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Rare space object captured by Hubble

The Hubble Space Telescope has snapped a picture of a rare phenomenon: bright blue jets of gas blasting out from a dust cloud.

Known as a Herbig-Haro object, this image shows the genesis of a star system. In the centre, a baby star is being born, spinning as it coalesces out of gas and dust. As it whirls around, the star shoots out two streams of hot, ionised gas from its north and south poles.

This is a rare thing to see: firstly, because the jets only spew out of an infant star for 10-20,000 years, which is barely a blink on the cosmic timescale of the universe; and secondly, because the light is obscured by the dust, and so we can only really spot close-by Herbig-Haro objects from within our own galaxy.

Only 111 of such objects are known. This one is 1,300 light-years away in the constellation of Orion, and was captured by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.

Stressed tuatara

According to a study published in New Zealand Journal of Zoology, tuatara may be stressed from being around people.

(Author’s note: Me too, buddy, me too…)

A tuatara on a rock
Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Stewart Nimmo

Researchers investigated three tuataras living at Wellington Zoo – Omaka (female, 16), Pounamu (female, 9), and Ātaahua (undetermined, 16) – and found that all three showed signs of stress when they were petted by zoo visitors, despite having a handler with them the whole time.

The team suggests this information could inform management of “ambassador animals” and promote animal welfare.

Charge all the things!

Phone running out of battery but the charging cord is too far away? That wouldn’t matter if it could charge just by being in the right room!

Researchers from the University of Tokyo have figured out a way to build a whole room that can wirelessly charge small electronics.  

In their paper, published in Nature Electronics, they showed that existing wireless charging technology that usually comes with a special mount could be rejigged and installed into surfaces and walls. This created a magnetic field right throughout the room.

But fear not, because they also found that the charging currents were safe and met the Electrical and Electronics Engineers safety guidelines.

Dramatic collision triggers supernova explosion

Centuries ago, in a star system far, far away, two massive objects entered into a death dance. One of the pair was so massive it must have been a superdense neutron star or a black hole – and as it slowly spiralled inwards in its orbit, growing steadily closer, it triggered a supernova in its companion star.

An illustration showing the extent and shape of material thrown out by a star.
Fast-moving debris from a supernova explosion triggered by a stellar collision crashes into material thrown out earlier, and the shocks cause bright radio emission seen by the VLA. Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

The star’s core collapsed under its own gravity, then exploded outwards, sending jets of material shooting into space at close to the speed of light.

“Theorists had predicted that this could happen, but this is the first time we’ve actually seen such an event,” says Dillon Dong from Caltech in the US, lead author of the paper describing this event, published in Science.

The jets produced X-rays, which were spotted by an instrument aboard the International Space Station. But the event was first captured in images from data from the Very Large Array Sky Survey (VLASS), which revealed bright radio waves coming from a dwarf galaxy 480 light-years away.

These combined observations have allowed astronomers to chart the demise of this stellar system.

“All the pieces of this puzzle fit together to tell this amazing story – the remnant of a star that exploded a long time ago plunged into its companion, causing it, too, to explode,” concludes Gregg Hallinan, also from Caltech. “Of all the things we thought we would discover with VLASS, this was not one of them.”

Could your footsteps power your house?

Swiss scientists have developed energy-harvesting wooden floors that can power a lightbulb using just your footsteps.

The floor consists of two layers of timber with electrodes sandwiched between them. The wood becomes electrically charged when stepped on – like a sock clinging to a shirt when fresh out of the dryer. When the electrons transfer from one object to another, it generates electricity.

A schematic showing a person walking on a floor and how it can be used to power small devices
Credit: Sun et al., Matter, 2021

But there’s a problem.

Guido Panzarasa, a researcher from ETH Zürich and an author of the study published in the journal Matter, says wood is fairly neutral: “Wood has no real tendency to acquire or to lose electrons.”

So to more efficiently use the wood to generate electricity, the research team treated the timber pieces with silicone and embedded them with nanocrystals. Together, these help the wood attract and then lose electrons, improving the efficiency of the device by 80%.

The team demonstrated that their floor could generate enough electricity to power LED bulbs and small electronics – they successfully lit up a lightbulb with the prototype when an adult walked upon the surface.

And the best wood for the job? Spruce – which is cheap and commonly available, at least in Europe.

“The ultimate goal is to understand the potentialities of wood beyond those already known and to enable wood with new properties for future sustainable smart buildings,” concludes Panzarasa.

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