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Ngumi Mirie
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That's a Big Twinkie

Black holes come in a range of sizes, from star-massed ones of a few solar masses to supermassive ones containing millions, sometimes billions of solar masses. Recently, we’ve found one on the larger end of that range, with a mass of about 12 billion Suns. While we’ve found other black holes of similar mass, this one is unusual because of its distance, and it has us scratching our heads a bit over just how it formed.

The black hole has been observed as a quasar with a redshift of about 6.30. This means the light from the quasar has been traveling for about 12.8 billion years. You might think that means it is 12.8 billion light years away, but due to cosmic expansion it’s actually much more distant. With such a high redshift, the light we observe is when the observable universe was only 900 million years old. It’s also the brightest quasar ever discovered. So how did such a massive black hole form so early in the universe? A black hole could achieve its size by capturing matter at nearly the maximum rate for a black hole, but it’s so bright that the radiation it gives off would work to limit the rate at which surrounding matter could be captured. A more likely scenario is that the black hole is a result of a merger between two supermassive black holes.

At this point we aren’t sure of its origin. But having such a bright quasar so far away does have advantages. Since the light of the quasar travels a great distance to reach us, we can use bright quasars like this to study any gas and dust between it and us. This particular quasar will let us study more distant material.

Paper: Xue-Bing Wu, et al. An ultraluminous quasar with a twelve-billion-solar-mass black hole at redshift 6.30. Nature 518, 512–515 (2015)
We've discovered a 12 billion solar mass black hole that formed when the universe was only 900 million years old. We're not entirely sure how it formed.
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Karma Chameleon

While the search for dark matter particles often hits the news, there are also efforts underway to detect dark energy particles. As with dark matter, the experiments thus far have largely determined what dark matter isn’t rather than what it is. 

There are two basic ways to account for dark energy. One is known as the cosmological constant. In this model, dark energy is an inherent aspect of the structure of space and time. Thus, throughout the universe there is a constant, uniform expansion of spacetime that gives the effect of dark energy. This model is the simplest way to account for dark energy, as it’s just a matter of adding a term to the usual general relativity equations. It also agrees with observations so far. But simply adding a term to your equations seems like a bit of a tweak model. General relativity doesn’t require a cosmological constant, it just allows for one. There’s no reason why there should be such a constant other than the fact that it fits observation. So lots of alternatives have been proposed.

The most popular type of alternative is to propose some type of scalar field. The idea is that the universe would be filled with a scalar field that results in dark energy. That may seem even more crazy than a cosmological constant, but the Higgs boson is a result of a scalar Higgs field introduced to account for particle mass, and we’ve actually detected it. There are several variations of the scalar field idea, but most of them can’t be tested using current data. But one version known as chameleon fields has just been tested, and failed the test.

The chameleon field is a “fifth force” field that interacts with itself  to produces the effects of dark energy in deep space, but also gets inhibited by the presence of mass. In this way you get cosmic expansion between galaxies, but you don’t see its effect in galaxies (or in our solar system). Since the presence of mass makes it “hidden,” it acts as a kind of cosmic chameleon, hence the name. Normally I wouldn’t put much credence in a “just so” model like this, but a few months ago it was demonstrated that the model could actually be tested. Because of its chameleon effect, the field could be “trapped” within a vacuum cavity. By making the matter in the chamber as little as possible, the chameleon field would strengthen in the chamber. As a result, the effective gravitational force within the vacuum is altered. Using an atom interferometer (basically a double-slit experiment using atoms instead of electrons) the change in gravity could be measured. What the team found was that there was no measured effect to the limits of their experiment.

This basically rules out the chameleon field and similar models. There’s still a few ways the model could be tweaked to still exist within the limits of this experiment, but it doesn’t look good for chameleon fields. That’s not particularly surprising, since most proposed models will be wrong. What makes this interesting is that we’re now actually testing dark energy models in the lab.

Paper: Paul Hamilton, et al. Atom-interferometry constraints on dark energy. arXiv:1502.03888 [physics.atom-ph] (2015)
One proposed model for dark energy known as the chameleon field has been put to the test, and failed.
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E.T. Phone Home

In the movie Contact, astronomers receive a radio signal from the star Vega. Buried within the signal is a broadcast of Hitler’s speech for the opening of the 1936 Olympic games. The television signal had made the 25 light year journey to Vega, which let the aliens know we’re here. The idea that our television and radio signals are gradually reaching ever more distant stars is a popular one, but in reality things aren’t so simple.

The opening ceremony of the 1936 Olympics was the first major television signal at a frequency high enough to penetrate Earth’s ionosphere. From there you could calculate that any star within about 80 light years of Earth could detect our presence. There’s even a website that shows which TV shows might be reaching potentially habitable worlds. But the problem with this idea is that it isn’t good enough for the signal to reach a distant star, it also needs to be powerful and clear enough to be detectable.

For example, the most distant human-made object is Voyager I, which has a transmission power of about 23 Watts, and is still detectable by radio telescopes 125 AU away. Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, is about 2,200 times more distant. Since the strength of a light signal decreases with distance following the inverse square relation, one would need a transmission power of more than 110 million Watts to transmit a signal to Proxima Centauri with the strength of Voyager to Earth. Current TV broadcasts (at least in the States) is limited to around 5 million Watts for UHF stations, and many stations aren’t nearly that powerful.

One might argue that an advanced alien civilization would surely have more advanced detectors than we currently have, so a weaker signal isn’t a huge problem. However the television signals we transmit aren’t targeted at space. Some of the signal does leak out into space, but they aren’t specifically aimed at a stellar target the way Voyager I’s signal is aimed at Earth. They also lack a clear mechanism for how transform the signal to an image. On Earth this works by implementing a specific standard, which any alien civilization would need to reverse engineer to really watch TV. On top of that, there is the problem of scattering and absorption of the signal by interstellar gas and dust. This can diminish the power and distort the signal. Even if aliens could detect our signals, they might still confuse it with background noise.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to communicate between stars. It just means that communication would require an intentional effort on both sides. If you really want to communicate with aliens, you need to make sure your signal is both clear and readable. To make it stand out among all the electromagnetic noise in the universe, you’d want to choose a wavelength were things are relatively quiet. One good region is known as the water hole, which spans a range from 18 to 21 cm. Hydrogen (H) emits at about 21 cm, and hydroxyl (HO) has a strong emission at about 18 cm. Together they can form water, hence the name for the quite gap in between. You also need to make your signal easy to recognize as an artificial signal. In Contact the aliens did this by transmitting a series of prime numbers.

In 1974 humanity made its most famous effort to send a signal to the stars. It was a radio transmission sent from the Arecibo observatory, and consisted of 1,679 binary digits, lasting three minutes. Since 1,679 is the product of the primes 23 and 73, the bits can be arranged into an image of those dimensions. There have been other efforts to send messages to the stars, but they haven’t been as powerful or as simple.

Beyond a few light years, our leaky TV broadcasts are likely undetectable. As we’ve switched to digital television and lower transmission powers they’ve become even harder to detect.  Any aliens looking for us will have to rely on other bits of evidence, such as the indication of water in our atmosphere or chlorophyl on Earth’s surface, just as we will strive to detect such things on distant worlds. Either way, the first message received won’t be a complex text of information. It will simply be a recognition of life on another world.
It's a popular idea that our television shows could be seen by aliens light years away, but our signals aren't quite that clear.
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GÜZEL OLAN BENİMDİR DEME YORULURSUN BENİM OLAN GÜZELDİR DE MUTLU OLURSUN KEYİFLİ HUZURLU MİSSMUTLUU AKŞAMLAR '') '')

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Beryllium Sphere

Yesterday I talked about measuring the age of a star, but what about a galaxy. For example, how old is our Milky Way galaxy? Given that stars are being born and dying within a galaxy all the time, is it even possible to talk about the age of a galaxy? It turns out we can determine the age of our galaxy, and uses an elemental trick.

One of the basic ways to look at the age of the Milky Way is to look at globular clusters. These are dense clusters of stars that are distributed in a kind of halo around our galaxy. We know that the stars within a globular cluster form around the same time, and we can determine their age by looking at things such as the percentage of their stars that are red dwarfs, or the temperatures of their white dwarfs.

The red dwarf measure is useful because red dwarfs can last for trillions of years, unlike larger stars which only last a few billion. So if a group of stars form at the same time, the larger stars will die off sooner, while the red dwarfs continue to shine. So the more red dwarfs a globular cluster has, the older it is. The white dwarf method relies on the fact a white dwarf is the remnant of a Sun-like star. Once a white dwarf forms, it has no way to produce new energy, so it gradually cools. The cooler the white dwarfs in a globular cluster, the older it is.

It turns out that the oldest of the globular clusters surrounding our galaxy are about 13 billion years old, which means the Milky Way must be at least that old. But when we look at the oldest red dwarfs in these clusters, we find that they aren’t first generation stars. They contain elements that could only be formed by earlier stars, and that means stars must have lived and died in the Milky Way before these globular clusters formed. So the Milky Way is older that 13 billion years, but how much older?

That’s where the elemental trick comes in. In this case, the element beryllium. While most of the elements beyond hydrogen and helium are produced in the cores of stars, not all of them are. Some are produced by the radioactive decay of heavier elements, or in the case of beryllium-9, high energy cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are typically protons or helium nuclei that zip through the galaxy at near-light speeds. When these cosmic rays collide with heavier nuclei drifting through space, they cause the nuclei to break apart into lighter elements. One of these is beryllium. Since cosmic rays are pervasive throughout the early galaxy due to early star production and early supernovae, the amount of beryllium in interstellar space builds up over time. By measuring beryllium levels in an old star, you can then determine how long the galaxy was around before the star formed.

These levels were measured in a 2004 paper in Astronomy and Astrophysics, and the result was that the galaxy is about 13.6 billion years old. What’s interesting is that the age of the universe is just shy of 13.8 billion years, which means that our Milky Way must have been one of the early galaxies, forming just after the “dark ages” of the universe, when the first stars were just beginning to shine.

Paper: L. Pasquini, et al. Beryllium in turnoff stars of NGC 6397: Early Galaxy spallation, cosmochronology and cluster formation. A&A 426, 651-657 (2004)
Using an elemental trick, we can determine the age of our Milky Way galaxy.
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Grand Canyon of Mars

Valles Marineris, or Mariner Valley, is one of the most prominent features on Mars. It’s often compared to the Grand Canyon, but is about 7 times wider, 4 times deeper, and 9 times longer. If such a feature existed on Earth it would stretch from New York to Los Angeles. But despite their similarities as great canyons, they have radically different histories.

The Grand Canyon likely began to form about 60 – 70 million years ago as different sections began to be carved by water erosion. About 6 million years ago the different regions merged to form the truly grand canyon with the Colorado river flowing through it. Although there is still debate about the exact age and history, it’s clear that the formation of the canyon was driven by water erosion.

That makes sense given that water flow is pretty common on Earth. But Mars is not a river world. While it may have had liquid surface water at some point in its early history, Mars has had its water frozen beneath the surface for much of its history. So it isn’t likely that Valles Marineris is a river canyon. In fact there is plenty of evidence to say that it’s not. What it appears to be is a rift canyon due to geologic activity.

Just to the west of the canyon is a volcanic plateau known as the Tharsis bulge. Driven by volcanic and tectonic processes, the bulge began to form about 3.5 billion years ago. As it swelled, fissures began to form in the valley. These fissures then exposed sub-surface water, which flowed through the canyon, eroding it further. As the valley continued to crack and widen, more water was released, which eventually flooded the region to the north and east of the canyon. In the image here you can see this effect, where the high regions of the canyon have distinct cracks where the crust fractured, while the lower regions of the east show more signs of water erosion.

Obviously things aren’t quite that simple, and there is still much debate over the details, but it’s clear that Valles Marineris shows you don’t need a river world to make a grand canyon.
The Grand Canyon was formed by water. So how did a dry world like Mars form an even larger canyon?
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Missed It By That Much

Back in December I wrote about a star heading our way. It’s nothing to worry about, but it demonstrated that stars can come relatively close to our solar system on long time scales. Now new research finds that one close approach occurred just 70,000 years ago.

The star is known as Scholz’s star, and is a small red dwarf star with a brown dwarf companion. Currently it is about 20 light years from the Sun, but 70,000 years ago it was only 52,000 AU away, or about 0.8 light years. That might not seem particularly close, but the outer edge of the Oort cloud likely extends farther than that, so the star could have gravitationally perturbed Oort cloud objects, sending some toward the inner solar system.

Some of you might look at that 70,000 BC date and wonder if this might have anything to do with the “bottleneck  theory” of human evolution, where the human population supposedly winnowed to about 10,000 individuals. The answer is no for two reasons. The first is that genetic evidence for a 70,000 BC bottleneck is not particularly strong, the second is that any cometary bodies perturbed by the close encounter would take time to reach us. In this case, the trip from the outer Oort cloud to the inner solar system is about 2 million years. So there might be a slight uptick in comets in a couple million years, but the team estimates that this won’t be significant.

The work also puts doubt on the upcoming close encounter of HIP 85605 I wrote about in December. It seems the distance of HIP 85605 was underestimated by a factor of 10, which means it won’t come nearly as close as we thought. If that’s the case, then Scholz’s star marks the closest stellar approach known. The number and distance of these kinds of close encounters are likely to change a bit as we continue to get better data on close faint stars. For example, when the Gaia spacecraft becomes active we’ll have position and motion data of more than a billion stars.

Paper: Eric E. Mamajek et al. The Closest Known Flyby of a Star to the Solar System ApJ 800 L17 (2015)
About 70,000 years ago Scholz's star came within 0.8 light years of the Sun.
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Galaxy X

The distribution of hydrogen in the Milky Way is something we’ve measured to a good degree of precision. Combined with computer models we can start to look at the dynamics of our galaxy. For example, back in 2009 a comparison was made between the observed distribution of atomic hydrogen in the Milky Way and possible effects of dark matter. Basically there are variations or ripples in the galactic hydrogen that don’t match up with the known distribution of visible matter, however computer simulations showed that these ripples could be caused by a localized clump of dark matter. That is, it seemed small satellite galaxy comprised mostly of dark matter is perturbing the gas and dust in our galaxy. While it was an interesting idea, proving that the ripples could be caused by dark matter isn’t the same as demonstrating that they are.  But a new paper published in Astrophysical Journal Letters has strengthened the idea.

If such a dark matter “galaxy x” exists, then we should be able to find it. The problem is that a mostly dark matter dwarf galaxy wouldn’t be particularly bright, and what light it does emit could be dimmed by gas and dust in the way. But the simulations predicted a region where the cluster of dark matter should be, so the team began a search in that region. They used public data from the ESO Public survey VISTA
Variables of the Via Lactea (VVV), gathered at infrared wavelengths. Near infrared wavelengths are useful because they are less affected by interstellar gas and dust. When they analyzed the data, the team found four Cepheid variable stars clustered in the same region of the sky near the galactic plane. Cepheid variables are useful because they vary in brightness in a specific way, and we can use that fact to determine their distance. When the team did this they found the stars were all about 294,000 light years away, give or take a bit. It would be very unusual to find four Cepheid variables so close together just by chance, so it is most likely the case that they are part of a previously unknown dwarf galaxy.

In the popular press this new work is generally being presented as the “discovery” of a dark matter galaxy, but that isn’t quite the case. This new work doesn’t conclusively prove a dark matter galaxy. What the work has done is taken an earlier prediction on the existence of a dark matter dwarf galaxy, and found a clustering of stars in the general location predicted by their model. This clustering of variable stars is consistent with their model. Once again it demonstrates the predictive power of dark matter models. It also demonstrates how useful public data can be, since data gathered for one project can be used in several others.

Paper: Sukanya Chakrabarti et al. Tidal imprints of a dark subhalo on the outskirts of the Milky Way. MNRAS 399 (1): L118-L122. (2009)

Paper: Sukanya Chakrabarti et al. Clustered Cepheid Variables 90 kiloparsec from the Galactic Center. Astrophysical Journal Letters 1502: 1358 (2015)
New research finds evidence of a dark matter dwarf galaxy orbiting the Milky Way.
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In the Air Tonight

Yesterday I mentioned the faint glow near the horizon as due to airglow of the atmosphere. It tends to be a very faint effect, even more dim than the zodiacal light, and isn’t often seen with the naked eye. While airglow is beautiful in images, for ground-based astronomers it can be bothersome.

Airglow occurs when atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere are ionized, either by light from the Sun, or by cosmic rays. There are also chemical reactions that produce light in the atmosphere. All of these effects combine to give the atmosphere a faint but uniform glow day and night. It’s only at night that the effect becomes visible. While the green glow of molecular oxygen tends to be the dominant color, you can also get yellow from sodium, red from atomic oxygen and even a weak blue glow.

Because airglow is spread throughout the sky, it tends to hamper ground-based astronomy. Basically it is a kind of light pollution that never goes away, no matter how isolated your observatory is. One way to overcome the effect of airglow is to limit your telescope’s field of view. If you observe a faint object in a small portion of the sky, the patch of air above your view is likewise small, and the airglow effect is less significant. There are also ways adaptive optics can limit the impact. But as we build ever larger ground-based telescopes to look at ever dimmer objects, airglow could increasingly become a problem.

It’s a recurring problem in astronomy, where what’s right in front of you isn’t what you want to observe.
Airglow is a faint glow of the night sky. It's beautiful, but it's bothersome for astronomers.
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Marking Time

Radio astronomy is incredibly precise. This is particularly true when they’re used in combination through a process known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). It is so precise that by observing quasars we can measure not only changes in Earth’s rotation, but also tectonic drift between radio telescopes.

The way VLBI works is by measuring how long it takes for fluctuations in a quasar’s light to reach different radio telescopes. Since light travels at a constant rate, the difference in arrival time can be used to determine the difference in distance. Using an array of telescopes you can determine not only the distance between the telescopes, but the precise location of the signal. VBLI can determine the distance between antennas within millimeters, and the position of a radio source to within a fraction of a milliarcsecond.

Because quasars are so distant, they can be treated as fixed points of reference in space. This makes them useful for determining the motion of objects relative to them, such as the precise motion of Saturn, or the Magellanic clouds. But because they are fixed points in the sky, any shift in the location or timing of quasars must necessarily be due to a change in the position of the telescopes themselves, or the rotation of the Earth.

What’s amazing about this technique is that it uses objects billions of light years away to measure millimeter shifts in position on the Earth.
Radio astronomy is so precise that by observing quasars we can measure tectonic drift between radio telescopes.
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The Kikuyu traditional way of conducting legal proceedings or any business which had two strongly opposing views such required that the proponent of the view or the plaintiff that for complaint, viewpoint he/she put forth, he /she laid down a stick. For each complaint or point in debate, he/she would lay down the stick and state “Ũcio nĩ mũtĩ.” The respondent, defendant etc. then dealt with each complaint or point at a time and on successfully concluding on one, he/she would pick the corresponding stick from the bundle and state, ““Ũcio (mũtĩ) nĩndeheria.” The bracket show that since, it is understood that it is a “mũtĩ” he/she is referring to, and in fact can be seen doing the act, he/she has the option not to mention the word. At the end of the case/debate, if the respondent has successfully tackled all points and removed all sticks, he/she would be exonerated of the accusation. On the other hand, inability to tackle all points and remove all mĩtĩ (plural for mũtĩ), meant defeat. Since adages, metaphors and proverbs made very strong points in such debates/cases, it was necessary for the respondent to have a good bank of equally strong opposing of the same. This then brought about the development of sayings that could be used for the same situation but directly contrast of each other. Under here are such situations and contrasting adages:
Accusing a glutton: Kũrĩa mũno nĩ kuoria nda.
Response: Mwana mwega no nda or mwana oimaga kũria (a modern addition is Mwĩrĩ ndwakagwo na mbaũ)
Accussing a coward: Guoya ũturagia ũkĩya mũciĩ
Response: Ke guoya kainũkiĩre nyina /Kwĩgita ti guoya.
Accusing one of using delaying tactics: Mbarĩ ya Ngeka, makorirwo matarĩ meka
Response: Kahora karĩ indo/ ihenya riunaga gĩkwa ihatha.
One accused of being vengeful: Mwĩrĩhĩria nĩwe mũũru.
Response: Njĩka na njĩka ndĩrĩ marũrũ.
Accusing a doter: Kwenda mũno gũkũraga rũrĩra
Response: Yanagĩria kayo/Mũndũ ainaga na gatiirũ gake.
And it goes on like that until someone sees no sense in continuing on a case in which no one will ever win and so accuses his opposite of prolong the case unnecessarily:
Accusing the other of dwelling too long on one issue: Cira mũingĩ no wa ũthoni ũgĩkua.
Response: Ndũteyagwo ũtarĩ mwatie.
And that is why it is said that: Wa rika rĩmwe ndũbĩrĩkaga. Which could bring the debate to instant conclusion except that: Ũtoĩ kũbĩra nĩoĩ kũhoria, and so the case must continue…on and on it must go! It cannot be stopped for the reason that no one will accept to “Gũtigwo na henwa.”
However, if the case must end and one is said to have lost, he will be herd consoling himself with the words: “Macio nĩ matirũka arume! Njamba irũndagwo nĩ gacakwe!!”
Whereupon the opposite will promptly remind him: Mũremwo nĩ ndũũgo egwatagia nja ĩrĩ mahiga!
Agreeing sarcastically and warning that soon the situation could change so that the winner becomes the loser: ĩĩ no warũgaga nĩatobokaga…!
Et cetera! Et cetera! Et cetera….!

James Gichia Ngumy
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Origin.The ancient Egyptian name,Meri-Amun,meaning "beloved of the sun god Amun"when adopted by the Isralites was recorded in the bible as Miriam.The sister of the famous Moses who led the Isralites to the promised land of Canaan was called Miriam.The Latin adopted the name as Maria which form appears in most Western European languages.Mary is the English Bible Version.The Ethiopia versions Maryam and Mariam unlike in Europe where it is a female baptisimal name have been used as patronymics/surnames for ages.Some examples of well known Ethiopians with the patronymic are;Emporor Takla Maryam(1430-1433) of the Solomonic Dynasty,Emporor Baeda Maryam (1468-1478) and more recently Mengistu Haile Mariam who was head of state between 1977 and 1991.And the current Ethiopian Prime Minister HailleMariam Desalegn.The introduction of the name to giküyüland(Central Kenya)came about either in the late 1700s or early 1800s during the period in Ethiopian history reffered to as Zamana Masafint or" Era of the Prince" when there was protracted conflicts between the many claimants of the seat of the emporor populary known as the king of kings(Nègusa Nagäst)Among the group of royals who escaped the terror of Ras Sehul the powerful Tigrean Warlord were several women with the title Waizero.One of the women,escorted by some men among them Kassa and Tefere reached an area now known as Dagorreti and settled there.The woman was carrying a boy whose name was Mariam which the Agiküyü adopted as Miríí.Though Waizero was a title(Married Woman or the equivalent of Dame in the court titles of Ethiopian Nobility) the Agiküyü were not to know that and they called her Waithera,so,the boy grew up to be known as Miríí wa Waithera and is the originator of the family by the name Mbari ya Mirie.The boy is my anscestor and it is partly the reason why I have a fairer skin color than most kikiyus.
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Able to relate to matters of science while lifting weights.I know a thing or two about the origin of the universe and at my weight of 152lbs(70 Kgs) My PB deadlift is 330lbs(150 Kgs) and I am aiming a bit higher than that.
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