NuSTAR detects ‘zombie stars’ in the center of our galaxy

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has located the glowing remnants of dying stars emitting high-energy X-rays near the center of our galaxy. According to Nature World News, these X-ray emissions “could be the ‘howls’ of dead stars as they feed on their stellar companions.”

These X-ray “noises” of neighbor-feeding stars are coming from near the very center of our galaxy – a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A. That area of space contains many sources of X-rays, but the ones spotted by NuSTAR are noticeably strong.

There are several theories explaining why such intense X-rays may occur, and several of those theories focus on active “corpses” of stars. Some dead stars can draw matter off of their neighboring stars if located in close proximity. This process of a dead star “feeding” off of an active star can result in a striking eruption of radiation, which would explain NuSTAR’s findings if the source of the radiation is, in fact, so-called “zombie stars.”

“We can see a completely new component of the center of our galaxy with NuSTAR’s images,” Kerstin Perez of Columbia University said in a statement.

The exact type of zombie stars could be one of several, including pulsars – fast-spinning dead stars that siphon material from nearby stars and blast radiation into space.

“We may be witnessing the beacons of a hitherto hidden population of pulsars in the galactic center,” Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology said. “This would mean there is something special about the environment in the very center of our galaxy.”

The radiation could also be coming from white dwarf stars, or other sources.   Zombie stars as a source of X-rays is only one possibility, and the team is planning more observations.

“This new result just reminds us that the galactic center is a bizarre place,” Chuck Hailey of Columbia University said. “In the same way people behave differently walking on the street instead of jammed on a crowded rush hour subway, stellar objects exhibit weird behavior when crammed in close quarters near the supermassive black hole.”

The findings were published in the journal Nature.


Sorry, Anti-Vaxxers: MMR vaccine eliminates Rubella from the Americas

One of the most important scientific breakthroughs of the modern era, the MMR vaccine, has claimed yet another victim: the Rubella viral infection.

The Americans are now the first region in the world to have officially eradicated Rubella, also known as German measles, according to the World Health Organization — and it’s all thanks to the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The Pan American Health Organization surveyed millions of health records and checked a huge amount of communities to come to the conclusion, which means that the only way Rubella springs up in the Americas is if it is brought here from elsewhere in the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention verified that all known cases of the virus in the Americas were from strains that were non-domestic.

The campaign to eliminate Rubella began all the way back in 2003, although the vaccine has been available since 1969. Rubella had been eradicated in the United States in 2005, but Caribbean men remained carriers until recently due to the fact that the vaccine was focused on the highest-risk groups.

Rubella is an infection that is caused by the Rubella virus, and it often does not have serious effects for half of people, who sometimes don’t even realize they are sick. The most common symptom is a rash that forms two weeks after exposure and lasts for a few days, starting on the face before spreading to the body. Fever, sort throat, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes are common symptoms, and sometimes joint paint in adults.

The biggest risk of Rubella is pregnant women, and the disease is very serious for them. It results in what is known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), which can result in a miscarriage, stillbirth, or at the very least cause serious birth defects in children that can result in brain damage, deafness or blindness, or heart problems.

Rubella is spread through the air, usually from coughs from infected individuals. The disease is only present in humans, and is not spread by insects. People who contract Rubella are immune to it after recovering.

It’s a common disease in the world, with 100,000 occurring each year. It was discovered by German physicians in 1814, which is why it’s called German measles.

Just because it’s been technically eradicated from the Americas doesn’t mean that vaccines aren’t necessary anymore. Eradication means that the disease doesn’t originate in the target area, not that it can’t be brought here and reemerge. Basically, it means there is not person-to-person spread in children in America, it does not mean that the disease does not come into the country from other parts of the world where it is more common or hasn’t been properly dealt with with vaccines.

Unfortunately, it could certainly reemerge in America thanks to a campaign by anti-vaccination advocates. The “anti-vaxxers” as they are often called are a growing community of individuals who believe incorrectly that vaccines can cause autism in children, a rumor that has been debunked numerous times by scientists. The original author of the study that claimed this has long since been discredited, but the movement continues to gain steam.

The anti-vaxxer movement has directly led to the recent outbreaks of measles, which had been eliminated in this country but is starting to make a comeback due to the anti-vaxxer push to keep children from getting vaccinations.

Measles is extremely contagious, even more so than Rubella or mumps, and it requires 94 percent of people to be vaccinated for so-called “herd immunity” to take effect, whereas Rubella requires an 85 percent vaccination rate.

The mostly widely publicized outbreak of measles happened at Disneyland earlier this year. Health officials suspect that people who refused vaccinations are suspected to be behind the outbreak.

Research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that people who were infected in the measles outbreak had vaccination rates that are well below the threshold recommended by health experts: as low as 50 percent.

A patient who had the virus visited Disneyland, which led to the infection of nearly 200 people over three months, officials believe. They suspect it was a foreign visitor to the theme park, and the measles was able to spread thanks to families who have bought into the anti-vaccination campaign and have rejected the government’s suggested vaccination scheduled for children, leaving them vulnerable to the disease.

As the anti-vaccination campaign continues to push forward, experts believe the measles outbreaks will only get worse, growing in both scale and in scope.

The national rates of MMR vaccination are at about 92 percent right now, but research has found that those who avoid immunizations tend to cluster together in the same community, which makes measles more easy to spread to others. As a result, some school districts have undervaccination rates that are alarmingly high — five times that of the state average in some cases.

Probably the best known disease eradicated by vaccines was polio, which used to terrorize the world, paralyzing children for life. Efforts to immunize people from the disease has resulted in eradicating polio from 99 percent of the world’s population, and the disease now only lurks in the poorest and most remote communities, where it still threatens some at-risk children.

Polio, short for poliomyelitis, is an infectious disease of the poliovirus. About 90 to 95 percent of infections don’t cause any symptoms, and another 5 to 10 percent receive minor symptoms including fever, headache, and stiffness, usually healing in one or two weeks.

It is most dangerous when contracted in the infant stage, which can result in children growing up with withered limbs and paralysis. The disease is in fact also called infantile paralysis because of how it disproportionately harms children.

Polio epidemics emerged in Europe and the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, and the 1952 polio epidemic was the worst outbreak in the United States’ history, with iron lungs required for patients to breathe.

While it appears unlikely that polio is likely to make a comeback anytime soon because of how much it has been eliminated, other diseases like measles could certainly make a strong comeback if the anti-vaccination campaign continues to grow in strength and parents avoid getting their children immunized.


A miracle drug to get rid of a double chin? FDA approves new treatment

Are you looking to get rid of that double chin you’ve been sporting? The Food and Drug Administration has signed off on an injection that could take care of that for you.

Kybella is intended for adults with moderate to severe fat below the chin, also called submental fat, according to an Associated Press report.

Produced by Kythera Biopharmaceuticals — the company’s first approved drug — the treatment would use a synthetic form of deoxycholic acid, which is produced naturally by the body and absorbs fats by breaking down the cell membrane, according to the report.

Patients can get up to 50 injections at once, although a treatment should take place at least a month apart and should stop at six total visits.

Sales of Kybella should begin later this year, with a projection of $500 million in annual sales.

Deoxycholic acid is supposedly safe and is found in other approved drugs, and the California-based company is looking to get approval for marketing the drug in Switzerland, Canada, and Australia.

U.S. consumers spend more than $1 billion each year on cosmetic injections in the face, with Botox being one of the most popular examples.

Want to melt fat elsewhere? Too bad. Kybella is only approved for injection in the chin. It can result in some swelling, pain, numbness, and hardness in the treatment area, and more serious side effects can include difficulty swallowing or a nerve injury.

The FDA advisory panel signed off on Kybella March 9, and the company saw its stock rise 15 percent since March 4 shortly before the panel voted, according to the report.


Shark attack kills 65-year-old woman in Hawaii

A 65-year-old woman was killed by a shark attack about 200 yards from the shore near Maui on Wednesday, and officials are shutting down beaches in response.

The Maui Fire Department indicated in a statement that an unresponsive woman had been found by snorkelers and then taken to the shore, where paramedics tried to save her life but she died anyway, according to an Associated Press report.

The area, a popular surfing spot, was shut down until at least today at noon, when authorities will evaluate whether it should be reopened or remain closed.

Although no one saw the shark attack, authorities believe that injuries on her torso are consistent with a shark attack. The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources said that it happened in the Kanahena Cove area of Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve on Maui.

Authorities said the incident is being investigated, and signs would be posted on the beach warning people.

Crews on jet skis made sure the water was clear of people, as the Department of Land and Natural Resources made the decision to close the beach until it could be determined safe and free of sharks.

It is the first fatal shark attack this year for Hawaii.


Antarctica and Greenland in tug of war over climate … and the reason why might surprise you

Scientists have found evidence trapped in ice cores pulled from the West Antarctica Ice Sheet that suggest that big temperature changes in Greenland and Antarctica in the most recent ice age — suggesting that the North and South poles are linked by the oceans when it comes to their climates.

A team of scientists from the University of Washington led by Nevada’s Desert Research Institute looked at samples of oxygen in water molecules in the ice to find out just what Antarctica’s temperature history looked like compared to the temperatures swings between the poles, according to a UW report. They believe that  massive current between the oceans may be causing the shifts, although that’s still just a theory.

Eric Stei, one of the UW professors and the co-author of the research paper along with Christo Buizet from Oregon State University and a former UW postdoctoral researcher named Joel Pedro, examined ice cores from the 1990s. These ice cores confirmed the climate of Greenland in the last ice age shifted constantly in terms of temperature, which took place ever few thousand years, causing the annual temperatures to rise by about 5 degrees Celsius in a few decades, while Antarctica temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere showed an opposite pattern, cooling at about the same time.

It’s indicative of what the UW report calls a “global seesaw,” as the paper also found that when changes happen in Greenland, a corresponding opposite respond in Antarctica follows a couple of centuries later.

To study these ice cores, scientists had to dig into the ice for five years until 2011, dipping down more than 2 miles into the ice. By measuring that ice, they were able to detect 18 temperature swings in Antarctica, and then what is known as a “Dansgaard-Oeschger event” in the Greenland ice, something that has taken place for the past 68,000 years, according to the report.

To make the findings, they measured the ratio of different oxygen atoms in the layers of ice to determine what the air temperature was when the snow fell in that spot.


Gyrocopter landing at Capitol exposes flaws in security procedures

Doug Hughes, a Florida man, cited broken campaign finance laws as his motivation for piloting a small helicopter on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, April 15. According to Reuters, Hughes was able to clear miles of restricted airspace before landing at the Capitol, and has raised serious questions from security officials about the city’s defenses against small aircrafts.

Democratic Representative Cartwright says he found the “lack of planning on how to respond to gyrocopters and drones surprising and disappointing.”

Hughes, a 61 year-old mail carrier, piloted a small gyrocopter from Pennsylvania to Washington, DC, hoping to draw attention to the need for campaign finance reforms. Upon landing, he was apprehended and allowed to return to Florida. He now waits there in home detention, potentially facing up to four years in prison and will return to Washington for a trial hearing on May 8.

Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta said Wednesday that the gyrocopter was “indistinguishable” on radar from other non-aircraft objects like a kite or a flock of birds. It appeared to air traffic controllers as an “irregular symbol” on radar, and the unidentified object was deemed non-threatening until it landed at the Capitol.

A breakdown in communications at the Capitol lead to further confusion surrounding Hughes’ landing on Tax Day. In a testimony by the heads of major agencies in charge of security for the federal government in Washington, few answers were given as to why the gyrocopter was allowed to land with such ease. Leadership from the FAA, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Park Police, and the U.S. Capitol Police offered few answers for committee members.

According to House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, “The Capitol Police sent notifications only to the senate community. This included failing to notify the House Community.”

The Capitol is clearly shaken by the breach of security, and it remains unclear as to why it was allowed to occur.


MTA bans political ads: "Our riders and the public need not have their safety or serenity violated.”

The MTA has decided to ban political advertising in subways and on buses by a 9-2 vote Wednesday over the objections of free speech advocates. The decision was sparked by negative and strong political ads that a pro-Israel, anti-Muslim group wanted to put up, according to the Associated Press.

“What separates this country and this city from dictatorships and oppressive regimes around the world is our commitment to free speech, ” said Chris Dunn of the NYCLU. “The New York City transit system is our public square.”

The pro-Israel, anti-Muslim group had wanted put up ads that used the phrases like “Hamas Killing Jews” or “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.” According to Pamela Geller of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, the ads were necessary and fair game.

“There’s a war going on in the information battle space and all the bullets and the bombs and the bloodshed comes as a result of what happens in this war,” she said.

Another board member, Andrew Albert, warned that the MTA is likely to face First Amendment challenges for implementing the ban, even though similar bans are already in place in the Los Angeles and Philadelphia transit systems.

“We’re treading down a dangerous path,” Albert said. “Nobody is forced to read these ads. You can look away.”

But the majority on the board did not question the necessity of a ban.

“Hateful speech with its odious appeal to intolerance is the incendiary that ignites violence,” said board member Charles Moerdler, who supported the ban. “It does not take much to move the passions of hatred … Our riders and the public need not have their safety or serenity violated.”

The MTA decided to ban all political ads after a judge ruled earlier this month that allowed a group to post incensory ads that featured a picture of a menacing man with his face masked in a Middle Eastern scarf next to a quote attributed to “Hamas MTV” that reads: “That’s his Jihad. What’s yours?”



US Judge – BP cleanup workers have a right to bring medical suits before a jury

British Petroleum, the company responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, could face hundreds more trials related to the workers who developed serious medical conditions during cleanup efforts after a 2012 settlement, a federal judge ruled.

According to the Times Picayune, the settlement in 2012 was designed to keep medical claims from slowing courtroom proceedings. The settlement sought to pay cleanup workers and other individuals who experienced breathing problems, skin rashes, and vision impairments during the aftermath of the spill.

The settlement also allowed for plaintiffs who developed a major illness years later in life to file separate suits against the oil company. BP argued that cases brought by workers who developed illnesses after cleanup efforts should be decided by a judge.

On Monday, however, US District Judge Carl Barbier wrote that BP was wrong in their assertion, and that these patients deserved to have their cases heard by juries. Jury trials can be long and costly, but typically result in more favorable outcomes for claimants seeking damages from corporations.

According to a statement from BP spokesman Geoff Morrell on Tuesday, the company “disagrees with the court and is weighing its options.”

An explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, operated by BP, in the spring of 2010 sent nearly 200 million gallons of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. Judge Barbier found BP to be grossly negligent in its role in the spill. This ruling could add billions of dollars to BP’s $42 billion bill for the disaster. BP attempted to challenge the settlement agreement in December, but the Supreme Court rejected the proposal.

The recent decision to allow jury trials could impact hundreds of existing medical claims currently open. In November, Judge Barbier ruled that the settlement required workers who claimed to have medical problems needed to be diagnosed by a doctor before April 16, 2012. The ruling could shift a large number of the claims under the settlement towards back-end litigation, which would prove to be very costly for the oil giant.


For-profit Corinthian College slams doors, leaving students out of luck

The for-profit post-secondary education company Corinthian College announced on Sunday that it will cease instruction at its 28 remaining campuses, according to USA Today, and students are struggling to find a way to finish their educations.

According to Russ Heimerich of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, many students “may have to start all over because the credits for a lot of private post- secondary schools are not transferable to anywhere else,” Now, over 16,000 students enrolled at the private college system are left without a path to a degree.

The decision to cease instruction affected students at Corinthian’s Heald College system, including locations in California, Oregon, Hawaii, as well as Corinthian’s Everest and WyoTech schools in California, Arizona and New York.

Heald College student Nicholas Morgan was able to graduate on time, but said that his wife was left with no options after the school closed a semester before she was slated to graduate. Having wasted time and money to earn credits that may not be transferrable, Morgan says his wife was “devastated.”

Heald students are waiting for information about credit transferring options from school officials, but the school warns that there is not one solution that will appeal to all of the students. Some students may have to repeat classes for credits, while others who paid for their tuition out of pocket may be out of luck.

Students who took out loans to attend Corinthian Colleges may have access to loan forgiveness through the US Department of Education. Democratic California Congresswoman Janice Hahn called on US Education Secretary to ensure that students with federal loans to attend Corinthian Colleges have them discharged.

The Congresswoman asserts that students were deceived about the education and job prospects that would be made available through study at Corinthian schools, and that they should not be burdened by thousands in debt.


Amid unrest in Baltimore, experts praise LAPD's community relations

In the 23 years since Los Angeles saw riots in the streets following the beating of Rodney King by an LAPD officer, communities have been slow to place their trust in their police department again. According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the poverty numbers in the county have slightly improved. 2014 census data shows that 14.2 percent of county families live below the poverty level, a 0.9 percent decrease over 1992’s level.

USC Law Professor Jody David Armour, said the eroding middle class and persistent poverty remain a problem for simmering tensions. Police are often the ones forced to deal with economic failures and the “jails are receptacles for those failures,” he said. Armour asserts that the widening gap between the poor and the wealthy in Los Angeles “will increase the resentment and spill over into uprisings.”

But despite the poor economic conditions in Los Angeles County, police seem to have a better handle with relations in minority communities. Following the 1992 riots, trust has been rebuilt steadily over the years. First AME Pastor J. Edgar Boyd cites the departure of LAPD Chief Daryl Gates and the arrivals of Chief Bernard Parks, William Bratton and the current head, Charlie Beck as a major driver of progress within these communities.

Pastor Boyd recalls the LA riots in 1992 and cites the lack of economic opportunity as the primary driver of the unrest. “Whenever pressure happens in a container and there is no release for that pressure — the container can only withstand so much. When it got heated enough, the explosion was going to happen.”

According to the pastor, current Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and Beck regularly hold meetings at the church in Los Angeles to develop stronger relationships between officers and the community.
Since the LAPD acknowledged that their task of arresting gang members in South Central neighborhoods, also known as “Operation Hammer,” was predicated on the use of excessive force, community members have slowly built up trust in their police department over the years.

As the nation watches Baltimore recover from unrest this week, we look back and remember the clashes that took place almost a quarter of a century ago, caused by the same lack of opportunity for communities in impoverished neighborhoods.