous supernovae’s stupendous energy comes from highly magnetized, rapidly spinning neutron stars called magnetars, which are the leftover, hyper-compressed cores of massive, exploded stars. But ASASSN-15lh is so luminous that this compelling magnetar scenario falls short of the required energies. Instead, ASASSN-15lh-esque supernovae might be triggered by the demise of incredibly massive stars that go beyond the top tier of masses most astronomers would speculate are even attainable.
“The honest answer is at this point that we do not know what could be the power source for ASASSN-15lh,” said Dong. “ASASSN-15lh may lead to new thinking and new observations of the whole class of superluminous supernova, and we look forward to plenty more of both in the years ahead.”
Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh
In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.
When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.
This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy.
“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.
“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”
Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.
“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.
“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”
Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.
“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.
“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”
Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.
Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”
Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream
If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd
As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?
In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!
Nation-State Hacking & You
It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.
With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.
Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.
Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.
Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”
When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.”
Ignorance is not bliss
Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.
Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!